Riding Horse Breeds

Selecting a horse for riding isn’t as easy as you might think. Many breeds and types have been developed, each of which has a particular specialty, such as being good at jumping or the three-gaited walk, trot, and canter. Whether you’re seriously considering owning a horse, or you’re just a horse lover, you can explore this list of riding horse breeds to get an idea of all the different types that are out there.


When you watch the Kentucky Derby or any type of horse race, this is the breed of horse you’re watching. Thoroughbreds were bred during the 17th century in England to be able to keep up a high speed over long distances, making them perfect for the new, high-class sport of horse racing.

The ancestry of modern thoroughbreds dates back to three stallions who were brought to England from the Mediterranean Middle East. These horses were then mated with native English horses, who were stronger. Over the last 250 years, continued breeding has created a horse with unmatched speed and perseverance.

Tennessee Walking Horse

This horse, bred in the Middle Basin of Tennessee by its early settlers, is known for its special gaits. The “running walk” is a particular four-beat gait defined by a gliding speed, which cannot be taught to a horse, but only inherited.

The Tennessee Walkers are also known for the “flat-footed walk,” which is slow and even, and the canter, a graceful gallop. The Tennessee Walking Horse’s gaits are all very easy on the rider.

Quarter Horse

Quarter horses are a popular horse for races, Western movies, and in Western pleasure riding. The breed is the oldest in America, and comes from a blend of Spanish horses used by Native Americans and thoroughbreds brought to the United States by early settlers.

The horse originally got its name for its speed over the quarter mile and other short distances. As the Southwest developed into cowboy country, quarter horses continued to be bred as a suitable horse for cowboys who were rounding up cattle.


These horses are known for their golden color and are prized in parades and in the ring. They are not a true “breed” of horse, but rather a color breed. Their unique color actually comes from a rare gene and is difficult to breed, due to the fact that the allele is incomplete dominant. A palomino horse bred with another palomino will only produce palomino offspring 50 percent of the time.

The Palomino Horse Association and the  Palomino Horse Breeders of America each register palomino horses, according to a particular set of standards.


  1. Selecting Your Horse. (2011) University of Minnesota Extension.

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