There is often confusion about what is meant by the different types of horse. It is not a complicated subject, just something that needs a little thought followed by going out and actually looking around at horses. A showing show is an ideal place, where horses are competing against others of the same type and you can develop an eye similar to the judge.
A hack’s purpose was to be seen and make his rider look stylish. As the gentry would ride through Hyde Park on a Sunday morning, they wanted to see and be seen and their hack was the horse to do it on. Think of driving a Porsche or Ferrari as the modern day version. The hack should have impeccable manners, be light and pleasurable to ride and beautiful to look at.
Hunter’s are meant to be able to cope with a day following hounds. If we think of cars again, think tough 4 x 4 Landrovers. They must be sure footed, sensible, have endless stamina and be up to carrying the weight of their riders. They are a heavier more substantial type then the hack. Working hunters must be clean (blemish / scar free), bold jumpers with courage and dependability. The diameter of the bone directly beneath the horse’s knee is measured, and that is described as the amount of bone that a horse has. A hunter will have more bone then a hack, meaning more substance and capable of carrying more weight.
Riding horses, or riding club horses are somewhere in between hacks and hunters. They’d be your typical family car. Not as flashy as the hack, lighter in bone then the hunter, they are useful general purpose horses. For the show ring they still need to be good looking, well schooled and a pleasure to ride.
Cobs are the transit vans of the horse world. Traditionally, one day your cob would be pulling the plough in the field, hunting the next and taking the family to church on a Sunday in the trap. They are often described as big horses on pony legs. They must be safe, sensible and easy to keep and ride.
Horses are also divided into hot, warm or cold bloods. This has nothing to do with temperature but type and temperament.
Originally there were hot bloods and cold bloods. Hot blooded horses were found in the warmer countries and deserts. These include Arabs, Barbs and later, Thoroughbreds. These horses are light in bone, fine skinned and dainty. They move fast, have quick reactions and are often more nervous then their cold blooded peers. Their light frames require little effort to move at speed over distances, fine coats allow heat loss and small, hard hooves are light and manoeuvrable on hard ground. Their lack of bulk makes them light on their feet to reduce concussion when there is little give in the ground.
Cold blooded horses are the other extreme. The Shire and Clydesdale would be good examples. They are heavier in their bodies with great strength and stamina. The colder climates where they developed meant thicker coats, great shaggy manes and tails and “feathers” on the lower legs. Big hooves gave a greater weight bearing surface for their heavier bodies and meant they could travel on top of mud rather then sinking into it.
The warmblood is a relatively modern cross of the two. Its purpose is to combine the quick athletic lightness of the Thoroughbred with the strength, stamina and (generally) more personable temperament of the cold blood. This type of horse is the most commonly used in high level equestrian sport.