Whether you are just beginning your equestrian journey or you are a more advanced rider simply looking to learn more about various breeds, learning about the most popular breeds is a great place to start. I put together this reference guide as a quick resource with information on many of the most popular horse breeds in the United States.
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So, what are the most popular horse breeds in the US? The 15 most popular horse breeds in the United States include the following:Quarter HorsePOAMustangThoroughbredHaflingerPaintAppaloosaWelsh Ponies Tennessee Walking HorseMissouri Fox TrotterArabianPercheronStandardbredBelgianHanoverian
You likely recognize at least one of the breeds on this list. In fact, you may even own one of them like I do! In this post, we will look at some of the histories of each of these popular breeds and the characteristics that make them as popular as they are today.
Most Popular Horse Breeds in the United States
Most riders and horse lovers have a favorite horse breed. Whether it’s the breed you first learned to ride or a horse you have a special bond with, we all have our preferences. There are characteristics that make certain breeds more common than others. Some are preferred for their looks, some for their personalities. With more than 350 known horse breeds found across the world, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here is an overview of some of the most common horse breeds in the US.
The American Quarter Horse is most well-known for its ability to sprint short distances, easily outrunning other breeds in races with a distance less than a quarter-mile. Easily the most popular horse breed in the United States, the origins of the Quarter Horse date back to the mid-1600s.
The Quarter Horse excels at quick, intricate maneuvers due to their compact body shape. Because of this, you often find Quarter Horses participating in rodeos, barrel racing, and other Western riding events.
If you’d like to learn more about Quarter Horses, here is the official American Quarter Horse Association’s website.
Although they are relatively new to the scene, POA, or Pony of the Americas, is quickly becoming one of the largest growing breeds in the United States. The breed was first developed in the 1950s, primarily for Western riding. However, it is now often seen in other events such as endurance riding, jumping, and even dressage.
Although this breed goes by the name “pony”, its physical characteristics are much more similar to that of a Quarter Horse than of a traditional pony breed. I have a special place in my heart for this breed as my current pony, and one of the loves of my life, Tucker, is a POA.
You can learn more about POA’s here.
Small but sturdy, the Mustang is sometimes called the “wild horse of the West”. However, this nickname can be misleading. Mustangs are descendants of Arabian horses that were brought to America by the Spanish. This breed is strong-boned, surefooted, and exemplifies endurance.
Mustangs can have a wide variety of physical characteristics. However, they all possess the common qualities of endurance and surefootedness. Free-roaming mustangs still call the Western United States their home, with large populations in Nevada, California, Oregon, Utah, and other states throughout the West.
Here’s the official Wikipedia for Mustangs if you’d like to learn more!
A popular racehorse, Thoroughbreds are most popular for their agility and speed. Thoroughbreds are not only popular in the United States, but around the world. Thoroughbreds have many favorable characteristics. For this reason, they are often crossbred to improve existing breeds to create new breeds.
Thoroughbreds are popular for their agility and speed and are known as quite spirited animals. These qualities make them a common choice for racing although they also participate in other riding events.
Here’s a link for further reading on Thoroughbreds!
A breed with an interesting history, the Haflinger, traces back as far as the Middle Ages. The Haflinger is relatively small in size; however, their size does not impact their hardiness.
This breed is sociable and quite gentle, making them great for beginner riders of all ages. However, their versatility enables them to also compete in high-level equestrian events.
One unique fact about the Haflinger is that they always have a beautiful chestnut or palomino coat with a flaxen mane and tail. The personality of a Haflinger can be described as energetic yet elegant.
You can learn more at the American Haflinger Horse Registry.
A distinct colorful coat is one of the defining characteristics of the American Paint Horse. Originating from Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred bloodlines, this popular breed is most often used in Western riding events. You may have heard this breed referred to as a “Pinto”, however, this term actually refers to the coloring of the horse, not the breed itself.
The American Paint Horse is muscular with a low center of gravity. This combination makes them easily maneuverable, causing them to excel in a variety of Western riding events.
Learn more at the American Paint Horse Association’s official website.
This list would not be complete without discussing the Appaloosa. Easily one of the most popular breeds in the United States, it is a versatile breed that excels in many equestrian disciplines. Its leopard-spotted coat is one of the most unique characteristics, although it varies in pattern from horse to horse. You may be familiar with this breed from one of its many television or movie debuts!
You can read more about them on the Appaloosa Horse Club’s website.
Welsh Ponies are friendly and intelligent. These character qualities make the breed easy-to-train and incredibly versatile. Welsh Ponies are quite popular with younger riders. However, they excel at almost any riding discipline, making this breed a wonderful choice for horse lovers of any age.
Learn more at the Welsh Pony and Cob Society website.
Tennessee Walking Horse
With a calm disposition and smooth gait, the Tennessee Walking Horse is an ever-popular riding horse in the United States. This breed is a larger breed characterized that is sturdy yet elegant. Naturally flashy in their movement, the Tennessee Walking Horse is a popular show horse. However, they are also quite common for pleasure riding.
Read more about Tennessee Walking Horses here.
Missouri Fox Trotter
With its origin dating back to the early 19th century, the Missouri Fox Trotter is quite popular for trail riding. This breed is characterized by its speed, stamina, and smooth gait. The Missouri Fox Trotter has proven beneficial for many individuals including casual trail riders, cattlemen, hunters, and even riders with minor physical disabilities.
Here’s the official Missouri Fox Trotter Breed Association website.
One of the most easily recognizable horse breeds, Arabians have an arched neck, large head, and high tail carriage. They are especially known for endurance riding as they have strong, sound bodies and incredible stamina. Arabians first arrived in the Americas in the early 1500s, where they eventually became the foundation stock for the Mustang.
You can learn more from the Arabian Horse Breed Association.
A draft horse, known for their intelligence and good disposition, the Percheron is always ready to work. Although quite large in size, this breed easily adapts to a wide variety of climates and conditions. Percherons are most often used as draft horses, often used for sleigh rides, parades, and carriages.
Despite their size, the calm disposition of Percherons actually makes them a great horse for first-time horse owners. To learn more about this incredible breed, you can go here.
Standardbreds are easy-to-train and quite people-oriented. They are most commonly used in the United States for harness racing, however, they also excel in a number of other equestrian disciplines. Standardbreds are also popular in the Amish community as buggy horses! Although Standardbreds were first developed in North America, they are now a popular breed in many areas of the world. Their solid build and wonderful disposition are ideal for many riding situations.
Here is more information about Standardbreds.
The Belgian Draft horse breed is one of the strongest, largest breeds. Although they are most commonly used as working horses, they are becoming increasingly popular for both showing and pleasure riding. Belgians in the United States are not quite as large as their European counterparts, however, they have similar characteristics and build.
Here is more information about Belgian Horses.
Originating in Germany, the Hanoverian is popular for its incredible temperament, athletic ability, and physical appearance. Hanoverians are quite trainable and are often seen competing in Olympic equestrian events. This breed excels in activities such as dressage, jumping, and eventing.
One of the things I love most about horses is that you never learn everything there is to know. I have always enjoyed learning about the various history behind certain breeds and seeing the role they played to get us where we are today. The breeds on this list have stood the test of time, proving themselves as favorites throughout many generations.
Here is more information about Hanoverian horses.
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How do you choose the right horse breed?
There are several factors to consider before you purchase your first horse. Some of these include the size of the horse, personality characteristics, experience, and riding goals. Additionally, you should also consult an equestrian who is more experienced as they will be able to offer valuable insight into a horse breed that would be a good fit for you. Here’s my article on Choosing a Horse Breed for further reading.
What is the best horse breed for beginner riders?
As a beginner rider, it is important to choose a reliable, trustworthy horse. Although there are many horse breeds that qualify, a few stand out as ideal for the beginner rider. Quarter Horses, Morgan Horses, Missouri Fox Trotters, and American Pain Horses all make great breeds for someone just learning to ride.
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