Riding Horse Breeds

Horses Guide

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.

What are the characteristics of Thoroughbred Horse?

how much does a Thoroughbred Horse weigh?

The Thoroughbred Horse weighs between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.

What is the height of a Thoroughbred Horse?

Thoroughbreds range in height from around 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches). Most stand at roughly 16 hands (64 inches) tall.

Colors and Markings

Thoroughbreds come in every solid equine coat color. Most often they are bay, brown, chestnut, black, or gray. Many breed registries don’t recognize coat patterns that include more than one color. But white facial and leg markings, such as blazes or stockings, are allowed, though many thoroughbreds are plain with minor to no markings. 

Thoroughbred Breeding and Uses

Although they’ve been bred primarily for their racehorse qualities since their origin, thoroughbreds are also seen in many other equine sports, including jumping and dressage. They’re also used as trail horses, general riding horses, and pleasure driving horses. Many former racehorses, also known as off-the-track thoroughbreds or OTTBs, move on to become riding and driving horses. 

Furthermore, thoroughbreds are often used to add refinement and athleticism to other horse breeds. Many sport horses in particular have thoroughbreds in their ancestry.

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.

Ever wondered just how this breed came about? According to their Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA), the breed is made of Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred. The Narragansett is believed to be the first horse breed ever developed in the United States, but is now extinct.

While the TWH is known for the running walk. They also have the flat foot walk, where each foot hits the ground separately at regular intervals, and their canter, which is more relaxed than that of other breeds. Some are also able to naturally perform the rack, stepping pace, fox-trot, single foot and other running walk variations. The below clip shows the running walk.

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.

In the early 19th century, Quarter Horses were overshadowed by Thoroughbreds, which ran better over longer distances. But Quarter Horses soon found a new acceptance in the western and southwestern United States as stock horses. The breed’s inherent quickness and agility made it ideally suited to the tasks of the developing frontier. Its good-natured disposition and natural cow-sense made the American Quarter Horse a favourite mount among cowboys during the open-range era of the West.

Modern American Quarter Horses are short and stocky, with heavy muscular development; short, wide heads; and deep, broad chests. Since these horses are used to cut cattle from herds (see photograph), fast starting, turning, and stopping ability (see photograph) and speed for short distances are essential qualities. Their colours are variable, but all are solid. The height of mature animals varies from 14.3 to 16 hands (about 57 to 64 inches, or 145 to 163 cm), and their weight varies from 950 to 1,200 pounds (431 to 544 kg). They have a calm, cooperative temperament.

For years little attempt was made to develop a distinct breed. In 1940, however, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was organized, and in 1950 it was reorganized to include other Quarter Horse organizations. The AQHA controls the American Quarter Horse Stud Book and Registry. With more than 2.5 million horses registered in its stud book by the late 20th century, the AQHA was the largest horse breeders’ organization in the world.


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

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