; Skip to Content

What’s the Best Horse Breed For Me? Top 3 Breeds By Activity

Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!


When I first started looking for a trail horse, I had a specific breed in mind. However, because so many of my friends rode different breeds, I began to wonder which breed is best for me, so I did some research to find out.

The best horse breed depends on the equine activity, such as trail riding, dressage, racing, or any other equine event. There is a wide range of horses suitable for a variety of purposes, so first, decide on the equine activity most important to you and then research horse breeds in that group.

Many people choose a horse based on its looks, but that is not always the best. You need to choose a horse breed that performs well for your purpose.

Picture of a Thoroughbred and American Paint horse

Quick links:

Choosing the best horse breed.

It’s the perfect time in your life to get a horse, and you need to know what is the best breed of horse for you. It can be a pretty tricky decision, especially since recent surveys list over 300 different horse breeds.

Don’t be put off by the number of breeds and types of horses. The kind you’ll consider is governed by the equine activity you plan to participate in with your horse.

Horses are individuals; however, specific breeds have traits that make them superior in performing certain tasks. For example, if you intend to participate in pulling competitions, you wouldn’t consider an Arabian.

We give you our top three breeds in the most common equine activities, from competitive jumping to best breeds for beginner riders.

Picture of a show jumping horse.

What’s the best horse breed for showjumping?

Holsteiner is the best horse breed for showjumping. It takes a particular horse to be successful in competitive showjumping. A horse must have a combination of courage and athletic ability. They must be able to leap high obstacles, make sharp turns, and sprint in between and Holsteiners fit the bill.

The following is a list of the breeds that consistently rank in show jumping competitions.

1. The Holsteiner breed dominates international showjumping.

The Holsteiner breed originated in Germany but is only the fifth-largest breed in the country. Holsteiners are 6% of the European warmblood population; however, they dominate the sport of International Show Jumping. 

They have the perfect body type to cover long distances. They range in height from 16 to 17 hands and can be gray, bay, black, or chestnut.

According to the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses, Holsteiner ranked number 1 for jumping.  (Click the link for more information on the Holsteiner breed)

2. Dutch Warmbloods are highly competitive showjumpers.

Dutch warmbloods are very versatile horses and are highly competitive in International Jumping. During the nineteenth century in the Netherlands, two organizations bred more massive horses with a more noble and spirited horses with faster action and good stamina.

The result is the modern Dutch Warmblood. The average Dutch Warmblood stands about 16 hands and is known for is stable conformation and is commonly found in bay, gray, black, and chestnut colors.

They have a naturally competitive nature and love to perform, combined with a natural temperament and desire to learn. The horse is known for its willingness and wants to work.

This is a good horse for any level of rider. (click the link for more information on the Dutch Warmblood breed https://kwpn-na.org/ )

Picture of a Hanoverian horse
Picture of a Hanoverian horse

3. Hanoverians are willing and intelligent horses.

Hanoverians are warmblooded horses that have proven to be easy to train, learn quickly, and are athletic and strong. The Hanoverian is of German heritage and was once a carriage horse, and Thoroughbred bloodlines were introduced to lighten the horse’s frame.

Today, Hanoverians are consistently in the top five breeds of show jumpers. All Hanoverian horses are branded with a distinctive back-to-back letter H for Hanover; this has been a practice since the breed’s inception in 1735.

Hanoverian horses are sensible, intelligent, and bold. The Hanoverian Horse is an ideal horse for riders of all skill levels. Hanoverian horse colors include gray, brown, black, bay, and chestnut. This horse is usually around 16.5 hands tall with a long, thin neck and mid-sized head.

They usually have slightly short but solid legs with a mid-sized back. Because of the breed’s gentle nature, it is a good horse for riders of any skill level. (You can learn more about this fantastic breed by clicking on this link: https://hanoverian.org/)

Picture of an Irish Draft horse.
Picture of an Irish Draught horse

Honorable Mention: Irish Sport Horses.

The Irish Sport Horse is an exceptional athlete, perfect for use in sports jumping. They are the result of crossing Irish Draught horses with Thoroughbreds.

The combination of the Irish Draught brings stronger bone, substance, and a more sensitive temperament to her offspring. The average Irish Draught stands between 15.2 and 16.3 hands (click the link for more information on the Irish Draught Horse http://irishdraught.com/)

The first mention of the Irish horse breed is in the 1700s. Because of its quiet nature, coupled with beauty, strength, and speed, it was used to work the farm, sporting events, and look good while riding to town.

The Irish Draught breed originated from the smaller Connemara pony breed the ancient Celts brought to Ireland. These horses were crossed with Norman horses, Spanish breeds, and Thoroughbreds.

Picture of two horses on a training track.
Picture of Thoroughbred racehorses

What is the best breed for horseracing?

Thoroughbreds are the best horseracing breed. Through the years, people pitted their best horses against others. There is archeology evidence of horse racing as far back as the ancient Egyptians.

Ancient Greek and Romans raced chariots, and there were even horse racing events in the ancient Greek games. The following are just a few of the breeds of horses that race in events today.

1. Thoroughbreds are kings of the horseracing world.

All Thoroughbreds can be traced back to one of three stallions; Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, or Godolphin. These Arabian stallions are the foundation for the breed.

Some of the biggest purses in horse racing are reserved for Thoroughbred racing. It is the most glamorous, highest-profile, and has the most popularity in horse racing.

Thoroughbred horses range in height from 15 and 17, hands high. They normally have a long neck, deep chest, long legs, and a lean body. It’s a hot-blooded breed.

An interesting fact; Thoroughbred horses have a fixed “birthday” in the Northern hemisphere; they are officially one year older on January 1st, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they are one year older on August 1st. (click this link for more information on the Thoroughbred breed.)

Picture of a quarter horse.

2. Quarter Horses the fastest times on a racetrack.

The American Quarter Horses are great at racing; they were even named for the distance they run the best, a quarter-mile. They have been clocked running at 55mph! They were bred to run.

The Quarter Horse is the most popular breed in the world, there are over 3 million registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). The Quarter Horse was developed through the breeding of Thoroughbreds with “native” horses in the US, which are believed to be horses descended from Spanish stock.

They are shorter than the average Thoroughbred, usually standing between 14 and 15 hands. (To find out more about Quarter Horses, click this link)

3. Standard-Breds are the best harness racing breed.

The Standard Bred is another American breed of horse; it is primarily used in harness racing. The foundation sire of this breed was a Thoroughbred. His progeny had a great capacity for trotting and were bred with other breeds and types, especially the Morgan, to produce speedy trotters and pacers.

These horses resemble a thoroughbred but are smaller with longer bodies and heavier bones. They remain a little shorter, being 15-16 hands. Standardbreds may be brown, black, chestnut, or gray, but bay is the most common color. (click the link for more information on the Standard-Bred breed https://racing.ustrotting.com/)

Honorable Mention-Arabians have great endurance.

Arabian are used in endurance racing, and because of their great stamina, they usually dominate.

Picture of a quarter horse during a barrel race.

What is the best horse breed for barrel racing?

Quarterhorses are the best breed for barrel racing. To be a good barrel horse, they must have the speed to get to each barrel quickly, agility to bend around the barrels, and explode out of the turns. Quarter horses can perform these tasks best. Competitive barrel racing most commonly occurs at rodeos.

It is a timed event that requires a horse and rider to complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels placed in an arena. To be successful, a horse and rider must work together.

1. Quarter Horses are clearly the best barrel racing breed.

Quarter horses are ideal for this competition. Some trainers will use racing Quarter horses, while others will prefer to use cutting Quarter horses which tend to be built lower to the ground and get in and out of their turns quicker.

Still, others prefer a little of both, breeding a running Quarter horse with a ranch Quarter horse for an ideal combination of speed and agility. Popular barrel racing bloodlines are Easy Jet, Dash for Cash, Firewater Flit, and On the Money Red. (To learn more about the Quarter Horse breed, click this link https://www.aqha.com/)

Picture of an American Paint horse.

2. The American Paint Horses have a lot of Quarter horse blood.

The American Paint horse is a breed derived from the Quarter Horse and has some of the qualities that make a Quarter Horse a good choice for a barrel racer, along with the added benefit of more color in its coat.

Some people describe the paint horse as a more colorful Quarter Horse. Although technically this is correct, Paints can also have breeding that would disqualify it from Quarterhorse registration.

The American Paint Horse can be traced back to the Spanish Conquistadors. The American Paint Horse is not only a pretty horse valued for its color and markings but it is also valued for its unique refinement and intelligence. (click the link for more information on the American Paint Horse https://apha.com/)

3. Appaloosas perform well in barrel racing.

Like the Paint horse, the Appaloosa breed has been crossed with the Quarter horse and developed into an athletic animal that can be competitive in barrel racing.

The Appaloosa breed was developed by the Nez Perce Indians. They wanted a colorful mount that was intelligent, sturdy, and had the stamina for long rides. The pattern of their coat is quite different than a Paint.

The Appaloosa registry recognizes four distinct color patterns:

  • Blanket pattern: All white haunches or speckled haunches with white or dark spots.
  • Leopard pattern: White or predominately white body, with dark leopard spots.
  • Snowflake: Dark body with white flecks, mostly over the haunches.
  • Marbleized: White and dark hair mixed to create a mottled look. White hairs create the appearance of flecks throughout a dark coat color. (click the link for more information on the Appaloosa https://appaloosa.com
Picture of a group of horse riders on the beach.

What is the best horse breed for trail riding?

The best trail riding horse breed is the Quarterhorse. Trail riding is a popular past-time throughout the world. As the term states, it is riding your horse outdoors on paths or trails. In most countries other than the United States, trail riding is referred to as “trekking”.

Trail rides could include rides through the mountains, on the beaches, or on a bridle path, really just about anywhere outdoors.

Trail riding is popular around the world.

Commercial trail rides can be found all over the globe, from the small islands in the Dominican Republic to the deserts of Africa. (click https://www.quarterhorsesnamibia.com/ for info. on African trail rides ) It is believed that Connemara Ireland was the first to offer commercial trail rides.

In this locale, you can experience unique trails that bring you to beaches and mountains. (click https://www.connemaratrail.com/ for more information on Connemara trail riding trips).

A trail ride can be a short excursion or can become a multi-day trip. In the Highlands of Scotland, you can book a 200-mile trip that lasts eight days. (Click here for information on Scottish trail riding. https://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/active/horse-riding-pony-trekking/ ) Realistically, almost anywhere you want to visit likely has “trekking” available.

But what we want to discuss is the best breed of horse for trail riding. Our top trail riding breeds:

Picture of a sorrel quarter horse.

1. The American Quarter Horse is sure-footed and level-headed.

The American Quarter Horse is known for its sure footing and sound head. Their intelligence, gentle nature, and even temperament make them a great horse for trail riding for both new riders learning in addition to experienced riders. The breed is strong, responsive and versatile. It is the “classic” Western horse.

2. The Arabian has outstanding endurance for long trail rides.

The exact origins of the Arabian breed are unknown. However, their likeness has been discovered in carved stones thousands of years old. The years of interaction with humans have developed into them an innate ability to bond with humans.

The first Arabian breeders were of Arabia. The traits of an Arabian include long-term memory, quick comprehension, alertness, curiosity, resourcefulness, and sociability.

Centuries of humans have given Arabians a friendly, loyal disposition with a desire to please their master. They enjoy interacting with us as much as horses.

These horses are perfect trail horses, they are adaptable, tractable, and intelligent, and they bring a willingness to work. Click this link for more information on the Arabian breed. You can visit the official site of the Arabian Horse Association here.

3. Morgans are calm and athletic, traits of a good trail horse.

The Morgan is the first registered horse breed in the United States and influenced the lineage of the Quarter horse and Tennessee Walker. They are known for their willingness and even temperament, which makes them ideal companions for all levels of riders.

Morgans can make for a quiet trail ride, endurance ride, or perform ranch work. Morgans distinguish themselves by their proud carriage, upright graceful neck, and distinctive head with expressive eyes.

Their good sense is blended with the soundness of limb, athleticism, and stamina. Just like the Arabian, the Morgan horse breed has a people-loving attitude.

Honorable Mention:  The Connemara Pony

The Irish love the Connemara pony for trail riding. They’re hardy animals with the strength to easily tote normal-sized men with ease. A typical Connemara pony stands between 12.2 and 14.2

It is believed the ponies developed from crossbreeding Spanish horses with the local ponies of Ireland. Today’s ponies also have a cross of Arabian, Thoroughbred, and Hackney.

Eventually, Connemara crossed with other breeds and morphed into the Irish Draught Horse. (click the link for more information on the Connemara Pony https://www.acps.org/)

Picture of a dressage competition.

What is the best horse breed for dressage?

The best horse breed for dressage is Westphalian. Dressage is a competition as well as an art form; it displays a horse’s natural athletic ability and its willingness to perform. A rider and horse must perform a series of movements from memory while in a standard arena. Dressage can be traced back to the mid-1500s.

Following is a list of breeds that consistently stands out in Dressage competitions.

1. Westphalian have Thoroughbred in their pedigree.

The Westphalian horse is another German breed. They make excellent dressage horses, as can be noted by their distinguished winning records at international and Olympic competitions, where they’re often winners.

The Westphalian Horse is a descendant of wild horses that once freely roamed Germany and a mix of Thoroughbred and Hanoverian blood. Westphalian horses have a relaxed nature, are composed, and are easy to work with.

Because of this, they can be ridden by beginners in dressage. However, they are large animals with athletism a person first learning to ride a horse should choose a different breed.

The Westphalian stands over 17 hands tall and has long limbs and strong shoulders. Overall this horse is built for dressage. (click the link for more information on this breed http://www.westfalenpferde.de/en/ )

2. Hanoverians are a versatile breed that performs high-level dressage.

Hanoverian is a warmblood horse breed that’s proven to be easy to train, learn quickly, and athletic and strong. The Hanoverian is of German heritage and was once a carriage horse; Thoroughbred bloodlines were introduced to lighten the horse’s frame.

Today, Hanoverians are consistently in the top five breeds of show jumpers. All Hanoverian horses are branded with a distinctive back-to-back letter H for Hanover; this has been a practice since the breed’s inception in 1735.  Hanoverian horses are sensible, intelligent, and bold.

The Hanoverian Horse is an ideal horse for riders of all skill levels. Hanoverian horse colors include gray, brown, black, bay, and chestnut. This horse is usually around 16.5 hands tall with a long, thin neck and mid-sized head.

They normally have slightly short but very strong legs with a mid-sized back. Because of the gentle nature of the breed, it is a good horse for all skill levels of rider. (click the link for more information on this breed https://hanoverian.org/)

Honorable Mention: Danish Warmblood is fearless horses.

The Danish Warmblood is a newer breed. The Danish Warmblood was officially registered in the mid-20th century. However, in a short span of years, the breed has produced a competitive sports horse of superior quality and more versatility than many of the other European breeds.

They are fearless horses with a high spirit; they have an excellent temperament and move well. They can stand anywhere from 15.3 to 17 hands. (click the link for more information on this breed http://varmblod.dk/US/NADWA/DANSK%20VARMBLOD.aspx)

Picture of an Irish Draft horse.

What is the largest horse breed?

The Shire is the largest horse breed. The large horse breeds were developed as draft horses. Draft horses are bred for strength for working on the farm, such as plowing or pulling carts. Most of these breeds have a docile temperament.

Common physical traits include a muscular body, powerful hindquarters with an upright shoulder, and a short back. Let’s look at some of these gentle “giants.”

1. The Shire is a world record holder for the tallest horse.

The Shire breed held the world record for both the tallest breed and the largest breed. It is a British breed that was used for farm work and has a great ability to pull heavy loads.

During the time when the canal system was the principal means of moving goods, the Shire was used to tow barges. At their peak in population, there were over a million Shire; today, they are listed as an “at-risk” breed.

However, they are known for having a gentle disposition and can be used for riding but are most commonly used in commercial promotions. The Shire can be black, bay, brown, or grey.

The minimum height of a Shire stallion is 17 hands, and weights exceed 2,400 lbs. The largest horse in history is believed to be the Shire named “Sampson”; he stood 21.2 hands high and weighed 3,360 lbs.

It is believed that a pair of British Shires once pulled a starting load weighing 50 tons. What an amazing feat! (click the link for more information on this breed http://www.shire-horse.org.uk/ )

2. Belgians are the strongest pulling horses.

The Belgian Draft breed originates from the Brabant region of Belgium and is one of the largest horse breeds in the world; it is known for its calm nature and intelligence. This makes it a favorite for owners of draft horses.

The Belgian usually stands between 16.2 and 17 hands tall and weighs on average 2,000 lbs. The most common color scheme is chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail.

“Big Jake,” a Belgian Draft horse, is the current world record holder as the tallest horse, standing 20.2 hands. The largest Belgian Draft horse weighed 3,200 lbs. and stood 19.2 hands tall.

Because of their easy-going disposition, they are readily used for riding as well as exhibition and pulling. (click the link for more information on the Belgian Draft

3. Percherons are good riding horses as well as an excellent draft breed.

The Percheron originates from France. Because of its elegant looks for a heavy breed, it has developed into the most popular of the draught breeds. It can be used for riding, farming, pulling a heavy load or a fine carriage.

It is also often crossed with other breeds to integrate its more desirable looks with other stock. Percheron was originally bred to be warhorses in France; over time, they were used on farms as draught horses.

They have a very easy disposition and are heavily muscled and willing workers. They are usually black or grey but can also be sorrel, bay roan, etc. They range in size from 15 to 19 hands tall, but most are between 16.2 and 17.3 hands tall.

Dr. Le Gear, a Percheron horse, checked in at 21 hands tall and was the largest horse on earth when he was alive. (click the link for more information on the Percheron breed

Honorable Mention: Clydesdales are used to pull Budweiser wagons in parades.

The Clydesdale draft breed is best known for pulling the Budweiser wagon during parades. Clydesdales originated on the farms of Clydesdale county in Scotland.

However, they didn’t start off quite so large as other draught breeds. Through selective breeding, they have developed into a tall breed to be more impressive in parades and shows.

Now, Clydesdales stands between 16 to 18 hands tall and weighs up to 2,200 lbs. They are often bay with white markings and have a well-muscled body and strong, arched neck, high withers, and sloped shoulders.

Clydesdales are known to be friendly, high-energy horses; the United States has the largest registry of Clydesdale horses. (click the link for more information on the Clydesdale breed https://clydesdalehorsesociety.com/)

What are the rarest horse breeds?

The Marsh Tacky is one of the rarest horse breeds. Two categories are used when classifying a horse breed as – critical horse breeds, with approximately 500 worldwide, or threatened breeds, with approximately 5,000 specimens worldwide.

As stated previously, there are over 300 horse breeds in the world, some of these have become extinct, and others are considered rare. A breed becomes rare for several reasons; some are simply difficult to breed or don’t present characteristics suitable for use any longer.

horse breed,
Carolina Marsh Tacky By Anthony Surbeck – https://www.flickr.com/photos/surbykids/7062137089/sizes/o/in/photolist-bL4iji/, CC BY 2.0,

1. The Marsh Tacky (critical) lives on islands of the U.S. east coast.

The Marsh Tacky is believed to have descended from the Spanish stock brought to the new world by the conquistadors. They were traded to the native Americans for pelts and used for riding and packing.

Some of these horses were abandoned on the islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina and developed into the Marsh Tacky breed. Because of their good sense and rugged disposition, they were able to survive for over 500 years.

It was believed until recently that the Marsh Tacky was extinct. However, there are roughly 220 documented Marsh Tackies left in the world. The Marsh Tacky stands around 14 hands tall and is a sturdy horse.

The harsh environment fostered survival skills creating a horse with a smart mind and a strong heart. The colors of most Marsh Tackies are roans, bays, and solid in color. (click here to help save the Marsh Tacky https://daufuskiemarshtackysociety.org/)

2. Ahal-Teke (threatened) has a beautiful glimmering golden coat.

The Ahal-Teke originates from Turkmenistan and is considered its national emblem. It is thought to be one of the oldest breeds, actually older than the Arabian breed.  

They are fast, have endurance, and are intelligent. Over the years, they have learned to adapt to harsh environments. Presently there are about 6,600 Akhal-Tekes known, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia.

They are beautiful horses and stand out for their metallic coat. Besides being an excellent specimen to look at, it is also very athletic. In fact, in 1960, Ahal-Teke won the gold medal in dressage at the Olympics. (click the link to see how you can help preserve the Ahal-Teke http://www.ahal-teke.org/en/Mission-of-the-Society-p1.html)

3. The Newfoundland Pony (critical) was bred to be a draft pony.

The Newfoundland Ponies are from Ireland, Scotland, and England and were brought by settlers to Newfoundland, Canada. These ponies cross-bred and eventually developed into their own specific breed, The Newfoundland Pony.

They were originally used on the farm as a draft horses but were also used for other purposes. In the 20th century, the introduction of machines to the farm and slaughter almost decimated the population.

Today the population is only 200 – 250 ponies. The basic size for the Newfoundland pony is approximately 14.2 hands tall and weighing 400-800 pounds. Their coats are normally black, bay, or brown.

They are known to be docile with a good temperament and make a good riding companion. (click here for information to help save the Newfoundland ponies https://www.newfoundlandponies.org/)

4. The Knabstrupper is often called the “Tiger Horse.”

The Knabstrupper breed was first described in the 1600s and was called the “Tiger Horse”. However, they went extinct in 1750 and then were reintroduced in 1812 through a spotted mare.

This unique mare was bred to different breeds to begin the line anew. Some Knabstruppers have a coat with a leopard-style pattern, and some resemble an appaloosa-style pattern that covers their entire body.

Because of its unique look, it became a very popular breed, but now its numbers are dwindling. (click this link to see how you can help protect the Knabstrupper breed http://knabstruppers.com/)

Picture of horses ridden by kids.

What is the best horse breed for beginners?

The best horse breed for beginners is the Tennessee Walking horse. Horses are individuals, regardless of breeding. We compiled a list of horse breeds that give you the best chance of getting a horse with a good disposition to start your riding career.

However, before you make your choice talk to people who know the individual horse you are thinking about riding. The following are horse breeds that make good companions for beginning riders.

1. Tennessee Walking Horse is a smooth riding horse.

Tennessee Walking Horse or Tennessee Walker is a tall horse with a good calm disposition. It is a gaited horse with a unique walking style. It originated in the southern United States as a farm horse.

It is popular today for its smooth gait and steady foot. If you are used to riding other breeds, you will appreciate the comfort of riding a Tennessee Walker.

It is one of the most popular pleasures and trail riding horses under either a Western or English style saddle.. Although they are comfortable, don’t let that fool you because they can also be quite quick. The average Tennessee Walker stands approximately 16 hands tall and weighs 1,000 lbs.

The Tennesse Walker is a well-rounded athletic horse with a good calm head; he is perfect for a beginning rider. (click either link to learn more about Tennessee Walkers http://www.twhbea.com/index.php)

2. The American Quarter Horse has a calm demeanor.

The American Quarter Horse makes this list as well. As previously stated, it is a sure-footed horse with a sound head. Their intelligence, gentle nature and even temperament make them great horses for trail riding for both new riders and experienced riders.

This breed has everything you could want in a horse; it is strong, smart, quick, and has a desire to please. To learn more about this Western Classic, click this link https://www.aqha.com/

3. The Irish Sport Horse is a willing animal eager to please its rider.

Irish Sport Horse, as the breed’s name suggests, originated in Ireland to be a sports competitor. It is a cross between the Irish Draught Horse and a Thoroughbred.

It has developed over time to become a stand-alone recognized breed. Although its purpose is for sporting events such as Jumping and Dressage, it is also a level-headed horse that is eager to please its rider. It checked all the boxes that one needs to be a good horse for a beginning rider.

It is calm, focused, not skittish, and willing to learn. If you want a horse you can grow with, then this is the choice for you. To learn more about this breed, click this link http://www.teamwindchase.com/irishhorse.htm

Related articles: