Namib Desert Horse

The Namib Desert Horse is a hardy and sure-footed animal that has adapted to life in the harsh and very hot Namib Desert.

This desert horse is well equipped to handle the extremes of heat and drought that occur in this part of the world.

According to the findings of genetic tests that were conducted and published in 2001, the horse population that lives in the Namib Desert is one of the most isolated in the world.

They also have the second-lowest genetic variety of all horse populations that have been researched to this point.

Learn more about this fascinating animal, including where you can see it in the wild, in today’s blog post.

Namib Desert Horse Breed Info

Here are some of the key things you need to know about the Namib Desert Horse:

Height (size) 15.0 – 16.0 hands high
Colors Most commonly bay, but chestnut, gray and brown are also seen. Many have dorsal striping but no zebra stripes.
Country of Origin Namibia
Common Uses Tourist attraction

The feral breed known as the Namib Desert Horse has been roaming free in the Namib Desert for almost 100 years.

Although genetic testing has been conducted, none have provided conclusive evidence of their ancestry, even though a few different theories exist.

Different Origin Theories

There is speculation that their ancestors were German riding and cavalry horses who were either freed, abandoned, or just went missing sometime around World War I.

This is backed by the fact that there was a camp nearby that housed 10,000 men and 6,000 horses belonging to the Union of South Africa.

The camp was bombed by the Germans on many occasions, and the final attack in March 1915 hit both the camp and the the horses in the surrounding area.

It’s possible that Union forces didn’t have time to round up all the runaway horses before pursuing after the fleeing Germans.

A second theory is tied to a stud farm that was run by Emil Kreplin, who served as mayor of the prosperous town of Lüderitz from 1909 to 1914.

Kreplin raised both racehorses for the Lüderitz racetrack and working horses for the mines in the Garub Plains, where he established his stud farm.

However, during the First World War he was imprisoned by the Union of South Africa, and after the war he lost his riches in Europe.

The theory suggests that after Kreplin’s horses were left to their own devices, they dispersed over the plains in search of water and better pasture, at which time they encountered other horses that had been abandoned or ran away.

According to another theory, horses were first introduced to the area by diamond prospectors more than a century ago.

Their Lives in the Desert

The South African Railway was responsible for maintaining a borehole close to the town of Aus, which was the most dependable supply of water in the region.

This area also has a number of natural springs, and it has become the center of the wild horse territory.

Since that time, Namib Desert Horses have been able to survive in the hard, dry environment without the assistance of humans, with natural selection helping them become more resilient with each passing generation.

As a direct consequence, they are now regarded as a distinct breed.

While other factors such as temperature, distance to feed and water, and individual energy expenditures are an important factor, the state of the horses is most directly correlated with rainfall because it impacts how much grass is available for them to eat.

The Namib Desert Horse covers a great deal of ground on a daily basis in search of food, water, and protection from the elements and insects.

According to research done in 1994, their typical home range covers an area of 13 square miles (34 km2), even though they do not traverse the whole area every single day.

However, between the grazing areas and the limited available water sources, they have to travel around 9 – 12 miles (15 to 20 km) per day.

This leads to intense selection pressure, which eliminates animals who are not strong enough to survive in this kind of environment.

Due to water scarcity, and also the distances they have to travel to get to it, the Namib Desert Horse can go without water up to 30 hours in the summer, and up to 72 hours in the winter.

Conservation Efforts and Dilemmas

Given the historical value of the horses and the positive benefits they have on the local tourist economy, their grazing ground was incorporated into the Namib-Naukluft Park in 1986.

The well-being of the horses as well as their effect on the environment is monitored, and on the very rare occasion that the population increases over 200 head, some of the horses are captured.

When droughts become severe money is raised for their food, because the horses are essential to the local economy and attract many visitors per year, who go to Garub specifically to see them in their natural habitat of unforgiving sand dunes and desolate plains.

However, many horses have still perished over the years, and depending on the year their numbers range from 90 to 200 horses.

According to biologist Telane Greyling, the number of wild horses has dropped from 286 in 2012 to just 65 adults.

The herd’s survival is dependent on a few rare foals, but only one, Zohra, has lived to reach its first birthday in the last seven years.

Also, the presence of spotted hyenas has been a growing cause for worry over the past 20 years.

Numerous horses have been killed by hyenas, but to make things worse, the hyenas themselves are in danger, which further complicates the situation.

The estimated hyenas numbers in Namibia have dropped from 2,000-3,000 in 1998 to less than 1,000 in 2019.

The two endangered species – one native and one not – have now created a conservation dilemma.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating breed, keep reading!

Alternative Names



Lives in free roaming herds, not aggressive but interactions should be avoided

Physical Characteristics

They have the head, skin, and coat of well bred riding horses.

The withers are good, and the back is short.

The shoulders are sloped.

In general, they have good conformation, with very few flaws, and are athletic and muscular with clean limbs and strong bones.

Foals sometimes develop club hooves, most often as a result of hoof injuries sustained while traveling long distances.


Most commonly bay, but chestnut, gray and brown are also seen.

Many have dorsal striping but no zebra stripes.

Height (size)

15.0 – 16.0 hands







Blood Type


Common Uses

Tourist attraction



Popular Traits

Feral free roaming horses who can go prolonged periods of time without water



Country of Origin



Different European and potentially South African riding horses