The world's most popular types of horses come from all over with lots of unique characteristics and histories!
Yet, despite the stiff and extensive competition, a number of breeds have become consistent favorites among equestrian circles, such as the Gypsy Vanner and the Arabian. While we can't give you a cheat sheet for all of them, here are some of the most common.
Most Popular Types of Horses in the World
The Arabian horse has long been a favorite the world over. Hailing from the Arabian Peninsula, this breed is easy to spot with its distinctive head shape and high, proud tail carriage.
It is thought to be one of the oldest breeds, and is known for its spirit and endurance. Arabians are used today in many disciplines, including western, saddle seat, and even dressage.
2. Quarter Horse
This American breed is arguably the most popular breed in the United States, and the American Quarter Horse Association is the largest breed registry in the world.
Known as the fastest breed of horse over short distances, Quarter horses are popular mounts for both trail and competition. They are often used for western pleasure riding and other western events such as barrel racing, roping, and cutting, but they can also make excellent hunt seat mounts and even racehorses.
The Thoroughbred is best known for its use in horse racing. Developed in England in the 17th and 18th century, this breed is high spirited and known for its heart.
4. Tennessee Walker
The Tennessee Walker is a gaited breed of horse that was developed in the Southern United States during the 18th century for use on farms and plantations.
Its smooth gaits, such as the four-beat "running walk," make it comfortable for riding long distances, so it was the mount of choice for many Civil War generals.
In fact, it is believed that Robert E. Lee's mount, Traveler, was part Tennessee Walking Horse. Today, Tennessee Walkers are used as both show horses and pleasure mounts.
Compact, brave and agreeable, the Morgan horse is best known for its versatility. One of the oldest breeds developed in the United States, all Morgans trace back to the foundation sire, Figure.
Small in stature but big in heart, they are used today as a riding horse and driving horses and excel in the western and saddle seat disciplines. The Morgan horse is also the state animal of Vermont.
The American Paint Horse is a unique combination of the conformational characteristics of the western stock horse and the colors of a pinto.
While some people consider the paint a "color breed," the American Paint Horse Association considers them a true breed, as paints have a strict bloodline requirement and distinctive breed characteristics.
Like the Quarter Horse, they excel in many western disciplines and are often used as pleasure mounts.
Developed by the Nez Perce Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest, Appaloosa horses are best known for their colorful spotted coat pattern.
They are tough, independent, hardy and sure-footed, with big bodies and sparse manes and tails. Appaloosas are often used as stock horses and pleasure mounts, and also make excellent trail horses.
8. Miniature Horse
The miniature horse was developed in Europe in the 1600s. The breed's two registries have different height requirements, but the horses must fall under 34-38 inches, measured from the last hairs of the mane.
While they are extremely small, they are considered horses and not ponies. In the past, the breed has been kept as pets by nobility and used for work in coal mines. Today they are used as driving horses and sometimes even as service animals.
Technically warmbloods are not a breed but a group that encompasses a number of types and breeds, including the Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Oldenburg, and Trakhner.
Warmbloods are characterized by open studbook policies and are known for their prowess as sport horses, excelling in jumping as well as dressage.
This Spanish breed originated in the Iberian Peninsula and was first recognized as a breed in the 15th century. It was known for its prowess as a war horse and prized by nobility.
With long, thick manes and tails, the Andalusian is strong, compact and elegant. While in the past many different coat colors were found, most present-day Andalusians are grey or bay. Today they are used for dressage, driving, saddle seat and even jumping.
Hackney horses and ponies are prized show, riding, and driving equines. According to the National Hackney Horse Association, Hackney horses have actually been on the endangered species list recently, but increased interest in carriage driving has resulted in increased demand for this unique breed.
Today, Hackneys are accepted in brown, black, bay, and chestnut colors. They have small heads and ears and a refined body. Hackneys are known for their high-stepping gaits and general flashiness in the show ring.
12. Belgian Draft
The Belgian Draft horse is a massive draft horse that measures between 16.2 and 17 hands tall. According to Equus Magazine, Belgians were mostly bay when the breed originated, though today sorrel and roan colors are more common because of selective breeding.
Belgians are kind, easy to work with, and very trainable. In addition to pulling disciplines like plowing, carriage driving, and drawing sleighs, Belgians are increasingly used for riding, too.
13. Shetland Pony
According to Oklahoma State University, the Shetland Pony is one of the oldest breeds of horses to exist in Britain. These ponies were named after the Shetland Islands, where these ponies originated. These islands are barren and harsh, and the breed grew hardy to cope with this challenging environment.
Shetlands typically stand about 9.3 hands high, and Shetlands accepted by the breed standard can't grow taller than 10.2 hands. Most Shetlands are pets, but they can also compete in-hand and be driven.
14. Gypsy Vanner
The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society states that the Gypsy Vanner is often called a "people-sized" draft horse. Standing between 14 and 15 hands tall on average, Gypsy Vanners have the broad body of a draft horse but come at a more manageable size. They're characterized by their notable feathers that flow from their knees and hocks.
While Gypsy Vanners come in any coat color, most people recognize the tobiano coat colors. This breed is relatively new to the United States, with the first horses arriving in 1996. Though new, the Gypsy Vanner has quickly grown in popularity.
It's easy to recognize the visually striking Friesian horse. According to the Friesian Horse Association of North America, these horses were originally bred to encompass both bay and gray coat colors, but today black is the only coat color that is officially accepted. Friesians are also known for their long, flowing manes and tails and fetlock hair.
Friesians are suitable for many purposes, and you'll find many of them in the show ring. Friesians can be driven, ridden English and Western, jumped, schooled in dressage, and more.
If you've ever marveled at a Budweiser wagon hitch, then you're already familiar with the Clydesdale. According to the Livestock Conservancy, Clydesdales originated in Scotland in the 1700s and were imported to America in the 1840s.
Today, Clydesdales stand between 16.2 and 18 hands high and weigh between 1,600 and 1,800 pounds. Some larger Clydesdales can weigh as much as 2,200 pounds. There are less than 5,000 Clydesdales in the United States today, meaning this remarkable breed is considered to be threatened.
According to the Equine Journal, every Standardbred today can trace its existence back to a single horse named Hambletonian 10. When the breed originated, these trotting horses were required to achieve a standard time for trotting a mile, which is how the breed earned its name.
The Standardbred breed has existed for less than 200 years, and these horses are increasingly used for more and more purposes. You'll find Standardbreds racing, and once retired, they're often retrained as pleasure or show mounts.
The American Haflinger Registry states that the Haflinger breed first originated in medieval times, with the first documented present-day Haflinger being foundation stallion 249 Folie, born in 1874.
Haflingers are small horses that are versatile enough to be both ridden and driven. They're known for their golden coloring and white manes and tails. Haflingers take on many different disciplines today, from Western dressage to eventing to driving and more.
19. Paso Fino
Quick, athletic, and equipped with incredible stamina, the Paso Fino is becoming a highly popular breed in America. The Paso Fino Horse Association states that this breed is referred to as the "smoothest horse in the world" because of its rhythmical, quick-stepping gaits that allow a rider to sit in the saddle virtually without moving.
Paso Finos come in any coat color and often have long manes and tails. Their natural gaits are incredibly comfortable, though they can also be trained to perform different gaits for competition.
20. Welsh Pony
According to the Welsh Pony & Cob Association of America, Welsh Ponies are friendly, intelligent, and easy to train. These ponies have excellent temperaments and originated in southern Wales.
Welsh Ponies were imported to America in the 1880s and became the fastest-growing breed in the country in the later 1900s. These ponies are highly versatile and you'll find them competing in nearly every discipline today.
The list of horse breeds is exhaustive, but these 20 are the most popular. Other popular breeds from wild horses to saddle horses include the Cleveland Bay, Dutch Warmblood, Australian Stock Horse, Akhal-Teke, Bashkir Curly, Barbs, Trakehner, Florida Cracke, Icelandic Horse, Fjord, Rocky Mountain Horse, Lusitano, Peruvian Paso, Palominos, and American Saddlebred. You'll find many draft breeds, including the Percheron and Shire. Popular ponies include the Chincoteague Pony, Dartmoor Pony, Exmoor Pony, Falabella, and Connemara Pony.
There is a good chance that the horses you see in paddocks along the road are one of these different breeds!
This article was originally published May 22, 2019.