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Best Horse Breeds for English Riding: 15 Top Picks

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English riding is a popular and versatile equestrian discipline that requires a skilled and well-trained horse. Whether you’re interested in dressage, show jumping, or eventing, it’s important to choose a breed of horse that is suitable for the demands of English riding.

This article will explore 15 of the best horse breeds for English riding. From the powerful and athletic Thoroughbred to the graceful and elegant Arabian, each of these breeds has its own unique characteristics and strengths that make it well-suited for English riding.

Whether you’re a seasoned rider looking for a new mount or a beginner searching for the perfect first horse, this list has something for everyone. So, let’s get started!

Picture of a Dutch Warmblood trotting across a pasture.
Dutch Warmblood

1. Dutch Warmblood

These horses were bred to be Belgian sport horses, with large bones, well-muscled structures, strong backs, and robust legs and joints. They are incredibly willing to work with nerves of steel and have a reputation for being reliable.

The Dutch Warmblood originated in the Netherlands and was developed through the crossbreeding of Thoroughbred and Heavy Draft horse bloodlines. The breed was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to create a versatile, athletic horse that could excel in various disciplines.

Throughout its history, the Dutch Warmblood has made significant contributions to the world of English riding disciplines. In dressage, Dutch Warmbloods have been successful at the highest levels of competition, including the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games.

Many of these horses have also excelled in show jumping, with several winning major international events such as the Show Jumping World Championships and the FEI World Cup. Dutch Warmbloods have also been successful in the discipline of eventing, with several horses winning medals at the Olympic Games and the World Equestrian Games.

Characteristics

The Dutch Warmbloods are generally medium to large in size, with a strong, well-proportioned build and a long, elegant neck. They have a friendly, calm, and even temperament.

Dutch Warmbloods are known for their powerful hindquarters and strong legs, which help them excel in varied disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, and eventing.

They are also known for their athleticism and movement, characterized by powerful, ground-covering strides and an elegant, flowing gait. Overall, the Dutch Warmblood is a breed that is well-suited for a variety of tasks, including dressage, show jumping, and eventing.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.
Thoroughbred

2. Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred breed is a breed of horse that is known for its athleticism and speed. It was developed in England in the late 17th century by crossing imported Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman stallions with native English mares.

These early crosses produced a breed of horse that was known for its endurance, speed, and agility, and they quickly became popular for use in racing and other equestrian sports.

Characteristics

One of the Thoroughbred’s key characteristics is its conformation, characterized by a long, slender neck, a deep chest, and powerful hindquarters. They are typically muscular and well-proportioned, with a strong, athletic build.

Thoroughbreds are well-suited to the English riding discipline due to their athleticism and versatility. They can perform a wide range of movements with ease, and their conformation and movement make them well-suited to the demands of English riding.

Thoroughbreds are sensitive animals with an ability for patience. They are also persistent, intelligent, and willing to work with an orientation toward humans.

Typically known for their stamina in racing, they make elegant dressage horses and perfect three-day eventers. And thanks to their strength and agility, they make fantastic show jumpers and are also prized as polo horses.

The Thoroughbred breed is ideal for those looking to participate in English riding disciplines due to its athleticism, trainability, and versatility.

3. Hanoverian

The Hanoverian breed originated in the region of Hanover in Germany. It is known for its athleticism, movement, and jumping ability, making it popular for English riding disciplines such as dressage and show jumping.

Hanoverian horses have a long and distinguished history dating back to the early 18th century and were initially large workhorses used for pulling carriages and plows. But over time, technology advanced, and machines eventually displaced the workhorse.

The modern Hanoverian breed adapted by crossing with English Thoroughbred stallions, and it quickly gained popularity due to its versatility and strong athletic abilities.

Characteristics

Hanoverians are known for their strong, muscular bodies and elegant, refined heads. They have long, sloping shoulders and well-muscled hindquarters, which gives them powerful and balanced movement. Hanoverians are typically bay, black, or chestnut in color and stand at an average height of 16-17 hands.

In addition to their athletic abilities, Hanoverians are known for their intelligence, trainability, and willing dispositions. They are often used in dressage and show jumping competitions, but they are also popular as all-around riding horses due to their versatility and easygoing nature.

This good-tempered horse has a tendency to be spirited, but they are friendly and ambitious. They are faithful to their riders and make sensitive companions.

Picture of horses in Irleand.
Picture a horses from my trip to Ireland

4. Irish Sport Horse

The Irish Sport Horse breed was developed in Ireland in the 20th century by crossing Thoroughbreds with native Irish draft horses. The goal of this breeding program was to create a horse that was both athletic and versatile.

A long, sloping shoulder, a deep chest, and strong hindquarters characterize the Irish Sport Horse breed. They are typically tall and muscular, with a powerful build and long, athletic legs. In addition, their muscular bodies are well-proportioned with strong bones.

They are known for their athleticism, endurance, and intelligence and are prized for their versatility and trainability. Irish Sport Horses can perform a wide range of movements with ease, and their conformation and movement make them well-suited to the demands of English riding.

Their courageousness and energy provide them with the stamina needed for eventing where they excel. This highly intelligent breed of horse is always eager to please and makes a great jumper, eventer, hunter-riding horse, and dressage horse.

They are a loyal breed, good-natured, and friendly with a pleasant nature. However, some Irish Sport horses are high-spirited and may not be for inexperienced riders.

The Irish Sport Horse breed is an ideal choice for those looking to participate in English riding disciplines due to its athleticism, versatility, and trainability.

5. Oldenburg

Oldenburg horses are often used in English riding disciplines such as dressage, show jumping, and eventing due to their excellent conformation, movement, and ability to perform various disciplines.

The Oldenburg breed has a long and varied history. It originated in the region of Oldenburg, Germany, where it was developed as a multi-purpose horse suitable for farm work, riding, and driving.

Numerous other horse breeds influenced Oldenburg horses, including the Hanoverian, Thoroughbred, and Friesian.

Characteristics

Oldenburg horses are German sport horses with powerful legs and well-muscled body that provides the strength and ability to achieve high competition scores. It has a great deal of suspension in its gaits.

They typically have a long, elegant neck, a well-defined wither, and a long, sloping shoulder with strong, clean legs and good bone structure.

But even though they are powerful, they have a docile personality and are easy to handle. Oldenburg horses are intelligent and willing to work. They are often used in dressage due to their natural movement and ability to perform the movements required in the sport.

Oldenburg horses are also suitable for show jumping and eventing due to their athleticism, strength, and versatility. Overall, the characteristics of the Oldenburg breed make them well-suited for a variety of English riding disciplines, and their versatility makes them an appealing choice for riders looking to compete in multiple disciplines.

colt. edited 1 scaled

6. Holsteiner

Holsteiners are another extremely willing warmblood breed that is easygoing. They love to learn and are respectful creatures that are calm and patient, making them ideal for beginners to professional levels.

Their extensive movement and natural balance provide them with a flowing elastic stride that is highly desired in dressage. However, their athleticism makes them reliable high-class horses with high success rates in show jumping.

The Holsteiner horse breed is a breed of horse that was developed in the region of Holstein, located in the northern part of Germany. The breed was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by crossing native German mares with imported Thoroughbred stallions.

The goal of this breeding program was to create a horse that was both athletic and versatile. The resulting breed has proven successful in many equestrian disciplines, including show jumping, eventing, and dressage.

Characteristics

As with many other breeds that are successful in English riding, Holsteiner horses are typically tall, muscular horses with long, sloping shoulders, a deep chest, and strong hindquarters.

They are prized for their athleticism, jumping ability, and movement, which make them well-suited for English riding disciplines such as show jumping and eventing. They are also smart and willing workers, making them a good choice for riders looking for a reliable and capable mount.

In addition, Holsteiners are known for their strength and stamina, which can benefit the demands of English riding needed for eventing, cross country, show hunters, and hunter seat equitation.

7. Selle Français

French-bred, these horses have an athletic physique with a strong skeletal structure. They are quick, energetic, and have good even gaits, with an eagerness to learn and a willingness to work.

In addition, they have a kind and friendly disposition, making this patient horse brave with multi-talented abilities for jumping, dressage, and eventing. These characteristics make them well-suited for the demands of English riding disciplines such as dressage, show jumping, and eventing.

Furthermore, the Selle Français breed has a long and varied history, having been developed in France in the 19th century as a versatile breed suitable for farm work, riding, and driving.

The breed was influenced by various other breeds, including the Thoroughbred, Arab, and Anglo-Norman saddle horse, contributing to its athleticism and versatility.

Overall, the combination of physical and mental attributes make Selle Français horses popular in English riding disciplines. Their versatility makes them an appealing choice for riders that compete in multiple disciplines.

showjumping

8. Westphalian

The Westphalian horse is a well-balanced German-bred warmblood with a natural elastic gait. These horses are human-orientated with genuine devotion. Their high motivation, strength, and ability to remain calm make these reliable sports horses for dressage, jumping, and eventing.

The Westphalian horse breed originated in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. They were initially used for farm work because of their large size and power.

However, after crossing them with smaller breeds, they quickly gained popularity as riding and driving horses due to their athleticism, movement, and versatility.

In the early 20th century, the Westphalian breed was officially recognized by the German breeding society, the Verband der Züchter des Oldenburger Pferdes (Oldenburg Breeders’ Association).

Characteristics

Regarding conformation, Westphalian horses are similar to other warmblood breeds, such as the Oldenburg and Hanoverian. They are typically larger and more robust than Thoroughbreds, with a more substantial bone structure and stronger hindquarters.

They also tend to have a more muscular build and a shorter, thicker neck than Thoroughbreds. Oldenburg horses are also a warmblood breed and share many of the same physical characteristics as Westphalian horses.

Both breeds are known for their athleticism, movement, and versatility and are often used in English riding disciplines such as dressage, show jumping, and eventing. However, there are some subtle differences in conformation between the two breeds.

Westphalian horses tend to have a more rectangular build, with a longer body and a shorter, thicker neck. In contrast, Oldenburg horses tend to have a more athletic, “modern” appearance, with a longer neck and a more uphill conformation.

Westphalian horses are known for their excellent conformation, movement, and versatility, making them well-suited for various English riding disciplines.

9. Trakehner

The Trakehner, the lightest and most refined of the warm-blood breeds, was once quite different. The Trakehner horse breed originated in the region of East Prussia, which is now modern-day Poland.

In the early 1800s, the goal of breeding a better horse was attempted by introducing small amounts of top-quality English Thoroughbred and Arabian blood to the native Trakehner horse breed, which was stocky and strong.

The aim was to add size, nerve, spirit, and endurance from the Thoroughbred and refinement from the Arabian bloodline to create a versatile horse. This combination resulted in n athletic and highly trainable horse breed with excellent endurance and willingness to work.

Their nerves of steel make them ideal for various English riding disciple. However, they are highly prized in dressage for sensitivity and intelligence.

Below is a YouTube video on the Trakehner horse breed I think you’ll find interesting.

Characteristics

Regarding conformation, Trakehner horses resemble other warmblood breeds, such as the Hanoverian and Oldenburg. They are typically larger and more robust than Thoroughbreds, with a more substantial bone structure and stronger hindquarters.

They also tend to have a more muscular build and a shorter, thicker neck than Thoroughbreds. However, Trakehner horses have some distinctive physical characteristics that set them apart from other warm-blood breeds.

They are known for their elegant, “baroque” appearance, with a long, flowing mane and tail and a high-set tail carriage. They also tend to have a more convex profile and a more refined, “dished” nose than other warm-blood breeds.

Picture of an American Quarter horse used for English riding.

10. American Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse originated in the United States. It was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries as a breed suitable for ranch work and racing. It was named after the quarter-mile distance of its races, which were popular in colonial America.

Although the American Quarter Horse breed is well-known for its western riding roots, it is becoming increasingly popular in English riding due to its athleticism, intelligence, and willingness to work.

Quarter horses are easy to train, and they are curious with nerves of steel. In addition, they have a robust form and muscular croup, making them multi-talented horses used in lower-level dressage, leisure riding, and jumping.

Characteristics

Quarter Horses are generally stocky and muscular, with a short back and strong hindquarters. They have a compact, athletic build and are well-suited for short bursts of speed and quick turns.

In contrast, horses that excel in English riding disciplines, such as dressage or show jumping, are typically longer-bodied and more finely built. These horses have longer legs, a more elegant, refined head, and a convex profile. They are also generally more agile and lighter on their feet than Quarter Horses.

Overall, the American Quarter Horse is a breed well-suited for different tasks, including racing, cow work, and rodeo event but is not your typical horse that excels in English riding competitions. However, they are great for beginner riders to learn English disciplines.

11. Andalusian

Andalusians are Spanish-bred horses that demand presence. Although they are flashy horses, they are docile and calm, with loyal traits that form close bonds with their riders. Their obedience and talent for collection make them ideal for dressage, working equitation, and show riding.

Andalusian horses are known for their excellent movement and ability to perform advanced dressage movements, and they can also be successful in the show jumping ring. However, as with any breed of horse, individual horses within the breed may have different abilities and characteristics.

It is important to match the horse to the rider and the specific discipline in which they will compete. It is always best to work with a knowledgeable trainer or instructor who can help you choose the best horse for your riding goals.

Here is a YouTube video on Andalusian horses.

Characteristics

The Andalusian horse breed is known for its distinctive conformation, which includes several key traits:

  1. Head: Andalusians have a large, expressive head with a straight or slightly convex profile, large nostrils, and large, prominent eyes.
  2. Neck: They have a long, arched neck that is well-muscled and carries well.
  3. Body: Andalusians have strong, well-muscled bodies with deep chests, well-sprung ribs, and well-defined withers. They have long, sloping shoulders and long, muscular backs.
  4. Legs: Andalusians have solid and clean legs with good bone and conformation. They have long, sloping pasterns and tough hooves.
  5. Tail: They have a long, flowing tail that is often carried high.
  6. Movement: Andalusians are known for their impressive movement, characterized by high-stepping, elevated gaits and fluid, graceful movement.

12. Arabian

The Arabian horse is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world, with a history that dates back thousands of years. The breed is native to the Arabian Peninsula, where the Bedouin people developed them as riding and pack animals.

The breed was highly prized for its stamina, intelligence, and beauty, and it was used in warfare and as a symbol of wealth and status.

Over time, the breed was introduced to other parts of the world, and it played a significant role in the development of many other horse breeds, including the Thoroughbred, the American Saddlebred, and the Morgan.

Today, Arabian horses are highly prized for their versatility and are used in diverse riding disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, endurance riding, and more. They are also popular as show horses and as family pets.

Characteristics

Arabian horses are known for their strong, athletic build and distinctive conformation. They have well-proportioned, muscular bodies with deep chests and strong, sloping shoulders.

They have a relatively short back and strong, well-muscled hindquarters. Their legs are clean and well-defined, with small, hard hooves. Arabian horses have a high-set tail that is carried in a distinctive curve and a long, flowing mane and tail.

They are known for their distinctive head shape, which features a dished profile, a concave forehead, and a prominent jaw. They also have small, pointed ears and large, flared nostrils. Overall, Arabian horses are known for their elegant and graceful appearance, as well as their strength and athleticism.

Arabians are intelligent, athletic, and have great endurance and are often described as loyal, affectionate, and energetic. They are versatile horses that excel in a variety of disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, endurance riding, and more.

13. Friesian

The Friesian is a breed of horse that originated in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. They are known for their striking appearance, jet-black coats, long mane and tail, and a distinctive plume of hair on their fetlocks.

Friesians have a long and storied history, with roots that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. They were initially used as war horses and later as carriage horses, and they were also used for agricultural work and riding horses. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Friesians began to be used in dressage and other forms of competitive riding.

In the 20th century, the breed faced a period of decline, as mechanization and changing transportation needs decreased demand for heavy horses. However, the breed has made a resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to its popularity in movies, television, and other media.

Today, Friesians are used for assorted purposes, including dressage, driving, and recreational riding.

Friesians were bred to carry knights into war, which made them strong and steady. They are brave and make reliable companions. Their meek disposition makes them ideal for young and old riders that want to enjoy English riding.

They are highly intelligent horses with a natural disposition for professional horsemanship and make excellent dressage horses at lower and intermediate levels. They are also great all-rounders for driving and showing and are used for small jumps.

Characteristics

Friesian horses are known for their elegant and strong conformation, making them suitable for various riding disciplines, including English. Some of the characteristics that make Friesians well-suited for English riding include:

  1. Size and strength: Friesians typically stand between 15.2 and 17 hands. They have a strong, athletic build, which makes them well-suited for the physical demands of English riding disciplines such as dressage and jumping.
  2. Movement: Friesians are known for their high-stepping, expressive movement. They naturally tend to lift their legs high and engage their hindquarters, which is desirable in English riding disciplines.
  3. Temperament: Friesians are known for their calm, intelligent, and willing temperament. They are generally easy to work with and train, which makes them well-suited for English riding disciplines that require precise movements and subtle cues from the rider.
  4. Conformation: Friesians have long, sloping shoulders and a strong, muscled hindquarter, which gives them good balance and power. They also have a long, arched neck and a short, strong back, which gives them a stylish appearance and allows them to carry themselves well in English riding disciplines.

Friesian horses are versatile and well-suited for a mixture of English riding disciplines. However, they can’t compete in high-level competitions; they are more suitable for lower-class competitions and beginner riders.

They are known for their beauty, movement, and willing temperament, which make them a popular choice among riders.

14. Lusitano

Lusitano horses are a breed of horse that originated in Portugal. They are talented partners that show bravery with docile demeanors. They are an agile breed with a good-natured predisposition. Their high concertation levels and enthusiasm make them a much-loved horse in English riding.

Characteristics

One of the key characteristics of Lusitano horses is their conformation. They are known for their strong, muscular build, well-defined neck, hindquarters, and deep chest. They have medium-sized heads with large nostrils and a straight or slightly convex profile.

Lusitanos are also known for their movement, characterized by a long, rhythmic stride and a natural tendency to engage their hindquarters. They are known for their ability to perform the “levade,” in which the horse raises itself on its hind legs and holds its front legs off the ground.

This movement is often seen in classical riding styles and is a hallmark of the Lusitano breed. Regarding temperament, Lusitanos are known for their intelligence, willingness, and trainability. They are generally easy to work with and are willing to please their riders.

Overall, Lusitano horses are versatile and well-suited for varied riding disciplines. They are known for their strong conformation, expressive movement, and willing temperament, which make them a popular choice among riders.

They make lovely dressage and working equitation horses, with people enjoying them as jumping and show horses too.

Picture of a standard colored appaloosa horse.

15. Appaloosa

Not your typical high-class horse, but these beautiful Nez Perce horses make a loving horse with a human orientation. They have pleasant natures that make them ideal family horses that are calm and brave.

Appaloosa horses are easily recognizable by their mottled skin, white sclera (the white part of the eye), and striped hooves. They also have a variety of coat patterns, including leopard (dark spots on a light background), blanket (a large patch of color on the hindquarters), and snowflake (dark spots on a white or light-colored background).

Characteristics

In terms of conformation, Appaloosas are built similarly to the American Quarter horse, with a strong, athletic build, well-muscled neck, powerful hindquarters, and deep chest.

Appaloosas are known for their versatility and are used in assorted disciplines, including Western riding, dressage, and jumping. They are known for their agile movement and good endurance, which make them well-suited for long-distance riding and various performance events.

In terms of temperament, Appaloosas are known for their intelligence, willingness, and trainability. They are generally easy to work with and are willing to please their riders.

In addition, their motivation and persistence make them easily trainable and make wonderful lower-level dressage and jumping horses.

Choosing an English riding horse.

Most horse breeds can be suitable for English riding, depending on what you intend to do with the horse. However, deciding on the best horse breed for English riding can also depend on the rider’s experience and at what level they compete.

Although these breeds are some of the best for English riding and have friendly and calm natures, not all horses show the same qualities or are suited to beginners. Therefore, finding the right match is important for both rider and the horse.

There are over seven hundred different horse breeds in the world, each one with its own unique traits and abilities that can make them perfect for one or other disciplines or styles of riding. So, what makes a great English riding horse? Here are a few things to consider when choosing an English riding horse:

  1. Disciplines: Think about which English riding discipline you are interested in pursuing and choose a horse that is well-suited for that discipline. For example, if you are interested in dressage, you may want to choose a horse with a natural tendency to engage its hindquarters and lift its legs high. If you are interested in jumping, you may want to choose a horse with strong conformation and athleticism.
  2. Conformation: Consider the horse’s conformation, or physical structure, when choosing an English riding horse. A horse with a strong, athletic build and good balance will be better able to perform the movements required in English riding disciplines. Look for a horse with a long, sloping shoulder, strong hindquarters, and a deep chest.
  3. Movement: Pay attention to the horse’s movement when evaluating its suitability for English riding. A horse with a long, rhythmic stride and a natural tendency to engage its hindquarters will be well-suited for disciplines such as dressage.
  4. Temperament: Choose a horse with a calm, willing temperament. English riding disciplines require subtle cues from the rider, and a horse that is difficult to work with or easily distracted may not be well-suited for these disciplines.
  5. Experience: Consider your own level of experience when choosing an English riding horse. If you are a beginner, you may want to choose a horse that is more forgiving and easier to work with, while an experienced rider may be able to handle a more challenging horse.

Choosing an English riding horse is a personal decision that depends on your individual goals and needs. It is important to carefully consider the horse’s conformation, movement, temperament, and your own experience when making your decision.

Types Of English Riding Events Or Disciplines

The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) recognizes several types of English riding events.

Dressage

Dressage is described as an art form and the most challenging level of training. The horse and rider’s ability to perform a selection of movements shows off the horse’s natural athletic ability and movement under the saddle.

It demonstrates the obedience and willingness of the horse to execute specific commands given by the rider with subtle, discrete, and minimal aids.

Although any horse can do entry-level dressage, not all horses can perform at the higher, more advanced levels of dressage.

Eventing

Eventing is a competition where a single horse and rider compete over three days against other competitors in three different disciplines: dressage, jumping, and cross country.

Show Jumping

Show jumping is another English riding discipline where a horse and rider must navigate a course of jumps within a limited amount of time with as few penalties as possible. Successful course completion will see qualifying horses and riders ride against each other against time over a condensed course of selected jumps.

Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation

The modern hunter-seat equitation judges horses on their ability to perform and complete a course while displaying good manners, smooth gaits, and a calm and steady disposition. They need to have pleasant and practical jumping skills while maintaining a particular style and presence when performing specific actions and obstacles.

Endurance Riding

Here endurance riding tests the horse’s stamina and fitness over varying distances, terrain, altitudes, and weather conditions. It also tests the rider’s horsemanship abilities and control over the length of the race, which can be broken up into several days.

Conclusion

Many different horses can be ideal for English riding, with certain breeds having a tendency to be better suited to particular disciplines. Characteristics and temperament significantly influence how well-suited a horse is for English riding and at what levels it can perform.

Not all horses in these breeds will be suitable for every level of rider, so considering what riding skills the rider has will also determine the horse required for the rider.

References