Hackney Horse Colours

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 See this article in Spanish.


Summary: Throughout the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, where horse-drawn carriages were mostly used to “see and be seen” in the parks, the choice of the horse colour was very important. “Dark colours” (mostly blacks, bays and dark browns), were essential for twelve o’clock mass and evening events. According to the fashion of the time, different colours were used for different hours of the day. “Light colours” (chestnuts, liver chestnuts, light bays and red bays were used until midday, or perhaps until mid-afternoon. White horses were never used…

Carriage parade in Sarmiento Avenue, at Palermo woods, Buenos Aires, 1904.

Outside San Ignacio church in Buenos Aires, 1902.

In this article, we will look at the various colours of the Hackney breed in Argentina, in the period 2000-2010 and the background of the breed in Great Britain. Between 2000 and 2010, 416 Hackneys were registered in the studbook of the Sociedad Rural Argentina, including both males and females.

The distribution  of colours was as follows:

Light coloured horses 308 records, 74%.

Chestnuts, 142 records, 34.1% – Liver chestnuts, 39 records, 9.4% –

Red bays, 124 records, 29.8% – Light bays, 3 records, 0.7% – Roans, 2 records, 0,5%.

Dark coloured horses 106 records, 26%.

Dark chestnuts, 10 records, 2.4% – Bays, 85 records

, 20,4·% Black bays, 8 records, 1.9% Mealy bays, 1 record, 0.24% Black with white marks, 2 records, 0.48%.


The danger in the predomination of the chestnut and brown colour over the breed.

The chestnut and brown colour is a very common among the Hackney breed, beign the most genetically prepotent. This is easily explained when we take a look at colours in the genealogy of the best Hackney stallions of the late nineteenth and early XX century. Danegelt (born in 1879), one of the most successful sires, was a whole-coloured dark chestnut; his sire Denmark (born in 1862) and his grandsire Sir Charles (born in 1843) were both chestnuts.

Denmark 177

Performer (foaled 1840), the sire of Sir Charles, was a brown: the chestnut may be said to have lain dormant for a few generations in the last half of the nineteenth century, as Performer traces back to Jenkinson’s  Fireaway, whose sire Driver, and grandsire the original Shales, were both chestnuts. The success of chestnut Hackneys at the most important shows held during recent years (at the beginning of the twentieth century), is a matter of common knowledge; it has been noteworthy ever the date of the establishment of the Hackney Horse Society, in 1884.”

As a natural consequence of their performance, the services of these chestnuts were in great demand by breeders, and their colours were extended along with other desirable characteristics, to the progeny. There is no doubt that the chestnut colour is genetically prepotent with a tendency to be spread and to prevail. A chestnut mare, served by a stallion of the same colour, gives almost certainly a chestnut.

Danegelt 174

Very old references such as those by Professor C. J. Davies, writing in the Live-Stock Journal Almanac, 1907, cited the case of a dun mare with dark points and dorsal stripe, threw three chestnut foals in succession to the Hackney stallion Troubador. This seems to indicate that the chestnut is a more prepotent colour than the dun.

Argentina – Proportion of colours in the Hackney breed from 2000 to 2010

In Argentina, between 2000 and 2010, there were 414 male and female Hackneys registered in the Studbook of the Sociedad Rural Argentina.

There were 142 records (34.1%) of the chestnut colour and its variations, such as the chestnut roan and the chestnut overo.
There were 39 entries of the liver chestnut colour (9.4%). The ratio of chestnuts and liver chestnuts was 43.5% over the total number of animals recorded during that period.

Greenmeadow's Soult

Greenmeadow's Soult, dark chestnut sire bred Carlos Lattuada and Co. SC. Grand Champion at the Rural Palermo Show both in 2009 and 2011.

Reliance Sibarita, chestnut overo yearling colt bred by Raul Aquerreta.

Pampa Roadster Enriqueta, chestnut mare bred by Guillermo Gibelli.


In a book written in Great Britain “Breeding to Colour” (1907), Sir Walter Gilbey proposed that the bay and dark chestnut be treated as varieties of the same colour. He wrote: “It is proposed to treat bay and browns as varieties of the same colour. There are numbers of bays which cannot possibly be mistaken for any other colour; but, on te other hand, there are many horses registered in the Stud Books of the various breeds whose colours is so indeterminate that they are described as “bay or brown”.  

Of the bay little need be said. Bay retains its popularity with horse owners, as anyone may see the London streets (1907). Probably the great majority of good harness horses, single, pairs and teams are bays. Brown horses are described in one or two ways, either as “brown” or “dark brown”. Horses of the former hue are sometimes called “dark bays”; this is a mistake, the deeper colour is noy bay at all, but brown. A “dark brown” resembles the hue of old mahogany.

Examination of the pedigrees of brown stallions alive at that time (1907) clearly shows that they inherited their colour from Performer (b. 1840), whose sire Phenomenon (born in 1835) was also a brown, or, if the brown horses do not trace their descent to Performer, they trace it to the brown Atlas (born in 1840). These three horses are known to have been the most successful stock getters of their time.


Lord Derby II (foaled 1871) was full of blood of both Atlas and Performer strain; he was a beautiful dark brown, and having been the winner of many prices in the show ring, his services were much in request. He bestowed his colour freely on his stock.

The British Hackney Stud Book contains the names of many famous bay stallions: Wildfire (born in 1827) and Norfolk Cob (foaled 1819) among others. These two horses descended through the chestnut thoroughbred Flying Childers, from the foundational chestnut stallion Darley Arabian (b. 1702).

Norfolk Cob.

During the twenty five years prior to 1907, Lord Derby II mares were eagerly sought to be sired with stallions from the blood strain of Danegelt. Unfortunately, the mares obtained by Lord Derby II were comparatively few, thus, exceptionally high prices were paid for them, either privately or at public auctions. In many cases, a thousand guineas were paid for a mare from that stallion. Brown Hackneys enjoyed particular favouritism in France for a long period. The Norfolk Hackneys were imported into this country around 1800 and there is a picture of a brown stallion, born in 1819, who was baptized by the French buyer as Jagger. Shortly after 1830, Mr. H. R. Phillips began supplying the French government with Hackneys of Norfolk, and continued doing so for many years. As the business developed, French buyers preferred brown stallions, from the Performer and Phenomenon strains. The breed bloodlines were spread throughout the horse breading areas of France, Germany, Italy and Russia due to the stallions purchased by Mr. Phillips. They got good prices in all areas and in some regions, these horses even left their mark on local herds. In Germany, during the period of Oliver Cromwell, and no doubt before, the Oldenburg race was famous for its locally-bred horses. The Oldenburg breeders carried out a stringent selection of brown mares to be sired with Norfolk Hackney stallions, in this way establishing a fine type of dark brown carriage horses, whose size was between 15.2 and 16.3 hands (1.57 to 1.70m). The best looking Oldenburg horses were sold quickly in London to be used for carriage driving. Gilbey refers to having known of one of this blood line that was sold for 200 guineas, and 300 to 600 guineas a pair.

Argentina. Between the years 2000 to 2010, 414 male and female Hackneys were registered in the Studbook of the Sociedad Rural Argentina. There were 85 records of the Bay colour, (20.4%). 10 recorded (2.4%) as browns or Dark chestnuts. There were 8 recorded (1.9%) as Black bays, 2 as Blacks whith white marks (0.48%) and 1 registered as a Mealy Bay.

So then 106 dark coloured horses (26%), were recorded for that period of time.

A black with white marks gelding bred by Debiaggi Brothers, driven by Enrique Terrarrosa.


Argentina. Between the same period of time there were 124 records (29.8%) for the red bay and 3 entries (0.7%) for the light or mealy bay colour. The proportion of these lighter colour variations of the bay was 30.5% of the total animals recorded, during that period.

Poncho Altanera, a red bay mare bred by Roberto Tantos, driven by the same breeder.


Great Britain. Sir Walter Gilbey in his book (Second Edition) breeding to colour wrote in 1912: Blue roans and red roans are more commonly seen among Hackneys than in any other breed of horses; though, as is the case of the greys, the pages of the more recent volumes (early twentieth century) of the English Stud Book, contain the names fewer roans that did the earlier volumes. The names of 10 roans occur among the 357 stallions in the Stud Book for 1911.

Perhaps the most celebrated Hackney sire ever known was the roan Norfolk Phenomenon (foaled 1835), regarded by Mr. H. R. Phillips as “the best stallion in England” when he was three years old. About 1838, Mr. Phillips bought Phenomenon to go to Yorkshire, where he did invaluable service in improving the local stock.

Later, this horse was sent to Scotland and died in Edinburgh when thirty years old. Phenomenon was not less remarkable for his symmetry than for his action, which Mr. Phillips described to me as a “twonderful all round true” (the term all round refers to a well muscled horse with a rounded shape). When over twenty years old, Phenomenon made the atonishing trotting record of two miles in six minutes (32.18 km/h).

Norfolk Phenomenon.

It is difficult to suggest the decrease in the number of roan Hackneys. The colour, wether of the red or blue variety is not unpopular, and either can be reproduced with some degree of certainty; a roan which has been mated with a roan stallion throws a roan foal in the majority of cases. The roan foal is so frecuent a result of roan and roan mating.

Over the years, he proposed breeding an inbred line of roans. The process implied a considerable degree of  consanguinity, but it was believed that it could be very successful.

Argentina. Only two roans were registered in the Argentinian Stud Book of the breed, between 2000 and 2010 (0.48%), but it is (at least in one of the two cases) of white interspersed hairs on a brown colour. There are also many chestnut roans, but not the typical blue or red roans, which were formerly seen.




Team of light browns bred by the Reliance Coach Stud in Sierra de la Ventana, south of Buenos Aires province.


Semanario Caras y Caretas – 1902 y 1904.

Registro Genealógico de la raza Hackney – Sociedad Rural Argentina.

Revista El Caballo en la Cría y el Deporte – Septiembre 2009.

Breeding to Colour – Sir Walter Gilbey, 1907. Google e-book.

The Horses of the British Empire – Sir Humphrey F. de Trafford, Bart.

The Evolution of Many Modern Breeds of Light Horses, Tom Ryder.


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