The Hackney Horse has enjoyed popularity in its native country for centuries, thanks to its wonderful trot, stamina and proud bearing. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Hackney started to find itself exported all throughout the world, from North America to Australia. The Hackney's appearance in the United States happened relatively early as compared to other countries, and the horse arrived thanks in no small part to one wealthy businessman and horse enthusiast. Not only did the Hackney arrive in America early, but its dedicated breed society was formed hot on the heels of the society formed in its native country.
The person we can thank for the early arrival of the Hackney in America is Alexander Cassatt, a prominent businessman that lived from 1839 to 1906 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Often referred to as A.J. Cassatt, he was best known for serving as president of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the last seven years of his life and for his love of horses, culminating with his Chesterbrook Farm, where he bred Thoroughbreds. But even before his Thoroughbreds won awards at famous Stakes such as the Preakness and the Belmont, Cassatt was the first to import a Hackney mare named 239 Stella in 1878.
While Cassatt was the first, he certainly wasn't the last, as there were enough Hackneys in America by 1891 for Cassatt and his fellow enthusiasts to create the American Hackney Horse Society. During the months leading up to the incorporation of the American Society, breeders around the country had been taking steps to create a similar society, but the leaders of the AHHS approached the English Society, which had only formed in 1883, which then ratified the AHHS as an affiliated extension of the parent association.
Around the time of the creation of the American Hackney Horse Society, the Hackney saw a population boom in the United States between the 1890's and the Great Depression, with wealthy Americans importing many Hackneys from its native England. While the Depression may have put a stop to the mass importation of the breed, there were enough dedicated breeders to keep the horse going through this financially difficult time for the nation. As the nation slowly came into better times, dressage and other horse competitions came into vogue, and the Hackney with its incredible trot and proud carriage was no exception.
While Chesterbrook Farm may be nothing more than a subdivision of homes and businesses today, A.J. Cassatt has not be forgotten for his contribution to the Hackney Horse's history in the United States, and the American Hackney Horse Society lives on at its present home of Lexington, Kentucky. Hackney Horses are considered by some organizations to be a threatened breed, particularly with less than one thousand Hackney Horses currently in the United States, but the AHHS continues in its mission to not only maintain the studbook of the breed, but to promote and educate the public about the breed through the American Hackney Horse Society Foundation.