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First Posted: Aug 11, 2009
Sep 25, 2010

Nisean Horse Breed Now Extinct (May have been Gaited)

Nisean Horse


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Country of Origin: Ancient Persia (Iran)

The Nisean Horse Breed is an extinct horse breed, once native to the town of Nisaia. Located in the Nisaean Plains at the foot of the souther region of the Zagros Mountains. They were highly sought after in the ancient world. The famous mount of Alexander the Great, Bucephalus, was said by some to be a Nisean horse. The Nisean horse was said to have come in several colors, including common colors such as dark bay and seal brown, but also rarer shades such as black, red and blue roan, palomino, and various spotted patterns. The ancient Nisean horse was said to have had "not the slender Arabian head of the Luristan Culture but a more robust one that was characteristic of the great warhorse." This suggests the Nisean may have been a descendant of the "Forest Horse" prototype

The Nisean, according to one source, was "tall and swift, and color adorned his sides. The ancient Greeks called him the Nisean after the town Nisa where he was bred; the Chinese called him the Tien Ma-Heavenly Horse or Soulon-Vegetarian dragon. He was the most valuable horse in the ancient world, and he was regarded as the most beautiful horse alive. Some were spotted like a leopard or as golden as a newly minted coin. Others were red and blue roan with darker color in the roan, what Mustang people call blue and red corn."

The royal Nisean was the mount of the nobility in ancient Persia. Two white Nisean stallions pulled the shah's royal chariot, while four of the regal animals pulled the chariot of Ahura Mazda, the supreme god of Persia and Medea. Silver coins from the days of Cyrus the Great show him hunting lions from horseback using a spear. It is safe to assume that courage and manageability were more important than color on these occasions, and without the stirrup, Cyrus also needed a smooth riding horse, so it is assumed that the Nisean horse also had smooth gaits.

During the reign of Darius, Nisean horses were bred from Armenia to Sogdiana. The Nisean horse was so sought after that the Greeks (mainly, the Spartans) imported Nisean horses and bred them to their native stock, and many nomadic tribes (such as the Scythians) in and around the Persian Empire also imported, captured, or stole Nisean horses.

Nisean horses had several interesting traits that they passed on to their descendants. One of them were bony knobs on their forehead often referred to as "horns." When Persia (and the Spartans) defeated a rival country, they would usually leave behind one or two Nisean stallions to "improve" the native stock. The Greeks exported many horses to the Iberian peninsula, where the Nisean greatly influenced the ancestors of today's Iberian-type horse breeds, such as the Carthusian, Lusitano, Andalusian, Barb, and Spanish Mustang.

Elwyn Hartley Edwards in The New Encyclopedia of the Horse called the Nisean the "super horse of the ancient world."

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Nisean Horse


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