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Which Is Better for Trail Riding: A Horse or Motorcycle?

Last updated: July 6, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

There are many different ways to enjoy the great outdoors. For some, nothing beats the feeling of exploring on horseback. Others prefer the thrill and excitement of hitting the trails on a motorcycle. But which is better for trail riding: a horse or a motorcycle?

For trail riding, horses get the nod over motorcycles. While motorcycles are faster in a straight line, horses are more agile and can make turns quicker. In addition, horses are better at dealing with rough terrain, meaning they can maintain their speed even when the going gets tough. As a result, horses are often better than motorcycles for trail riding.

When it comes to trail riding, there are a lot of different opinions on what is the best way to go. Some people prefer horses, while others enjoy hitting the trails on a motorcycle. So, which is better for trail riding: a horse or a motorcycle? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option.

Picture of horse riders trail riding.

Trail riding: Are motorbikes faster than horses?

Horses are no match for motorcycles when it comes to straight-line speed. Motorcycles can reach upwards of 200 miles per hour, whereas horses can only run about 40 miles per hour.

In addition, horses can only sustain their top speed for a short period of time, whereas motorcycles can maintain their high speeds for much longer. As a result, motorcycles are much faster than horses, and they are a more efficient form of transportation.

However, when you include factors such as geography, curves, and obstacles, horses often fare much better. The barrel test helped identify where the two different options worked well.

The bike did best in longer, straighter sections between the barrels, while the horse excelled in corners with sharp turns exceeding 180 degrees. These large, muscle-bound horses made quick work of the corners and were able to maintain their momentum. You can see how impressive this is, considering their bodies’ size and weight.

Picture of a horse running

How Fast Does a Horse Run?

Some horses are capable of achieving speeds that would be considered incredible by humans. For example, the rate of an average horse is 30mph (~48km/h), but some of the greatest racehorses run faster and achieve higher speeds.

However, when comparing the speeds of different horse breeds, it can be challenging because they vary in conformation and endurance. Some horse breeds, such as the quarterhorse, have incredible bursts of speed but only maintain this for short distances while others, like Arabians, may take longer to get going but continue at a steady pace over greater distances.

Horse Gaits: 

There are four gaits a horse travels in:

  • walk
  • trot 
  • canter
  • gallop

The average speed of horses in various gaits:

GaitAverage speed
Walk4.3 mph (6.9 km/h)
Trot8 mph (12.9 km/h)
Canter15 mph (24 km/h)
Gallop 28 mph (45 km/h)
Watercolor painting of a trail ride through the forest.

The average running speed of horses by breed:

BreedTop Running Speed
Akhal-Teke40 mph (64 km/h)
Quarter Horse50 mph (80.4 km/
Paint Horse40 mph (64.5 km/h)
Andalusians35 mph (56 km/h)
Mustang 35 mph (56 km/h)
Appaloosa 35 mph (56 km/h)
Arabian37 mph (60 km/h)
Thoroughbred43 mph (69 km/h)
Picture of a person trail riding on a motorcycle.

What is the average speed of a motorcycle?

Motorcycles and dirt bikes (for off-road purposes) come in many different shapes and sizes, with the average going about 80-165 mph. The fastest and most popular bikes are usually categorized by their top speeds:

Type of Motor CycleAverage Top Speed
125cc motorcycles60-75 mph
250cc motorcycles80-110 mph
500cc motorcycles90-120 mph
600cc motorcycles90-165 mph
1000cc motorcycles100-186 mph

Factors that Affect a Motorcycle’s Top Speed:

Some of the most important factors affecting the top speed of a motorcycle are its horsepower, weight, and fuel capacity.

These are some features you should consider when purchasing a motorcycle 

1) Type- Singles, Twins, or Triples 

2) Year of bike

3) Condition of bike- Fairly or Very Good 

4) Features of the transmission and drivetrain- Planetary Transmission and Inline Four Engine 

5) Size of the wheels- 20 – 23-inch 6a Speed limit.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.

How to get your horse in shape for running:

If you’re like most horse owners, you want your horse to be in top condition. After all, horses are meant to run, and there’s nothing more impressive than seeing a horse galloping across a field or track. But before you start putting your horse through its paces, there are a few things you need to do to get it in shape for running.

First, ensure they’re healthy and strong enough to handle the exercise. You don’t want to overwork them and cause an injury. Second, gradually increase their activity level, so they have time to adjust and build up their endurance.

Finally, pay attention to their diet and make sure they’re getting the right nutrients to fuel their activities. With a little care and preparation, you can help your horse stay healthy and fit for running.

In addition, here are a few other things you can do:

1) A horse needs a lot of energy to run, so they need to eat and drink a lot. Make sure they have access to hay and water at all times.

2) Exercise them regularly. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to take them on long runs, you can still exercise them regularly by walking or trotting them around your property or taking them on short rides. This will help them build up their endurance and strength.

3) Get their feet in good shape. A horse’s feet are very important for running since they have to bear the brunt of the impact. Make sure their hooves are trimmed properly and that they’re not suffering from any injuries or diseases. Also, regular shoeing can help protect their feet from the wear and tear of running.

4) Pay attention to their breathing. A horse’s respiratory system is different from ours, but they still need to be able to breathe properly when they’re running. If you notice them having difficulty breathing, slow down or stop altogether so they can reduce their heart rate and slow their breathing.

5) Be careful with heat exposure. Horses can overheat easily, especially when they’re exercising hard. If it’s hot out, make sure they have access to shade and plenty of water so they can stay cool and hydrated.

By following these tips, you can help your horse stay in shape for running and enjoy the experience while doing it safely.

Picture of a dirt bike on a trail.

Horse vs. Motorcycle- Who is the Winner?

There’s no question that horseback riding is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. There’s something special about being on horseback that makes you feel more connected to nature. And horseback riding is a great workout too.

In addition, horseback riding they don’t require any gasoline and are also less likely to startle wildlife, making them ideal for trail riding in areas where there is a lot of wildlife.

But there are also some downsides to horseback riding, especially when it comes to trail riding. For one thing, horses can be spooked by unexpected noises or movements, making trail riding a bit risky.

And horses also require a lot of care and attention. You have to groom them, feed them, and exercise them regularly. Motorcycles, on the other hand, are much less work. You just have to gas them up and go.

And if you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping experience, nothing beats hitting the trails on a motorcycle. So, there’s no denying that both horse and motorcycle offer a unique and thrilling experience when out on the open trail.

But which one is the better option? To answer this question, it really comes down to what you’re looking for in a ride. If you’re someone who enjoys the feeling of unity with your mount and nature, then horseback riding is certainly the way to go.

However, if you enjoy going fast and feeling the wind on your face, then a motorcycle is definitely the better option. There’s nothing quite like tearing down a trail at top speed on a powerful motorcycle. So, horse or motorcycle? The answer really depends on what you’re looking for in a trail-riding adventure.

Below is a YouTube video pitting a dirt bike and ATV against a horse.


Is it safer to ride a motorcycle or a horse?

There’s no denying that horseback riding is a much more dangerous activity than motorcycle riding. In fact, a study found that horseback riders sustained injuries at 0.49 out of 1000 hours of riding. Whereas motorcycle riders were injured at 0.14 out of 1000 hours of riding

Are horses scared of motorcycles?

Horses are definitely afraid of motorcycles, especially when they’re first exposed to them. It’s the loud noise and fast movement that spooks them, and it can take a while for them to get used to it. But once they do, they’re usually fine around motorcycles.