Best Driving Horse Breeds for Pulling a Carriage

Draft Horse Team Working the Field
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Some horse breeds were developed specifically to be driving horses. These light horses and light draft types are suited to pulling lighter vehicles often used for pleasure and competition driving. These horses are not the heavy draft types that pull hayrides, horse pulls, and compete at plowing matches.

Tip

If you are looking to develop a pair or team of driving horses, make sure you are proficient as a single-horse driver. There are many nuances to learn when driving one horse. When you add one or more horses, the learning curve is rather steep. The best advice for making a pair is to match speeds and gait and make sure the horses have a similar work ethic and get along.

Sadly, the overall numbers of driving horse breeds have been dwindling in the 21st century as motor vehicles and motorized farm equipment have replaced them. Take a look at seven horse breeds that are smaller, lighter, faster, and more agile than their heavy-horse relatives.

  • 01 of 07

    The American Standardbred

    Standardbred racing horses on track.

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    The American standardbred is a very popular driving breed for both harness racing and pleasure driving. A former racing standardbred can be retrained for pleasure driving. It may not be easy, but you can get a former racer to respond to rein controls.

    The greatest benefit of retraining a retired racing standardbred is that it is already accustomed to the harness and pulling a vehicle. It is also familiar with frequent hands-on care, crowds, and motor vehicles. Many former racehorses are available for adoption, and they can be an economical choice if you are willing to spend the time retraining them.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: Between 900 and 1,300 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Delicate, almost thoroughbred-type heads; longish ears; long legs with muscles that are flat and strong; deep chest

  • 02 of 07

    Welsh Pony or Cob

    Welsh pony hitched to vehicle.

    MBurger / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Whether you have a 3-foot-tall "type A" Welsh pony (the smallest size category) pulling a tiny dog cart or a tall cob pulling a two-seater buggy, these equines make wonderful harness animals. A cob is a larger, horse-sized member of this Welsh pony family (usually type D). Not only are Welshes beautiful, but they are also hardy and easy to care for. They are equally comfortable being saddle-ridden or in a harness.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 11 hands (44 inches) and 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: 400 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Small heads with large eyes; sloped shoulders; short backs; strong hindquarters; straight, short forelegs; high-set tail

  • 03 of 07

    Hackney

    hackney horse

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    With its high-stepping action and elegant head carriage, it is hard to believe the hackney horse is on the endangered breeds list in some countries. This breed was initially bred for riding, but it was crossed with driving horse breeds and thoroughbreds to produce a horse that was fast and elegant. In its heyday before the introduction of automobiles, a well-performing hackney was valued much like an exotic sports car today. Despite the passing of time, the hackney is still an eye-catching sight with its snappy knee action and brisk gaits.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 16.2 hands (65 inches)

    Weight: 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Well-shaped head; alert, expressive eyes and ears; muscular, crested neck; broad chest; powerful, well-defined shoulders; average length of back; muscular hindquarters; high-set tail

  • 04 of 07

    Cleveland Bay

    Cleveland Bay Horse

    Bob Langrish / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    The Cleveland bay is a light draft horse used for driving and riding. It originated in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire, England. The term "bay" describes its coloring. Bays have a brown body with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. It was primarily used for farm work and in teams to pull larger carriages. This breed also seems to be dwindling in numbers as its usefulness in daily life fades. Horse aficionado Queen Elizabeth II breeds Cleveland bays. Members of the royal family use this breed for competition driving.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 16 hands (64 inches) and 16.2 hands (66 inches)

    Weight: 1,400 to 1,500 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Always bay-colored coat with no white markings except an occasional small star on the head; well-muscled hindquarters; sloping shoulders; large head; well-muscled neck; broad, deep chest; strong, well-muscled legs that are short in relation to the body

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Thoroughbred

    Chuck wagon race horses.

    Deanna Quinton Larson / Getty Images

    Better known for their speed and talents as a riding horse, thoroughbreds are also used in driving, especially for events that require speed like combined driving, chuck wagon, and chariot races. Thoroughbreds are also used for pleasure driving. A racehorse requires extensive retraining for pleasure riding as well as for driving. Your biggest challenge will be to figure out the temperament of the retired racehorse. Determine whether the former sprinter can be retrained and if the time commitment is worth it to you.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 15.2 hands (62 inches) and 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: 1,000 to 1,300 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Deep chest, lean body, long flat muscles with well-angled shoulders and lean but powerful haunches

  • 06 of 07

    Friesian

    Friesian horse team and cart.

    Frans Lemmens / Getty Images

    Friesian horses are a Dutch horse that originated in Friesland, a northern section of the Netherlands. This old European breed was developed from warhorses from the Middle Ages that had carried armored knights. Comfortable being ridden or driven, this horse has showy high-stepping gaits and powerful, elegant self-carriage. This breed neared extinction when cars rolled around in the early 1900s, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years. This breed was featured in movies like "The Lord of the Rings" series and the hit HBO show "The Game of Thrones," which have helped boost its popularity.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 14.2 hands (58 inches) and 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; fine head with arched, thick neck

  • 07 of 07

    Morgan

    morgan horse

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    The official horse breed of Vermont, the Morgan, is a light workhorse that had been popular in colonial New England for working the fields. An all-purpose horse, the Morgan could plow the fields, be ridden during a hunt, and pull the family buggy around town. They are a good beginner horse and, even today, they are a great family horse under saddle and in harness.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15.2 hands (61 inches)

    Weight: 900 to 1,100 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Smooth lines, small ears, expressive eyes, and a nicely crested neck

Breeds to Avoid

Any healthy horse can be a driving horse. But, it makes sense to look first at those breeds that have been specifically bred for that purpose. Generally, there are some groups of horses that are used the least as driving horses: hot-bloods and cold-bloods.

In the horse world, the terms "hot-blooded," "warm-blooded," and "cold-blooded" describe the temperament of horses. Hot-bloods are the spirited, hot-headed sprinters like thoroughbreds and Arabians. Cold-bloods are the giant, slower, docile draft horses like Clydesdales and Shires.

Most common driving horses fall in the warmblood category. Although, as any horse expert will tell you, it truly depends on the individual horse since many can break the mold.