10 Best Driving Horse Breeds for Pulling a Carriage

horse team working in a field

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Certain horse breeds were developed specifically to be driving horses, pulling vehicles, such as carriages, wagons, and sleighs. The horses in these breeds tend to be relatively light, quick, and agile. These light draft horses are not the same as large draft horses that typically pull heavy plows or carts.

Breed Characteristics

Driving horses often have powerful shoulders and hindquarters combined with a strong, broad back, well-sprung ribs, and thick mane and tails. They also need to have stable, reliable feet. It needs to have an amiable temperament with a willingness to please its driver and easy to train to learn voice, rein, and whip commands. Ponies or horses can make suitable driving horses.

Tip

If you're looking to develop a team of driving horses, first become proficient as a single-horse driver. When forming a team, match speeds and gait, and make sure the horses get along.

Here are 10 driving horse breeds commonly used for pulling carriages and other light vehicles.

  • 01 of 10

    American Standardbred

    American standardbred horses racing on a track

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    The American standardbred is a very popular driving horse breed for both harness racing and pleasure driving. These horses have excellent speed and stamina, and they’re typically friendly and calm. Because they're already accustomed to the harness and pulling a vehicle, former racing standardbreds can be retrained for pleasure driving.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: 800 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Thick mane and tail; muscular legs; deep chest; somewhat resembles a thoroughbred

  • 02 of 10

    Welsh Pony and Cob

    Welsh pony hitched to a vehicle

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    Whether you have a 3-foot-tall "type A" Welsh pony (the smallest size category) pulling a tiny cart or a larger cob pulling a two-seater buggy, these equines make wonderful harness animals. They're generally hardy and easy to maintain. The larger members of the family are also comfortable being saddle-ridden.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 11 hands (44 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 400 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Small head; short back; high-set tail

  • 03 of 10

    Hackney

    Hackney horse in a stable

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    With their high-stepping gait and elegant head carriage, it's hard to believe hackneys are endangered in some countries. Hackneys were initially bred for riding and were crossed with driving breeds and thoroughbreds for added speed and style. In their heyday, hackneys were valued much like exotic sports cars are today.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular build; broad chest; high-set tail

  • 04 of 10

    Cleveland Bay

    Cleveland bay horse

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    Originating in England, the Cleveland bay is a light draft horse for driving and riding. It was primarily used for farm work and to pull carriages. Members of the royal family have used this breed for competitive driving. Lately, its numbers are dwindling as its usefulness in daily life fades.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 16 hands (64 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: 1,400 to 1,500 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Bay coat with no white markings except an occasional star on the head; muscular build; deep chest

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Thoroughbred

    horses in a wagon race

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    Known for their horse racing speed, thoroughbreds are also used in pleasure and competitive driving, especially for events that require swiftness. However, a former racehorse will need extensive retraining by an experienced equestrian for pleasure riding or driving, and sometimes its temperament might not be suitable for the role.

    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

  • 06 of 10

    Friesian

    Friesian horse team and cart

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    The Friesian is a Dutch horse that originated in Friesland, a northern section of the Netherlands. This European breed can trace its lineage to warhorses from the Middle Ages that carried armored knights. Comfortable being ridden or driven, this horse breed has a showy, high-stepping gait and powerful, elegant carriage.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14 hands (56 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: 1,200 to 1,400 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Black coat; thick, long mane and tail; feathering on lower legs; muscular, compact body

  • 07 of 10

    Morgan

    Morgan horse standing by a fence

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    Vermont's official horse breed, the Morgan is a light workhorse that was popular in colonial New England. An all-purpose horse, Morgans could plow fields, be ridden during a hunt, and pull the family buggy. They are ideal beginner horses and great family horses under saddle and in harness.

    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

  • 08 of 10

    French Trotter

    The athletic French trotter was developed in the 19th century to compete in trotting races. It’s a mix of several breeds that contributed their speed, power, and balanced strides. French trotters tend to be calm, gentle, and easy to work with. They’re popular for racing under saddle and in harness.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 1,100 to 1,400 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular build; large head; deep chest

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Orlov Trotter

    As one of Russia’s most popular horse breeds, the Orlov trotter originated during the 18th century as a hardy harness horse with speed and stamina. These horses are generally powerful and agile, and they’re gentle and trainable. They’re often used in harness racing and pulling carriages.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Large head; expressive eyes; deep chest; muscular build

  • 10 of 10

    Shetland Pony

    chestnut Shetland pony

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    Despite their small size, Shetland ponies are pretty powerful and hardy. This breed pulled carts and worked in mines throughout the 19th century. They also gained popularity as driving ponies and companions for children. They are generally very gentle but can be a bit headstrong.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 7 hands (28 inches) to 11.5 hands (46 inches)

    Weight: 400 to 450 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Compact body; broad head; thick neck; short legs; lush mane and tail

Breeds to Avoid

Draft horses have the body structure best suited for pulling, hauling, or driving carriages. Breeds that do not make the most sense for driving carriages are horses that are best suited as riding horses or racehorses. Also, hot-bloods or racehorses like the Akhal-Teke and Arabians tend to be stubborn, spook easier than driving horses, and don't take direction as well as others. They need to be able to work alongside other horses.