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Modern horse breeds have a variety of abilities, colors, temperaments, and body types. They also can perform a range of tasks. There are over 300 horse breeds in the world, each with its set of unique qualities.
In general, horse breeds are a specific group of domestic horses with the same appearance, behavior, and features distinguishing them from other equines. When two members of a “true horse breed” mate, they produce more breed members.
This guide is a fun and easy way to learn about the many breeds of horses. For more detailed information on specific breeds and types, I provide links for you to follow!
This article is part one of a series that focuses on horse breeds. In this one I cover:
- Different kinds of horse breeds
- Most common horse breeds
- Racing or the fastest horse breeds
- Breeds used in warfare
- Sport horse breeds
- Horse breeds with long hair
Let’s begin by looking at the different kinds of horses.
Different kinds of horse breeds
Horses are versatile animals, and many of them serve more than one purpose. For example, it’s not unusual to see a person pleasure riding on a draft horse or to see a riding horse used to pull a carriage.
However, for centuries, breeders selectively bred horses with specific traits, often categorized by purpose. Therefore, I find it easier to look at them in these categories when discussing breeds of horses.
The five classes or kinds of horses fall under the following categories:
1. Draft horses/Cold-blooded
These are workhorses and have been used throughout history for pulling plows and ranch and farm chores. And they are easy to distinguish from light horses and ponies.
Heavy draft horses have massive strengths, strong muscles, and substantial bone structures. The most popular large draft horse breeds are listed below. Please click the links for more details on each breed.
Origin: The Shire horse originated in Britain and is the foundation bloodline for many other horse breeds.
Color: Shires are black, bay, or gray.
Size: Average height is 17 hands high (hh); however, some can reach 19 hh. They held the record for the world’s tallest horse. Their weight averages 2200 pounds
Origin: Clydesdales originated in Scotland in the River Clyde region. Best known as the “Budweiser Horses.”
Color: Common Clydesdale color pattern: chestnut coat, white stockings, and a blaze face. However, they can be bay, black or gray which may include roan.
Size: 16 to 18 hands and over 2,000 pounds
Origins: The Brabant region of modern Belgium. Belgians are the strongest of the draft breeds.
Color: The Belgians are typically a light chestnut color with flaxen mane and tails.
Size: Belgium’s are powerfully built and heavy; many are between16 and 17 hands and weigh over 2,000 pounds. Currently, the tallest horse in the World is a Belgian.
Origins: The Percheron breed was developed in the Normandy region of France’s Perche province.
Colors: Most Percherons are gray but can be black, chestnut, bay, or sorrel.
Size: Percheron horses are typically 16 to 17 hands tall; however, they range from 15 to 19 hands.
Reference articles on draft horses
2. Light horses/Hot blooded
Light horses by far are the most common type of horse. Light horses range between 14.2 hh to 17 hh, but most are between 15 to 16 hh. Light horses are ideal for riding and dressage, jumping, and other equestrian disciplines. The two most popular light horse breeds are Arabian and Thoroughbreds.
You can read more about these breeds here:
- Thoroughbred Horse Breed: Facts, Height, and Characteristics;
- The Arabian Horse Breed: Its History and Facts Revealed
3. Warm-blooded horses
Warm-blooded horses display the grace of hot-blooded horse breeds like Thoroughbreds and the strength of cold-blooded breeds. They are strong and sturdy and perfect for competitions like dressage, jumping, etc. Examples: Swedish Warmblood, Belgian Warmblood, and Danish Warmblood.
- Why Are Some Horses Called Warmbloods? Definition & Breeds.
- The Best Horse Breeds for Dressage and Show Jumping. Top 5
4. Gaited horses
Gaited horses have a natural 4-beat gait which makes riding a smooth experience. The best gaited breeds are:
5. Color breeds
Horses registered or categorized based on the color or pattern of their coat regardless of the type are considered to be members of a “color breed.” There are many popular varieties, such as American paint horse, buckskin, and palomino breeds.
Bonus: Pony breeds
Pony breeds are not horses, but they’re popular equines, so I included them in this list. Ponies are smaller than horses measuring between 12 and 14 hh. Most pony breeds have a similar conformation and temperament to draft horses, and they have thick coats, long manes, heavy bodies, and are calm, making them an excellent choice for kids.
Some popular pony breeds include:
- Pony of Americas
- Connemara Pony
- Quarter Pony
Most Common Horse Breeds
Six of the most common horse breeds in the USA are:
Most popular breed in the US. and has the largest breed registry in the world.
Versatile horse and suitable for all riders. Participate in various equine sports.
Height: 14.3 to 16 hands. Weight: Approximately 1000 pounds
Thoroughbreds are the most popular racing horse breed known for outstanding speed and stamina.
Thoroughbreds’ are hot-blooded horses, and some are high-strung. They are used in polo, dressage, and jumping.
Height: 14.3 to 16 hh Weight: Approximately 1100 pounds
Valued for speed, beauty, intelligence, gentleness, and endurance.
Height: 15 hh and weight between 800 and 1000 lb.
Arabians are used for endurance and pleasure riding, horse shows, and polo.
Hardy horses. They don’t need too much food to maintain a healthy weight.
Height: 14.1 to 16.2 hh. Weight between 900-1100 lb.
Morgan’s originated in the U.S. and are calm, strong, and athletic. They are good for beginner riders.
Colorful and flashy. Known for their beauty, power, and athletic ability.
Height between 14.2 and 15.2 hh. Average weight is between 950 and 1250 lb.
Horse racing, rodeo, western halter competitions, pleasure riding, show-jumping.
Naturally gaited horse breed developed in the United States.
Height: 15 to 16 hh and weighs between 800 and 1100 lb.
Exceptional trail riding horse, calm disposition, and smooth gait. Good choice for beginner riders.
Racing Horse Breeds/Fastest horse breeds
|Breed||Special features and speed|
|Akhal Teke||Distinctive metallic coat. Speed about 30 mph making it one of the fastest horse breeds|
|American Quarter Horse||Known for working cattle, you can’t outrun these versatile horses in a short-distance race. They’ve been clocked running 55 mph.|
|Andalusian Horse/Pure Spanish Horse||Unique strength can perform complicated maneuvers, and they have terrific stamina, speed, and athleticism. Used in long-distance, jumping, dressage, and other events. Speed is about 20 mph.|
|Appaloosa||Compact size ideal for kids. They have strength, speed, stamina, and are one of the fastest breeds. They also have a flashy coat. Average speed is 30-41 mph.|
|Arabian||Fastest horse in record time. Good temperament, friendly, and intelligent breed. Speed is approximately 40 mph.|
|Thoroughbred||Their average speed is nearly 44 mph. A thoroughbred Filly named Winning Brew reached a speed of 43.97 mph to enter the Guinness Book of World Records|
Breeds Used in Warfare
Friesian horses are the descendants of medieval era warhorses called destriers, who knights often rode during battles, tournaments, and jousting competitions.
The versatile breed is used in dressage and other equine events, but not without a sense of history. This Royal Horse of Europe carried knights to battle and was the choice steed for nobility and royals.
The Shire is a draft horse, but they weren’t always working horses. Originally the Shire was bred for war, and their strong back helped carry knights with heavy armor to battles across Europe many centuries ago.
But warfare changed dramatically with technological advances, and motorized vehicles began transporting soldiers. Still, this sturdy beast of burden found a job moving artillery in both world wars to places vehicles couldn’t.
- War Horses: Discovering the Unique Breeds Used in Battle
- The Origin, History, and Uses of the Horse in Europe.
Sport Horse Breeds
Irish sport horses are the offspring of thoroughbred and Irish draught horses. They are known for their speed, stamina, endurance, athleticism, and friendly temperament. Because of these qualities, they are used extensively in equine sports.
Read more about the Irish Sport Horse here.
These fast horses are ideal for racing events. They also have the inherent personality trait to exceed their performance, making them a favorite in the racing world.
3. Other noteworthy sporting horses
I must mention other sporting horse breeds like the Danish Warmblood, Selle Francais, and the Hanoverian Horse Breed too. They are all fast and well-known for their strength, stamina, and athleticism. They are also generally mild-tempered.
Don’t forget to read about Best Horses for Dressage and Show Jumping.
Horse Breeds with Long Hair
Many horse breeds have long hair. These include:
The quality of a Friesian horse’s mane, tail, and feathering determines the quality of the horse. Some owners might see it as too much of a grooming hassle and choose to shave it off. But owners of Friesians typically treasure their long manes, tails, and feathers. And if you intend to breed one, an abundance of hair is often a critical factor for the desired stallion or Friesian broodmare.
The hair of Clydesdale horses is trimmed and used for making ropes. How the hair is cut depends on the age and gender of the horse. Sometimes, the hair from a Clydesdale is cut to make trinkets. Having a lot of hair on their lower legs is considered a good point in breeding horses.
Shire, Gypsy Vanner, and Swedish Northern Horses also have long hair.
- What Horse Breeds Have Long Hair: Long Manes and Tails?
- What Horses Have Furry Feet (Feathers) and Why? Breeds and Facts
I started this set of articles as a handy reference to the many equine breeds found in North America. I hope you enjoyed reading it and learned something new about horse breeds. If you would like to learn more about a specific breed or topic, just click on one of the links.
Check out the YouTube video below, and it provides additional information you may find helpful about horse breeds.