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The origins of the Hackney as we know it began in Norfolk, England where the horses called Norfolk Trotters had been selectively bred for elegant style and speed. Seeking to improve on both counts, breeders mated the Norfolk mares to grandsons of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. The first Hackney as we know the breed today is said to be The Shale's Horse, foaled in 1760. During the next 50 years, the Hackney was developed as a special breed.
By the Society's rules, conformation is giving greater importance than action in hand classes with an emphasis on quality. Quality may be defined as well-balanced physique with clean limbs; it is also expressed in a generous and alert demeanor which may be emphasized by good presentation.
The head should have a straight or slightly convex profile with clear, intelligent eyes set fairly wide apart; the ears should be well-formed and active.
When standing, the Hackney should have its head and neck raised, expressing the alert and active character of the breed.
The neck should be of moderate length, with more or less crest according to age and sex. The poll should be of good length. The throat should be fine so that there is no restriction of the air passages when bridling. The neck should be well attached to reasonably high withers set on powerful, obliquely sloping shoulders.
The body should be of adequate length with well-sprung ribs and of a good depth. A fairly long back is not objectionable in a mare. The upper line of the croup from the loins to the tail should form a convex curve with the tail well carried. Viewed from the front, the chest should be of ample but not excessive width, while from the rear the quarters and gaskins must be well muscled.
The legs should have plenty of clean, flat bone with the tendons clearly defined. Excessive fineness of bone, especially any tendency to be "tied in below the knee," is objectionable in the Hackney. The forelegs should be attached well forward, beneath the point of the shoulder. The forearms should be long and well developed while the cannon bones should be short and clean with plenty of good, flat bone. The pasterns should be sufficiently long and set at the proper oblique angle to provide a light and springy step. From the side the forelegs should not show any tendency to be "back or over at the knees." From the front they should be seen to be upright without any turning out or in of the pasterns. The hind legs should be of good length from the stifles to the hocks with short cannon bones. The hocks should be well formed and not be too upright when the horse is standing at ease.
The hooves should be well rounded, in front forming an angle of about 50 degrees with the ground at the toe. The hind hooves will form a rather more upright angle. The hooves should be open at the heels and have concave soles.
When shown in hand, a true, four-beat walk is expected. This should be straight with the forelegs well extended and the hocks flexed in a stride that has the hind feet overstriding the imprints made by the forefeet. To achieve this in most cases it is necessary to give freedom of movement to the horse's head which, in the case of entries, may mean letting out the side reins. The trot in hand should show well rounded front action, taking a stride of good length with the hocks flexed and following through. Dishing or crossing of the forelegs should be penalised. Straight action is most important in breeding classes as defects in this regard can be hereditary.
The Hackney Horse Movement In Harness
In show harness classes, high action is of greater importance. The front action should be lofty and well rounded with no tendency to brush the elbows. It must also be straight and true and the front feet must be placed squarely on the ground. Dropping on the heels is faulty. The hind legs should be well flexed and brought forward under the body with a piston like action. Dwelling of the hocks in a flexed position is undesirable. Excessive speed at the trot is not wanted, the aim being to give a well-balanced performance presenting a pleasing picture of poise and elegance.