The Best Horse Breeds for First-Time Owners and Riders

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While no horse breed is absolutely perfect for beginning riders and owners, some breeds have attributes that make them more suitable than others. They tend to have a calm, trainable nature and a smooth ride. And they typically are patient with riders who have little experience. To get you started on your search, here are 10 of the best horse breeds for beginners.

Tip

Choose a horse based on its temperament and training, not its pedigree. Older horses of any breed tend to be more predictable than younger horses. The best way to figure out whether a horse is right for you is to spend time with it.

  1. American Quarter Horse

    Horse on a ranch
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    The American quarter horse—the No. 1 horse breed in America—is popular with English and Western riders. Quarter horses often make great beginner horses because of their even temperament. However, some can be too energetic. Spritely spirit aside, their other attributes—adaptability, dexterity, and reliability—make them a great first horse.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-boned; finely chiseled head; wide forehead; flat profile

  2. Arabian

    Brown Arabian mare with colt galloping
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    By reputation, Arabians are known to be hot-headed. They were bred as warhorses with speed, endurance, and strength. But many Arabians are quiet and trustworthy. And a quiet horse is less likely to spook in startling situations. Generally, geldings (castrated adult males) are the calmest and make the best beginner horse.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 800 to 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Compact body; wedge-shaped head; short back with sloping shoulders and powerful hindquarters

  3. Thoroughbred

    Largely bred for racing, a thoroughbred might turn out to be more horse than most beginners can handle. And in most cases, you should pass on a retired racehorse that is trained to bolt at the crack of a starter pistol. However, there are some quiet and steady thoroughbreds that make great first horses.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: 1,000 to 1,300 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Deep chest; lean body; long, flat muscles

  4. American Paint

    Paint horses have a strong mix of American quarter horse in their pedigree. They typically have a calm, easygoing temperament and are social animals. They can form deep bonds with their person of choice and even do well with children. Plus, as an intelligent breed, they are easy to train.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular body; broad chest; strong hindquarters; distinctive coat pattern

  5. Morgan

    The versatile Morgan is a great choice for a family horse. These horses are typically attentive, social, and have a strong desire to please their caretakers. For beginning riders, they are pretty forgiving. And with experienced riders, they are quick to follow commands. These horses are generally easy to care for, and health issues are rare.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 15 hands (60 inches)

    Weight: 900 to 1,100 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Smooth lines; small ears; expressive eyes; crested neck

  6. Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

    Kentucky mountain horses are a gaited breed, which means they have a four-beat hoof movement for a smoother ride. The ride almost feels effortless, and your body hardly moves in the saddle. Consequently, older people or those with joint problems favor these horses. The breed also tends to have a gentle temperament.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 13 hands (52 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular, compact body; flat facial profile; arched neck; deep chest; well-sloped shoulders

  7. Missouri Fox Trotter Horse

    The Missouri fox trotter horse is another gaited breed for a comfortable ride. Its special ambling gait is called a "fox trot." With its head down and tail up, the horse steps deliberately with one foot always in contact with the ground. This horse has a friendly, gentle disposition and is a great choice for families.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 900 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Straight facial profile; pointy ears; muscular body; short back; sloped shoulders

  8. Icelandic Horse

    Icelandic horse running in a field
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    Icelandic horses are sure-footed, long-lived, and resistant to harsh conditions. They descend from Shetland ponies, and their small stature makes them feel less imposing to new riders. Icelandics also are a gaited breed. Their special step is called a "tolt," which is a sped-up walk that offers a level ride even over rocky terrain.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 13 hands (52 inches) to 14 hands (56 inches)

    Weight: 730 to 840 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Squat-legged; deep-chested; long back; shaggy fur

  9. Clydesdale

    Clydesdale horse team walking in a field
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    Clydesdales often have a quiet demeanor that beginners enjoy. These horses tend to be forgiving of a beginner’s mistakes and are generally calm and steady. But their downside is their size. Sometimes saddle fit and tack sizing can be difficult for these large horses. And they might be intimidating or challenging to mount for certain people.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 16 hands (64 inches) to 18 hands (72 inches)

    Weight: 1,800 to 2,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Feathering on legs; round feet; broad forehead; arched, long neck

  10. Draft Crossbreeds

A nice alternative to a full-blooded draft breed is a draft crossbreed. Horse breeds, including Clydesdales, Shires, and Percherons, have been successfully crossed with thoroughbreds, quarter horses, and paint horses to produce docile horses of a smaller stature. This can make them easier for beginners to mount, ride, and maintain.

Breeds to Avoid

In general, beginners should avoid untrained and highly spirited horses, as they can be difficult for even veteran equestrians. The Akhal-Teke is one breed that might be too excitable for someone with little equine experience. Similarly, the athleticism of Andalusian horses can make them difficult to manage for beginners. Still, it all comes down to the individual horse.