10 Best Horse Breeds for First-Time Owners and Riders

Brown and white American paint horse walking in field

The Spruce / Elizabeth Head

While no horse breed is perfect for beginning riders and owners, some breeds have attributes that make them more suitable than others. Your main concern should always safety. When choosing a beginner's horse, the horse's temperament and experience level should matter more than pedigree. Breeds like Morgans and American paint horses tend to be attentive and easier to train—essential characteristics that suit novice riders.

Breed Characteristics

Horses that make good rides for beginners are calm, trainable, and have a smooth ride. Most are typically more patient with riders who have little experience. A mature, well-trained, well-mannered horse will be your best bet. 

Tip

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.

Here are 10 of the best horse breeds for beginners.

  1. American Quarter Horse

    Horse on a ranch

    RichLegg / Getty Images

    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 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

    Life Expectancy: 25 to 35 years

  2. Arabian

    Brown Arabian mare with colt galloping
    Julia Moll / Getty Images

    By reputation, Arabians are hot-headed or hot-bloods. They were known for being warhorses with speed, endurance, and strength. Many Arabians are quiet and trustworthy. A quiet horse is less likely to spook in startling situations. Generally, geldings (castrated adult males) are the calmest Arabians 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

    Life Expectancy: 25 to 30 years

  3. Thoroughbred

    A bay thoroughbred racehorse in a paddock. Head turned.
    Mint Images / Getty Images

    Largely bred for racing, a thoroughbred might turn out to be more horse than most beginners can handle. For the most part, pass on a retired racehorse that is trained to bolt at the crack of a starter pistol. However, non-racing thoroughbreds can be quiet and steady and 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

    Life Expectancy: 25 to 28 years

  4. American Paint

    A Paint with Flowing Tail
    Tracey Vivar / Getty Images

    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 tend to do well with children. They are an intelligent breed and 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

    Life Expectancy: 30 to 31 years

  5. Morgan

    Winter Morgan Horses
    mchattenphotography / Getty Images

    The versatile Morgan is an excellent 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

    Life Expectancy: 20 to 30 years

  6. Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

    beautiful kentucky mountain saddle horse running in nature
    Carmelka / Getty Images

    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. Older people or those with back or joint problems favor these horses. This 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

    Life Expectancy: 25 to 30 years

  7. Missouri Fox Trotter Horse

    Missouri Fox Trotter Stallion Tioga
    DawnYL6161 / Getty Images

    The Missouri fox trotter horse is another gaited breed for a comfortable ride. Its unique ambling gait is called a foxtrot. 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 an excellent 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

    Life Expectancy: 20 and 30 years

  8. Icelandic Horse

    Icelandic horse running in a field
    Justus de Cuveland/Getty Images

    Icelandic horses are sure-footed, long-lived, and resistant to harsh conditions. Some can live up to 40 years, and they mature later than other horses, not usually ready for riding until about age 4. They descend from Shetland ponies, and their shorter stature makes them feel less imposing to new riders. Icelandics are another gaited breed. Their unique step is called a "tolt," 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

    Life Expectancy: 30-plus years

  9. Clydesdale

    Clydesdale horse team walking in a field
    Australian Scenics/Getty Images

    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. Their biggest downside is their size. Sometimes saddle fit and tack sizing can be tricky for these larger horses. Some people find these towering horses intimidating or challenging to mount.

    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

    Life Expectancy: 20 to 25 years

  10. Draft Crossbreeds

    A nice alternative to a full-blooded draft breed is a draft crossbreed. Draft horse breeds, including Clydesdales, Shires, and Percherons, have successfully bred with thoroughbreds, quarter horses, and paint horses to produce docile horses of a smaller stature. These crossbreeds are easier for beginners to mount, ride, and maintain at a more approachable height.

    Quarter horse and Appaloosa cross

    Starwatcher307 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Breeds to Avoid

In general, beginners should avoid untrained and highly spirited horses; 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 challenging to manage for beginners. As with all breeds, exceptions abound, and it comes down to the individual horse—their age, experience, training, and demeanor matter most.