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Best Horses for Riding: Equestrians’ Top Choices

Published on: September 12, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Choosing a horse isn’t like picking out a new pair of shoes. It’s way more personal and impactful. You see, every horse breed has its unique traits – some are fast and energetic while others are calm and steady. So, getting the right breed for your riding style can make a world of difference. It’s like finding a dance partner who moves perfectly in sync with you.

Speaking of breeds, have you ever heard of the agile Thoroughbred or the graceful Arabian? These are just a couple of the popular breeds favored by many riders. But are they the right fit for you?

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into equestrians’ top choices, making your journey to find the perfect horse a little easier. So, saddle up, and let’s begin this exciting ride!

Understanding Your Riding Needs

Every rider is unique, much like our equine friends. Just as you wouldn’t wear ballet shoes for a sprint, it’s crucial to match your riding style with the right horse breed. Let’s explore some of the varied riding styles and the factors that should influence your decision. edited

English Riding:

Derived from European traditions, English riding is characterized by its sleek saddles designed for close contact and a forward seat. With a focus on elegance and formality, riders generally have direct rein contact and maintain a poised posture.

  1. Dressage: Often compared to ballroom dancing, dressage requires precision, grace, and an incredibly strong bond between rider and horse. This is your arena if you’re looking for elegance and controlled movements.
  2. Eventing: A combination of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. It’s the triathlon of the equestrian world, testing both horse and rider in a variety of skills.
  3. Jumping: Imagine the thrill of soaring through the air, both you and your horse working in unison to clear obstacles. Jumping is exhilarating, but it demands a horse with power, agility, and trust.

Western Riding:

Originating from the ranching and warfare traditions of the American West, Western riding places emphasis on a deeper saddle and a relaxed seat and often involves one hand on the reins, allowing the other to perform lasso or other ranch-related tasks.

  1. Barrel Racing: Speed and agility are key in this rodeo event, where riders navigate a cloverleaf pattern around barrels. It’s a race against the clock, requiring sharp turns and bursts of speed.
  2. Cutting: A true showcase of a horse’s athleticism and intelligence, cutting involves separating a single animal from a herd of cattle. It’s a dance of sorts, with the horse often making decisions independently of the rider.
  3. Trail Riding: Picture yourself leisurely wandering through serene woodlands or across open meadows, taking in nature’s beauty atop your loyal steed. While trail riding can be enjoyed in both English and Western styles, it often falls under the Western category due to the emphasis on comfort and long hours in the saddle.

Factors to Weigh in Your Decision:

  1. Rider’s Experience Level: Are you a novice just stepping into the equestrian world or a seasoned rider? It’s essential to choose a horse breed known for its temperament that matches your skill level.
  2. Purpose of Riding: Are you riding for competition, leisure, or work? An aspiring rodeo star might look for a horse with very different qualities than someone hoping for peaceful weekend rides.
  3. Environment: The environment where you’ll be spending most of your riding time is crucial. A horse suited for mountainous terrains might struggle on sandy beaches and vice versa.

Understanding your personal riding needs and preferences is the first step in forming a harmonious bond with your future equine partner. As we delve into equestrians’ top choices, keep these styles and factors in mind. They’ll guide you closer to the horse that dances to your rhythm.

Overview of Horse Breeds: Quick Snapshot

BreedSize (Hands)TemperamentPrimary Use
Thoroughbred15.2 – 17Active, SpiritedRacing, Jumping
Arabian14.1 – 15.1Intelligent, EnergeticEndurance, Dressage
Andalusian15.2 – 16.2Calm, DocileDressage, Trail Riding
Dutch Warmblood15.2 – 17Reliable, AthleticJumping, Dressage
Morgan14.1 – 15.2Sturdy, EnergeticShow, General Riding
Tennessee Walking Horse14.3 – 17Gentle, FriendlyShow, Trail Riding
Irish Sport Horse16 – 17Versatile, EagerEventing, Jumping
Clydesdale16 – 18Docile, BraveDraft, Show
Belgian16 – 17Hard-working, GentleDraft, Farm Work
Friesian15 – 17Graceful, PowerfulDressage, Driving
Picture of a young thoroughbred, one of the best horses for riding.

Review of Top Horse Breeds for Riding

With countless horse breeds worldwide, it’s a challenge to pick just a few for review. While we’ll spotlight some popular choices, remember there are many other worthy breeds not mentioned here. Each has its unique strengths and charm, deserving of attention and appreciation. Let’s dive into some of the best horses for riding.


The Thoroughbred has its roots in the United Kingdom. It emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries from a mix of native mares and imported Oriental stallions like the Arabian, Barb, and the Turkoman. Primarily bred for racing, Thoroughbreds are used in many equestrian disciplines, especially those requiring speed and endurance.

Physical characteristics:

Typically standing between 15.2 and 17 hands, Thoroughbreds possess a refined head, long neck, deep chest, and a short back. Their lean and athletic build is supported by long legs, which give them their iconic speed.

Temperament and behavior:

Thoroughbreds are known for their agility, spirit, and speed. They’re energetic, intelligent, and sensitive, sometimes earning them a reputation for being “hot-headed.” However, with proper training, they can exhibit grace, responsiveness, and adaptability.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

Beyond their obvious fame in the racing world, Thoroughbreds excel in show jumping, dressage, and eventing. Their quick reflexes also make them apt for polo. They require a balanced diet and regular exercise to maintain their high-energy levels and lean physique. Regular vet checks, especially for leg health, are paramount, given their active nature.


The Arabian horse traces its lineage back to the Arabian Peninsula. Its history is as old as the sands, with Bedouins treasuring the breed for centuries. Renowned for endurance, Arabians spread worldwide through war, trade, and exploration.

Physical characteristics:

Arabians usually stand between 14.1 and 15.1 hands. They have a distinctively dished face, large eyes, arched neck, and high tail carriage. Their bone structure is dense, and they have one less vertebrae than other horse breeds, giving them a shorter and more compact back.

Temperament and behavior:

Known for their intelligence and spirit, Arabians are also friendly, gentle, and eager to please. Their alertness and sensitivity make them quick learners but also means they can sometimes be reactive.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

Their stamina makes them unparalleled in endurance riding. Arabians also shine in dressage, western events, and polo. They’re highly adaptable, performing in show rings to ranches. A well-balanced diet is essential, and they thrive on routine. Their coat can be sensitive to cold, so they may need blanketing in colder climates.


Originating from the Iberian Peninsula and named after the region of Andalusia in Spain, the Andalusian has been recognized since the Middle Ages. They’ve been coveted for their prowess in warfare, bullfighting, and as high-status riding horses.

Physical characteristics:

Andalusians stand between 15.2 and 16.2 hands. They possess a strong yet elegant build with a thick mane and tail. Their head is of medium length, their neck slightly arched, and they often have a broad chest and strong, rounded hindquarters.

Temperament and behavior:

This breed is renowned for its docility and kindness. They’re calm, quick to learn, and have a cooperative nature, making them favorites for various equestrian disciplines.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

Traditionally used in dressage, they’re also great for trail riding due to their calm demeanor. They have robust health but can be prone to lameness if overworked. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and periodic vet checks will keep them in optimal condition.

Picture of young children showing their quarter horses.
Quarter Horse Show for kids

Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse is an iconic American breed, which owes its name to its incredible speed over a quarter-mile distance. Originating in the 1600s from a blend of English Thoroughbreds and native American horses, it became a foundation of the American West.

Physical characteristics:

Typically ranging between 14 and 16 hands, Quarter Horses possess a broad head, muscular neck, powerful hindquarters, and a compact body. Their build supports both speed and agility.

Temperament and behavior:

Known for their calm demeanor, they are also incredibly versatile and intelligent. Their steady nature makes them favorites among both novice and seasoned riders.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

While renowned for rodeo events, Quarter Horses are also used in trail riding, racing, and even dressage. They have a robust constitution but benefit from regular exercise and a balanced diet to maintain their muscular physique.

Picture of a Morgan horse and her foal
Morgan horses


The Morgan horse breed began with a singular stallion named Figure in the late 1700s in Massachusetts. His strength, endurance, and versatility became legendary, leading to a new breed named after his owner, Justin Morgan.

Physical characteristics:

Morgans typically stand between 14.1 and 15.2 hands. They have a well-defined head, expressive eyes, a strong neck, and a compact body.

Temperament and behavior:

They are known for their spirited yet gentle nature. Morgans are eager learners and form strong bonds with their riders.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

Morgans excel in a wide range of disciplines, from show to general riding. Their adaptability also sees them in driving competitions. Regular exercise, routine vet checks, and a balanced diet ensure their well-being.

Tennessee Walking Horse

Originating in the American South, the Tennessee Walking Horse was developed in the late 18th century for use on farms and plantations. Its smooth gaits provided comfortable rides over the diverse Tennessee terrains.

Physical characteristics:

Tennesse Walking Horses usually stand between 14.3 and 17 hands. They possess a refined head, long neck, and strong yet elegant limbs.

Temperament and behavior:

Praised for their gentle disposition, they also have a natural, four-beat “running walk,” which is both smooth and swift.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

The Tennessee Walking Horse’s comfortable gaits make them especially favored for trail riding. Additionally, they shine in shows and parades. Regular grooming, balanced nutrition, and routine health checks are vital for their care.


Hailing from the Clyde Valley in Scotland, the Clydesdale breed developed during the early 18th century. Originally bred for heavy farm and industrial work, they were indispensable during the pre-industrial era.

Physical characteristics:

A tall breed, Clydesdales typically stand between 16 and 18 hands. Notable for their feathering (long hair) on the lower legs, they have a strong neck, powerful body, and sturdy legs.

Temperament and behavior:

Despite their imposing size, Clydesdales are known for their docile and friendly nature. They are calm, easy-going, and can be surprisingly gentle.

Check out this YouTube video about riding a Clydesdale in Scotland.

YouTube video

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

While Clydesdale’s are traditionally used as draft horses, they are now often seen in parades, shows, and as riding horses. Their large size necessitates spacious stabling, and they require regular grooming to keep their feathering clean.


Originating from the Brabant region of modern-day Belgium, the Belgian draft horse is one of the strongest of the heavy breeds. Historically, they were bred for challenging farm work in their native land.

Physical characteristics:

Standing between 16 and 17 hands, Belgians are stocky, muscular, and powerful. They often have a chestnut coat with a flaxen mane and tail.

Temperament and behavior:

Belgians are hard-working and possess a calm demeanor. They’re gentle giants, combining strength with a friendly disposition.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

While often seen pulling heavy loads, Belgians are also used for riding and even some competitive events. As with other large breeds, they require spacious accommodations and a balanced diet to maintain their bulk. These horses as strong making them ideal for carrying heavy riders.

Picture of a person riding a Friesian hore bareback.
Friesian Horse


The Friesian horse, with its origins in Friesland, Netherlands, is an ancient breed dating back to the Middle Ages. Historically, they were used in battle due to their size and agility.

Physical characteristics:

Typically standing between 15 and 17 hands, Friesians are graceful and majestic, often entirely black in color. They have a long, flowing mane and tail and feathering on their lower legs.

Temperament and behavior:

Known for their gentle nature, Friesians are also agile and lively. They are intelligent, eager to learn and develop strong bonds with their handlers.

Best uses in riding and special care needs:

Due to their grace, they are popular in dressage and driving. Their striking appearance also makes them favorites in film and theatre. Regular grooming, particularly of their long hair, and a balanced diet are crucial for their care.

Factors in Choosing Your Perfect Breed

Finding the ideal horse breed for your needs can be likened to a puzzle; all the pieces need to fit perfectly. With countless breeds out there, each offering unique characteristics and quirks, making an informed choice can seem overwhelming. To simplify this process, let’s consider a few critical factors that will guide your decision.

1. Matching Breed Temperament with Rider’s Personality

Every horse breed has its temperament, ranging from spirited and energetic to calm and docile. Just as with humans, personalities can clash or harmonize:

  • Spirited Riders: If you’re someone with a zest for adventure and love challenges, breeds like the Arabian or Thoroughbred, known for their energy and intelligence, might be a good match.
  • Calm and Collected: If you’re a novice or prefer a more relaxed riding experience, you might resonate more with a gentle and steady breed, like the Clydesdale or Belgian.

2. Maintenance and Care Considerations

Every horse requires care, but the level of maintenance can vary:

  • High Maintenance: Breeds with long manes and tails, like Friesians or Andalusians, require frequent grooming to prevent tangling and maintain their majestic appearance.
  • Sturdy and Low Maintenance: Breeds like the Quarter Horse or Morgan are known for their robust nature and might not demand as much pampering.

3. Longevity and Health Factors

Understanding a breed’s average lifespan and common health concerns can inform long-term commitments:

  • Long Lifespan: Breeds like the Arabian are known for their impressive longevity, often living well into their 20s or even 30s with proper care.
  • Health Considerations: Some breeds might have breed-specific health issues. For example, draft horses like the Belgian or Clydesdale might be more prone to certain hoof or joint issues.

4. Training and Adaptability

Depending on your goals, a horse’s trainability can be paramount:

  • Versatile and Quick Learners: Breeds like the Quarter Horse or Morgan are renowned for their adaptability, excelling in various disciplines, from racing to dressage.
  • Specialized Skills: Some breeds, like the Tennessee Walking Horse with its unique gait, might require specialized training techniques.

The journey to finding your perfect horse is deeply personal and influenced by numerous factors. By understanding your needs and aligning them with a horse’s characteristics, you’re one step closer to forming a bond that lasts a lifetime.

Picture of Tennessee Walking Horses on a trail ride.
Tennessee Walking Horse

Insights from Equestrians

Hearing directly from those who’ve saddled up and experienced the bond between rider and horse can offer invaluable insights. Let’s dive into what some seasoned riders have to say about their preferred breeds and how to make the right choice.

Emma, Dressage Competitor:
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Andalusian. Their elegance, combined with their responsive nature, makes them a dream for dressage. But more than their aptitude, it’s their willingness to connect and their soulful eyes that captivated me.”

Tips from Emma:
“Choose a breed not just for their skill set, but for the emotional connection you feel. As your needs evolve, that bond will help both of you adapt together.”

Jake, Trail Riding Enthusiast:
“For me, there’s nothing quite like the Tennessee Walking Horse. Their smooth gait ensures a comfortable ride, even on long trails. Their calm demeanor means I can enjoy the sights without worrying about sudden spooks.”

Tips from Jake:
“Consider your environment. If you’re riding trails, you need a horse that’s both comfortable and reliable. Think about where you’ll be most of the time and choose a breed that thrives in that setting.”

Lia, Show Jumper:
“Jumping with a Thoroughbred is exhilarating! Their power, speed, and agility are unmatched. But it’s also their heart and determination that makes them champions in the ring.”

Tips from Lia:
“Training is crucial. No matter the breed’s natural aptitude, the right training regimen is essential to hone their skills and strengthen your partnership.”

Ray, Ranch Owner:
“Quarter Horses have been a staple on my ranch. Their versatility—from herding cattle to leisure rides—is impressive. They’re hardworking, loyal, and have an intuitive nature that makes working with them a pleasure.”

Tips from Ray:
“Think long-term. Your needs today might be different five years down the line. Choose a versatile breed that can grow with you and adapt to different tasks or disciplines.”

In the words of these equestrians, the bond between horse and rider is profound. While each breed offers unique strengths, the right choice hinges on personal needs, the environment, training, and, most importantly, the connection felt when you’re in the saddle.

Conclusion: Best Horses for Riding

Selecting a horse isn’t a fleeting decision but rather a commitment, akin to choosing a dance partner for life’s waltz. Just as every dancer has their rhythm, every horse has its own spirit, vigor, and character.

Making an informed choice isn’t just about ensuring compatibility for the activities you envision but also about forging a bond that stands the test of time. For those looking to step into the enchanting world of equestrian pursuits, remember that every horse breed has a story, a lineage, and a purpose.

However, beyond historical facts and data lies the intangible – the connection, the energy, the mutual respect. This bond, built on trust and understanding, is the essence of the relationship between horse and rider.

To potential horse owners, don’t hesitate to seek wisdom from seasoned riders, trainers, and breeders. Their experiences and insights can serve as guiding beacons. But equally, if not more importantly, trust your instincts.

When you come across a horse and feel an inexplicable pull, an unsaid understanding, and a sense of comfort – know that you might just have found your perfect match. In the grand tapestry of equestrian pursuits, every thread, every choice, every horse has significance.


Can one horse breed excel in multiple riding disciplines?

Yes, many horse breeds are versatile. For example, Quarter Horses can excel in racing, dressage, and even trail riding.

Where can I get insights from experienced riders about specific breeds?

Joining equestrian clubs and forums and attending horse shows or events are great ways to connect with seasoned riders and get firsthand insights.