10 Most Popular Horse Breeds and Types of Horses

Apaloosa horse with brown spots on a cream colored coat

The Spruce / Elizabeth Head

There are more than 350 breeds of horses and ponies, but a few stand out as popular favorites. Five particular breeds and five general horse categories capture the hearts of horse lovers everywhere.

From working and racing to casual riding and equestrian competition, each horse has its special qualities. These horses typically have versatile abilities and good demeanors. They can be used for pleasure riding and competition, and many of them are suitable for first-time horse owners.

Here are 10 of the most popular horses.


Just because a horse breed is popular, that doesn't make it low-maintenance. All horses are a big investment in terms of time, housing, care, and money. If you are considering horse ownership, weigh all these factors carefully.

  • 01 of 10

    American Quarter Horse

    Two American quarter horses standing in a pasture

    Ken Gillespie Photography / Getty Images

    Embraced by beginners and professional equestrians all around the world, the American quarter horse is famous for its agility, docility, and athleticism. Originally bred during the 1600s from English and Spanish thoroughbreds crossed with local breeds such as the Native American Chickasaw horse, it has the largest breed registry in the world. These horses are shining stars on the trail and in the show ring.

    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

  • 02 of 10


    white Arabian horse running

    ŇÄĵŵÅ Ă. Мǻŗǻƒįę / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    The Arabian has the oldest horse breed registry in the world. Its lineage goes as far back as 3000 B.C. In fact, every light horse breed, including Appaloosas, Morgans, and Andalusians, can trace their ancestry back to the Arabian. It can be a rather spirited horse breed, so not all beginners can handle it. But it's also generally a loving and loyal horse.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 800 to 1,000 pounds

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

  • 03 of 10


    Thoroughbred running toward a jump

    Debra Feinman / Getty Images

    Thoroughbreds are the most popular racing horse in North America. This breed is considered a "hot-blooded" horse, which means it's known for its agility, speed, and spirit. It's a fine multipurpose horse that often has a career in other equestrian competitions besides racing, such as dressage and jumping. Or it simply lives its life as a companion animal kept for pleasure riding.

    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, delicate head

  • 04 of 10


    A spotted Appaloosa horse

    Bob Langrish / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    The colorful spotted Appaloosa was originally developed for hunting and battle by the Nez Perce Native Americans. It's believed to be a descendant of wild horses mixed with the thoroughbred, American quarter horse, and Arabian. This hardy, versatile horse is great for herding, pleasure riding, long-distance trail riding, and more.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Colorful coat pattern; mottled skin; striped hooves

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10


    A dark brown Morgan mare trotting through the snow

    catnap72 / E+ / Getty Images

    The strength and elegance of the Morgan have made it a popular horse breed. As the official horse breed of Vermont, the muscle of the Morgan was used for clearing and tilling New England farms during colonial times. Today, it's a popular driving and riding horse. It's surefooted over rough trail and dignified in the show ring.

    Breed Overview

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

    Weight: 900 to 1,100 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Small ears; expressive eyes; crested neck

  • 06 of 10


    warmblood horse running through a field

    DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Getty Images

    In equine circles, the terms "hot-blooded," "warm-blooded," and "cold-blooded" are used to categorize a horse's temperament, size, and origin. Medium-size horses, including the American quarter horse, Hanoverian, Cleveland bay, and Canadian, are considered warmbloods with a European heritage. They contain a touch of the spirit you get from lithe, "hot-blooded" thoroughbreds or Arabians combined with the calm demeanor of "cold-blooded" working horses. And that balanced temperament makes for a popular horse.

  • 07 of 10


    Young cowboy on a Shetland pony

    Ralf Nau / Getty Images

    Ponies are another popular category of horses. In most cases, a horse that's fully grown at 14.2 hands (57 inches) or less is considered a pony. (There are two exceptions: the miniature horse and the Icelandic horse.) The plucky Shetland and elegant Welsh are popular breeds of ponies. With their short stature, they are often excellent first horses for children.

  • 08 of 10

    Grade Horses

    two horses in desert pasture

    Paul Souders / Getty Images

    Grade horse—a horse of no particular breeding—is the fancy term for the mutts of the horse world. They differ from crossbreeds because crosses are the result of known pedigreed horses that are intentionally bred. Grade horses may not have a distinguished pedigree, but they can be just as versatile and loyal as any other horse. They also generally lack many of the genetic diseases that pass through purebreds.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Gaited Breeds

    Tennessee walking horse outside

    Ryan Courson Photography / Getty Images

    Gaited horses are a category of horses that have been selectively bred for a smooth ride or ambling gait. These horses tend to go at an intermediate speed with a four-beat movement. Breeds including the Tennessee walking horse, Kentucky mountain saddle horse, Icelandic horse, and Paso Fino are popular choices for older riders, those who have joint issues, and anyone else looking for a bounce-free ride.

  • 10 of 10

    Draft Breeds

    two horses pulling a plough in a field

    Danita Delimont / Getty Images

    Draft horses are cold-blooded, heavy horses known for doing work pulling heavy loads. Historically, they were also used in battle to carry the weight of heavily armored soldiers. These horses have thick coats and manes that enable them to endure cold weather, and they tend to have tranquil temperaments. The Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Belgian are some popular examples of these gentle giants. In addition, draft horse crossbreeds can be ideal first horses, as they're often docile and loving.

  • How many horse breeds are there?

    Around the world, there are over 350 different horse breeds.

  • What are the biggest horse breeds?

    The Shire horse is the biggest, followed by the Clydesdale, the Belgian Draft, the Percheron, and the Dutch Draft.

  • How can you tell horse breeds apart?

    While you can pay for a genetic test to tell you what breed a horse is, you can also make some good guesses by noting its color, markings, build, gait, and size.

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  1. https://horse-canada.com/breeds/draft-horse/amp/