There are more than 350 breeds of horses and ponies. From working and racing to casual riding and equestrian competition, each has its strengths and endearing qualities. There are five particular breeds and five general horse categories that always seem to stand out and capture the hearts of horse lovers everywhere. Take a closer look at these 10 horses and the qualities they have that make them fan favorites.
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Embraced by beginners and professional equestrians all around the world, the American quarter horse is a breed that is famous for its agility, docility, and athleticism. Originally bred from English thoroughbreds and Native American Chickasaw horses during the 1600s, it has the largest breed registry in the world with nearly 3 million horses registered in 2018. These horses are shining stars on the trail or in the show ring.
Height: From 14 hands (57 inches) to 15 hands (60 inches)
Weight: Between 950 and 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Medium-boned, finely chiseled head, wide foreheads, and flat profile
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The Arabian and mixed Arabian breed is the oldest breed registry in the world. Their 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 them. Arabians are not the most gentle horse breed, so for some, they may not be the most ideal first horse. However, they respond well to the companionship of humans and can be loving, loyal, and, in time, become a wonderful family horse.
Height: Between 14 hands (56 inches) and 15.2 hands (62 inches)
Weight: 800 to 1,000 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Lithe, compact bodies; wedge-shaped heads; short backs with sloping shoulders and powerful hindquarters
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Thoroughbreds are the most popular racing horse in North America. They are also the most valuable. If you have ever watched the Kentucky Derby or any of the other Triple Crown races, 3-year-old thoroughbreds compete in that race. This breed is considered a "hot-blooded" horse, which means it is known for its agility, speed, and spirit. It is a fine multipurpose horse that often has a secondary career in other equestrian competitions like dressage and jumping or is retired for riding, driving, or companionship.
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
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The colorful, spotted Appaloosa horse breed was originally developed for hunting and battle by the horse nation of the Nez Perce Native Americans in the Northwest region of the U.S. It is believed to be a descendant of wild horses and a mix of thoroughbred, American quarter horse, and the Arabian. This popular breed very nearly died out in the 1800s but recovered from near extinction by a dedicated breeding program. Hardy, with brilliant coat patterns, it is a versatile horse. It is great for cattle herding, rodeo, pleasure riding, long-distance trail riding, racing, and more.
Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15 hands (60 inches)
Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Colorful coat patterns, mottled skin, white sclera, and striped hoovesContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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The strength, elegance, and history of the Morgan make it a popular breed and cultural icon. As the official horse breed of Vermont, the muscle of the Morgan breed was used for clearing and tilling New England farms during colonial times. Today, it is a popular driving and riding horse. It is surefooted over a rough trail and refined and dignified in the show ring.
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
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In equine circles, the terms "hot-blooded," "warm-blooded," and "cold-blooded" horses are used to categorize a horse's temperament, size, and origin. Medium-sized horses like the American quarter horse, Hanovarians, Cleveland bays, and Canadians are considered warmbloods with a European heritage. They contain a touch of the hot temper you get from lithe, fine-boned thoroughbreds or Arabians combined with the calmer temperament of "cold-blooded," stocky working horses. Many of these are European breeds that had been historically bred for the battlefield.
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Ponies are another category of horses and not a particular breed. The word "pony" is most often used to mean a baby horse, but that is incorrect. A pony refers to the size of a horse. In most cases, a horse that is full-grown at 14.2 hands (57 inches) or less is considered a pony (there are two exceptions: the miniature horse and Icelandic horse). The plucky Shetland and the more elegant Welsh ponies are popular breeds of ponies. Many children have fond memories of learning to ride on ponies. As shorter horses, they are often less intimidating for children since there is less of a distance to fall.
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Grade horses—horses of no particular or known breeding—is the fancy term for the mutts of the horse world. Grade horses differ from crossbreeds since crosses are the result of usually two, known pedigreed horses that are intentionally bred. Grade horses may not have a distinguished pedigree, but they can do everything any other horse can do and many make ideal beginner horses. Grade horses provide a great pool of genetic variation and generally lack many of the genetic diseases that pass on through purebreds.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Gaited horses are a category of horses that contain breeds that have been selectively bred for natural gaited tendencies. This means they have a smoother ride or ambling gait. They go at an intermediate speed with a four-beat movement. Breeds like the Tennessee walking horse, Kentucky mountain saddle horse, Icelandic horses, and paso fino are popular choices for older riders who have problems with their knees or backs and are looking for a bounce-free pleasure ride.
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Draft horses are the category of cold-blooded, heavy horses known for working or pulling heavy loads. Historically, they were also used in battle to carry the weight of heavily armored soldiers. These horses have thicker coats and manes that enabled them to endure colder weather. The Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, and Belgian are some examples of these gentle giants. Draft horse crossbreeds can be ideal first horses as they are often docile and loving.