You might be able to fall in love with anything with hooves, a mane, and a swishy tail, but you have to admit, there are certain horse breeds that get your heart beating a bit faster. There are over 350 breeds of horses and ponies to choose from (not including crossbreeds), and each one is unique in its own right. From farming, carting, and racing to pure companionship, there’s a horse breed for every purpose.
We love them because they’re strong, fast, biddable, or friendly, but out of hundreds of breeds, there are a few that stand out as the most popular. Visit any barn or drive down a random country road, and these are the horse breeds you’re most likely to see.
1. Quarter Horse
With over 5 million registered Quarter Horses in the world, this breed deserves the top spot on this list. The American Quarter Horse Association is the largest breed registry in the country, and it’s also one of the oldest. The original Quarter Horses were bred from English Thoroughbreds brought to North America in the 1600s and Chickasaw horses developed by Chickasaw Indians. The result was a horse that was slightly smaller and averaging between 14.3 and 16 hands high. What they lacked in inches, however, they made up for in strength and speed.
The Quarter Horse earned its original popularity because it repeatedly beat trained Thoroughbreds in short distance races. The breed’s name actually comes from the race it excels at most—the quarter mile. It doesn’t have the stamina to keep up during longer races, but the Quarter Horse has several other skills. Today, people love Quarter Horses because of their versatility. Not only are they fast, they also make great cow horses, rodeo horses, show horses, and carriage horses.
Thoroughbreds are the kings and queens of the racetrack. The Quarter Horse might best them at a short race, but few horses can keep up with the endurance and speed of a well-bred Thoroughbred. The controversies of horse racing aside, Thoroughbred horses are impressive examples of equine strength and grace.
Besides racing, Thoroughbreds also find fulfilling lives in a number of other equine sports and disciplines. Many OTTB (off-the-track Thoroughbreds) go on to have successful second careers as driving or riding horses. There are also countless Thoroughbreds serving communities as police horses. They’re known for being athletic and full of spunk, and while they’re easy to fall in love with, they’re not recommended for beginner horse owners or riders. Training is essential, and they need appropriate ways to channel their energy.
Easily distinguished by its finely chiseled head and face, purebred Arabian horses have always been favorites among horse owners. They’ve existed for thousands of years while being bred to be everything from war mounts to desert travelers. The Islamic people considered the Arabian to be a gift from Allah, and the breed was exalted throughout all of Islam. Maintaining the breed’s standards was paramount, and mixing the horses with other bloodlines was forbidden. In many cases, a household’s wealth was measured by how many purebred Arabians they owned.
Today, Arabians are still cherished. They eventually made their way to Europe and then North American where their popularity continued to grow. There are now more Arabian horses living in the U.S. than all other country’s in the world combined. They’re loved for their high intelligence, stamina, and trainability.
4. Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking Horse has come a long way since its early days in central Tennessee. This popular horse breed is a composition of the Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, Canadian Pacer, and the extinct Narragansett Pacer. Each breed was carefully chosen based on desirable traits that, through years of careful selection, have led to the docile Tennessee Walking Horse with one of the smoothest gaits in the equine family.
With its success in the show ring, it’s hard to imagine the elegant Tennessee Walking Horse working hard on a farm, but they were originally bred as utility horses. They were an all-purpose type of horse commonly found on southern plantations. They’ve since branched out to reach their full potential and many consider them to be the “world’s greatest show, trail, and pleasure horse.”
5. Morgan Horse
According to the American Morgan Horse Association, the Morgan Horse exists solely to please people. It’s said it’s “in their heritage” to bond with people and serve as loyal companions. It all started with a single horse named Figure born in 1789. Figure’s owner, Justin Morgan, recognized the colt’s exemplary strength, speed, and temperament as he spent his life working on farms, hauling, and serving as a parade mount. The horse sired several offspring, and the Morgan Horse was born.
Whether it’s competitive sporting or casual riding, the Morgan Horse is considered an ideal horse breed for almost all disciplines. They’re often recommended to beginner riders, but that doesn’t mean they can’t meet the high standards of an experienced equestrian. They adapt easily, and between their silly antics and spunk, they’re loyal and affectionate horses.
6. American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse’s biggest claim to fame is its beautiful coat coming in several different colors and always with a unique pattern. There are two different types of patterns—the overo and tobiano—but within those categories, no two Paints have the exact same pattern. Their striking good looks and splashy coat colors have always attracted attention, and they’ve been a popular horse breed for thousands of years.
The American Paint Horse Association is now the world’s second largest equine registry with over one million registered horses. It’s also one of the fastest growing registries with thousands of new registrations every year. Their popularity keeps growing, and more people are falling in love with this social and affectionate horse. Whether they’re used for pleasure riding, shows, or ranching, American Paint Horses are a common sight.
7. Grade Horse
A grade horse is any horse with unknown lineage—a mix between different breeds. While purebred horses are bred to meet specific standards and to excel at specific disciplines, grade horses can have any number of characteristics. While there will always be people who prefer a certain breed and value a known lineage, a lack of registration papers should never be seen as a deterrence when looking for a horse to buy. Grade horses are often more affordable, and they can be just as trainable as any purebred with papers.
When it comes to horses, it’s all about personality and training. As long as the horse meets your needs, it doesn’t matter if it’s purebred or not. Grade horses often lack many of the genetic diseases that plague purebreds because of their greater genetic pool, and they sell based on soundness and not idolized breed name. Many horse lovers choose grade horses, and they’re one of the most popular types of horses in the world.