Horses have been a part of ranch work for thousands of years. Their strength and speed assist ranchers in everyday work, including herding cattle, roping, and pulling heavy equipment. A good ranch horse has good stamina, strength, and speed.
The ability to submit to authority and trainability has to be in a ranch horse’s package. The eleven breeds below prove to be the best horse breeds for ranch work.
- American quarter horse
- Morgan horse
- Shire horse
These breeds made it to the eleven best horse breeds for ranch work for multiple reasons. Read more about each breed to know what is best for you and your ranch.
1. American Quarter Horse
The American quarter horse is an icon in the American ranch scene. They are a symbol of the old west and have secured their spot in the top eleven best horse breeds for ranch work for many reasons.
American ranchers developed the American quarter horse by bringing together the best horses. A mixture of speed, strength, agility, endurance, and a calm temperament provide any rancher with the best horse breed for the job.
For day-to-day tasks like working cows, holding the end of a rope while the rancher chases livestock, or speeding up your rancher's day by not making them walk to the nearest gate, the American quarter horse is the horse for the job. American quarter horses are great for young cowgirls and cowboys to learn the trade because of their calm temperament.
2. Morgan Horse
The Morgan horse breed falls into the top eleven best horse breeds for ranch work because of its versatility. If you are a small operation and need a horse for working cattle, doing ranch chores, and pulling equipment, the Morgan horse is what you need.
Morgan horses are compact horses that trace back to one of the first developed breeds in the United States. They are black, chestnut, or bay but come in many colors. They are muscular horses that handle heavy ranch work well.
The Morgan horse was bred for pulling equipment. They have grown to be versatile ranch hands that handle any job given with ease. They are the state horse of Vermont, with roots in Civil War military use.
The appaloosa was a prize horse breed for the Native Americans. Their varying body types and versatility make them great for any chores the ranch throws at them. Some registered appaloosas have a high percentage of quarter horse blood because the American quarter horse is an approved outcross of the appaloosa.
Appaloosas are medium-sized horses, ranging from 14 to 16 hands and weighing 950 to 1,250 pounds. The original appaloosas were tall, narrow-bodied horses. Through breeding, the appaloosa is a stockier horse than it used to be.
Appaloosas are hardy horses boasting good health, keeping them healthy and ready for ranch work. However, their coat patterns bring a risk of genetic diseases. An appaloosas leopard-complex gene is connected to two eye diseases. It is crucial to have your appaloosa checked regularly for eye disease.
4. Shire Horse
A shire horse is known for its height and strength. They are huge animals that pack a lot of power with their muscular frame. A shire horse holds the record for the tallest horse in the world. A shire horse compares to a Clydesdale, with massive bodies, large hooves, and feathering on their legs.
The size and strength of a Shire’s body made them useful for years for farm and ranch work and pulling heavy equipment. In the old days, shire horses were the workhorses of the agriculture industry because there was no machinery.
Because of their strength, shire horses are great ranch hands. Their docile temperament and willingness to learn make them easy to train for whatever task or ranch chore. Horse lovers with little experience will enjoy a shire horse because of their peaceful feel and eagerness to please their owner.
The Percheron horse breed has roots in France’s Perche province of the Normandy region. They are large draft horses bred as cavalry horses. Arabian bloodlines were eventually added to add refinement and athleticism to the large horses.
A Percheron’s large size makes them suitable for tough ranch work. These gentle giants submit to the authority of their owners and pass the test of working hard. They were once one of the largest industry breeds but dwindled after the introduction of machinery.
Today, Percherons are great under a saddle or pulling machinery. Their muscular legs give them the endurance needed to ranch life. These happy and healthy horses make a great right-hand ranch partner.
The Holsteiner holds its roots in the German countryside. The Schleswig-Holstein region of Northern Germany birthed the Holsteiner 750 years ago. The Holsteiner has a history of reliability, agility, courage, and strength.
Holsteiners are popular in driving, dressage, jumping, and eventing. They are athletic horses that boast winning records. Their all-around athleticism gives them the agility needed to perform tricky ranch work.
Holsteiners have a calm temperament and want to please their rider. This willingness to learn makes them trainable horses for whatever task your ranch throws at them. Their speed, strength, and agility allow them to keep up with the swiftest cattle.
Clydesdales are known for their massive size and strength. They are the most popular draft horses, used for years as the workhorses of the agriculture and industrial ages. Their powerful bodies were phased out by machinery.
Today, a Clydesdale is the kind of horse you want working on your ranch. This Scottish breed is one of the tallest horses in the world, coming second to the Shire horse. Clydesdales and Shires are both gentle giants that are ready to put in a hard day’s work.
The legs of a Clydesdale are adapted for heavy pulling. These specializations enable Clydesdale to be fast and strong runners. Their ulna is reduced, causing the weight carried to rest on the radius. In the hind legs, the fibula and tibia are fused, causing the weight carried by the fibula to be supported by the larger tibia.
The roots of the Friesian breed are some of the oldest in domesticated European breeds. From the northern regions of the Netherlands in Friesland comes this beautiful breed, boasting long manes and tails and a jet-black coat.
Friesians are popular for light agricultural work. They do not have the size and strength of a draft horse to do the heavy lifting, but Friesians are a good mix of agility, strength, and resilience.
After the introduction of machinery to the agricultural world, the number of Friesians dramatically decreased. To avoid extinction, Oldenburg blood was introduced to the Friesian breed. This introduction rejuvenated the breed and brought them back to the agriculture scene.
Standardbred horses are the best, most well-rounded horse on the market. They are medium-built horse that boasts characteristics like being rugged, honest, and capable. They excel on a race track and on the ranch.
Standardbred horses handle whatever job is thrown their way. They have great stamina and endurance. They thrive doing hard work and on set for movies or alongside Law Enforcement. They are not easily spoked, which makes them great for being surrounded by distractions.
Children feel safe around Standardbreds because of their calm and confident temperament. They quickly learn the task at hand and are dependable in getting the job done. Their long neck and large eyes give them an elegant look.
Mustangs are great ranch hands because of their versatility. The variety among a herd of mustangs allows for the right genes picked for the job needed on the ranch. Because they thrive in the wild, mustangs are low-maintenance horses that have good stamina.
Mustangs come in all shapes and sizes. A large, muscular mustang is perfect for the heavy work on the ranch. If you need a horse with more agility and athleticism, find a mustang that is medium-sized and has an athletic build.
Because they are wild horses, mustangs can have a wild temperament. Once broken; however, a mustang is submitted to its owner and ready to learn.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
- Over 110+ Polework Exercises & Challenges to Download
- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films
Arabian horses have a rich history, going back thousands of years. Many modern breeds have origins in the Arabian breed. They are beautiful horses with a docile temperament, making them the perfect breed to father other breeds.
Arabians are smaller horses, averaging about 15 hands. Their average weight is 900 pounds. Through breeding, Arabians are more robust than their ancestors but carry the grace of the original Arabians.
Because of their size, Arabians are not the kind of ranch hands to pull heavy equipment. They are graceful riders and speed up a rancher’s day by getting him from point A to point B in a jiffy. They learn quickly and are used to working cattle.