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10 Best Horse Breeds for Trail Riding: Expert Recommendations

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As an avid trail rider, I know firsthand the importance of having a reliable horse, and choosing the right breed can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying long rides through the great outdoors.

That’s why I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 horse breeds for trail riding based on expert recommendations and my own personal experience. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or new to the sport, these breeds are sure to be great companions on your adventures. So let’s saddle up and take a look at the best of the best.

Quarter Horse: the all-around favorite

Quarter horses are a reliable and capable breed that is well-suited for trail riding.

Picture of a quarter horse, my top trail riding breed.
Quarter horse

Their strong and sturdy build allows them to navigate rough terrain and carry riders over long distances easily.

In addition to their athleticism, Quarter Horses are known for their calm and gentle disposition, making them a good choice for beginner riders or those who prefer a more relaxed trail riding experience.

They are generally easy to train and handle, making them a reliable and capable mount for various equestrian activities. I’ve had the opportunity to ride Quarter Horses, and they never fail to impress.

I’ve taken them on long trail rides and used them for working cattle, and they have always been up to the task. They are exceptional trail riding horses and the best breed for barrel racing and excel in western pleasure and racing.

Picture of an Arabian horse
Arabian

Arabian: the ultimate endurance breed

Arabians are a popular breed for those who are looking for a horse with the stamina and versatility to take on long-distance rides and challenging terrain.

They are a favorite of one of my friends for trail riding. He owns five Arabians and claims that no other breed can compare.

Arabians are known for their high energy and endurance, which makes them well-suited for long rides over challenging terrain. They are also intelligent and sensitive, making them a good choice for experienced riders looking for a responsive and sensitive mount.

In addition to their suitability for trail riding, Arabians are often used in various equestrian disciplines, including dressage and endurance riding. They are generally easy to train and handle, making them a reliable and capable mount for many equestrian activities.

Picture of an almost white appaloosa.
Appaloosa

Appaloosa: the unique and athletic breed

Appaloosas are a breed known for their distinctive coat patterns and athleticism, and they have a long history of being used for travel over rough terrain.

They were developed by the Nez Pierce Indians and have similar conformation to Quarter Horses, though they are generally a little smaller.

While I have limited experience with Appaloosas and have found that some individuals can be high-strung and difficult for beginner riders, I know many experienced riders, who enjoy trail riding love this breed.

Appaloosas are known for their hardiness and good feet, which can make them well-suited for negotiating rough terrain and carrying riders over long distances.

They may not be the best choice for every rider, but for those who have a lot of experience trail riding and are looking for a hardy and athletic mount, an Appaloosa may be an excellent choice.

Picture of an American Paint horse.
American Paint Horse

American Paint Horse: a splash of color on the trails

Some specific reasons why American Paint Horses may be well-suited for trail riding include:

  1. Adaptability: American Paint Horses are known for their adaptability and versatility, making them well-suited for trail riding. They are often used in barrel racing, western pleasure, and showmanship.
  2. Intelligence and trainability: American Paint Horses are known for their intelligence and trainability, which can make them easy to work with and responsive to training.
  3. Smooth and comfortable gait: American Paint Horses are known for their smooth and comfortable gait, making them a pleasure to ride on the trails, particularly over long distances or rough terrain.
  4. Good stamina: American Paint Horses have good stamina and can be well-suited for long rides over challenging terrain.
  5. Calm and gentle disposition: American Paint Horses are generally known for their calm and gentle dispositions, making them a good choice for beginner riders or those who prefer a more relaxed trail riding experience.

It’s important to note that these are just a few examples of traits that can make American Paint Horses well-suited for trail riding, and different individuals within the breed may have varying combinations of these traits.

The paint horse in the picture is an older mare the kids take on trail rides. She is fun, safe, and responsive. Plus, as with all American Paint Horses she is visually appealing. Their coat color includes large patches of white over a base coat of any solid color.

The white markings are called overo and tobiano patterns. The distinctive coloring of American Paint Horses is one of the features that makes them so popular among horse enthusiasts.

Picture of a Morgan horse and her foal
Morgan Horse

Morgan: the versatile and hardy horse

Morgans are a breed known for their strong and sturdy conformation, and they are often considered a “compact” breed, with a medium-sized frame and well-muscled body. They are well-suited for negotiating rough terrain and carrying riders over long distances.

Morgans have strong and well-defined shoulders and a well-muscled hind end, which can give them good thrust and power. Their legs are generally well-proportioned and straight, with strong bones and good muscling.

They have large, well-shaped hooves that are generally tough and durable, with a concave shape that can help them maintain good balance and traction on various surfaces. Morgans are generally known for their strong and sturdy conformation, making them well-suited for trail riding.

Tennessee Walking Horse: the smooth and comfortable ride

Tennessee Walking Horses are a breed known for their smooth and comfortable gait, and their conformation is often considered a key factor in their ability to perform this gait.

Picture of a Tennessee Walking Horse.
Tennessee Walking Horse

They are generally medium to large-sized breeds with well-muscled bodies, strong legs, and hooves.

Some specific characteristics of Tennessee Walking Horse conformation that contribute to their smooth and comfortable gait include:

  1. Long, sloping shoulder: Tennessee Walking Horses have a long, sloping shoulder that allows them to have a smooth and extended stride.
  2. Well-muscled hind end: Tennessee Walking Horses have a well-muscled hind end, which provides them with good thrust and power.
  3. Long, flat croup: Tennessee Walking Horses have a long, flat croup that helps them maintain their balance and smooth gait.
  4. Large, well-shaped hooves: Tennessee Walking Horses have large, well-shaped hooves that are generally tough and durable, with a concave shape that can help them maintain good balance and traction on various surfaces.

Tennessee Walking Horses are generally known for their strong and sturdy conformation, making them well-suited for trail riding. They also have a great temperament. For example, we would ride Tennessee Walking Horses all day, walk them into a pond, and dive off their backs into the water.

Tennessee Walking Horses are generally easy to train and handle and enjoyable to ride on the trails.

Thoroughbred: the athletic and elegant racehorse

Thoroughbreds are athletic and fast, with a long history in horse racing. However, they are also used in a variety of other equestrian disciplines, including trail riding.

Picture of a Thoroughbred.
Two-year-old Thoroughbred

In addition to being athletic and fast, Thoroughbreds are strong with good endurance, which can make them well-suited for carrying riders long distances and negotiating challenging terrain.

While most of the Thoroughbreds I have owned have had good feet, many individuals within the breed have weak hoofs. It’s always a good idea to check a horse’s hooves before buying them as a trail mount and to consider their suitability for the specific demands of trail riding.

I’ve also found that many Thoroughbreds are high-strung and may not be the best choice for inexperienced riders. However, they are generally smart horses and easy to train. With an experienced rider on their back, Thoroughbreds are responsive and a pleasure to use for trail riding.

Mustang: the versatile and hardy wild horse

Mustangs are a breed of feral horses that are native to the western United States. They are known for their intelligence, athleticism, and hardiness and are good trail-riding horses.

Picture of mustangs.

One of my friends adopted a mustang, and to my surprise, he had him broke and on the trails in just a few months. Mustangs are known for their hardy legs and hooves, which are generally tough and durable, and can be well-suited for various surfaces and conditions.

They have a strong bone structure and good muscling, which can help them maintain good balance and traction. Mustangs are adaptable, smart, and trainable, making them easy to work with and responsive to training. This can be beneficial for experienced riders who are looking for a sensitive and willing mount.

If you’re interested in working with a wild mustang, I suggest you check out the TIP program. It provides grants for retraining wild mustangs. You can learn more about the program in this article: TIP Horse: The Training Incentive Program for Mustangs.

Missouri Foxtrotter: the versatile and smooth-gaited breed

Missouri Foxtrotters were developed in the United States in the early 20th century. They are known for their smooth and comfortable gait, a four-beat, diagonal gait similar to a fox trot.

foxtrotter
Missouri Foxtrotter

The horse picture above is my friend’s trail-riding companion. He takes this palomino Missouri Foxtrotter through pretty tough terrain and never has a problem. She has a nice gait and is comfortable.

The breed was developed by breeding various gaited horses, including Tennessee Walkers, Standardbreds, and American Saddlebreds, to create a smooth-gaited horse that is ideal for trail riding.

Missouri Foxtrotters are known for their strong and sturdy conformation and are a medium-sized breed with a well-muscled body and strong legs and hooves.

They are also known for their intelligence and trainability, which can make them easy to work with and responsive to training.

Missouri Foxtrotters are named after the state of Missouri, where the breed was developed and where the first Missouri Foxtrotter breed registry was established. Today, Missouri Foxtrotters are used in various equestrian activities, including trail riding, western pleasure, and carriage driving.

American Saddlebred: the elegant and versatile show horse

Picture of a saddlebred horse.

American Saddlebreds was developed in the United States in the early 19th century. They are known for their high-stepping action and proud, flashy movement, which is often used in various equestrian disciplines, including western pleasure, show hack, and saddle seat equitation.

The American Saddlebred breed was developed by crossing various horses, including Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Morgans, with the goal of creating a horse with good conformation, movement, and spirit.

The breed was named after the saddles specifically designed for them, and they were originally used for various purposes, including carriage driving, plantation work, and riding.

In terms of their suitability for use as a trail riding horse, American Saddlebreds can be a good choice for riders who are looking for a horse with good conformation, movement, and spirit.

Bonus: Rocky Mountain Horse: the smooth and comfortable trail partner

The Rocky Mountain Horse is a breed of horse that was developed in the United States in the early 20th century. It is named after the Rocky Mountains, where the breed was developed, and it is known for its calm and gentle disposition, smooth gait, and beautiful flaxen mane and tail.

The Rocky Mountain Horse breed was developed by breeding various gaited horses, including Tennessee Walkers, Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses, and American Saddlebreds.

Rocky Mountain Horses can be an excellent choice for riders who are looking for a calm and gentle horse with a smooth gait. They are generally known for their intelligence and trainability, which can make them easy to work with and responsive to training.

Importance of choosing the right breed for trail riding.

Trail riding is a popular and rewarding equestrian activity that allows riders to explore the great outdoors on horseback. Whether you’re traversing through forests, crossing streams, or climbing hills, trail riding offers a unique and thrilling experience.

But in order to fully enjoy this activity, it’s essential to have the right horse by your side. Different breeds of horses have varying characteristics and abilities; some are better suited for trail riding than others.

When it comes to trail riding, choosing the horse breed is crucial. Different breeds have different characteristics and abilities; some are better suited for this activity than others.

A horse that is too small or delicate may struggle to navigate rough terrain, while a horse that is too large or energetic may be difficult to control. In addition, certain breeds may have specific temperaments or dispositions that make them more or less suitable for trail riding.

For example, some horse breeds are known for their calm and steady nature, while others are more high-strung and excitable. By choosing a breed that is well-suited for trail riding, you can increase the chances that you and your horse have a safe and enjoyable experience on the trails.

You’ll be able to tackle challenging terrain with confidence and ease, and you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery and beauty of the great outdoors without any unnecessary distractions or stress.

It’s difficult to say definitively which are the top 10 horse breeds for trail riding, as different breeds can be suitable for this activity depending on the individual horse and the specific needs and preferences of the rider.

TraitDescription
Strong and sturdyA strong and sturdy build can help a horse navigate rough terrain and carry a rider over long distances.
Good staminaGood stamina is important for long rides over challenging terrain.
Calm and gentleA calm and gentle disposition can make a horse easier to handle and more suitable for beginner riders or those who prefer a more relaxed trail riding experience.
Responsive and trainableA responsive and trainable horse can be easier to work with and may be a good choice for experienced riders who are looking for a sensitive and willing mount.
Smooth and comfortable gaitA smooth and comfortable gait can make a horse more enjoyable to ride on the trails, particularly over long distances or rough terrain.

Here is a good YouTube video on how to choose a trail riding horse.

Conclusion

In conclusion, many horse breeds can be suitable for trail riding, depending on the individual horse and the specific needs and preferences of the rider.

Some popular breeds that are often recommended for trail riding include Arabians, Mustangs, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, Missouri Foxtrotters, American Saddlebreds, Appaloosas, Morgans, and Rocky Mountain Horses.

These breeds have varying characteristics and abilities, such as strong and sturdy builds, good stamina, and calm and gentle dispositions, which can make them well-suited for trail riding.

Here is a chart that depicts some of the traits that can make a horse a good candidate for trail riding:

FAQs

What breed of horse is best for long-distance riding?

Arabians have high energy and endurance, which can make them the top choice for long-distance riding. Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses are also good choices.

What is the most comfortable riding horse?

Gaited horse breeds, such as the Paso Fino, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Icelandic Horse, are often known for their smooth and comfortable gaits, which make them a popular choice among riders looking for a comfortable ride.

Can you trail ride on a draft horse?

Yes, some draft horse breeds, such as the Percheron is energetic and has a forward-moving gait, making it more suitable for trail riding than a Clydesdale or Shire, which has a slower, more plodding gait.