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Any equestrian can appreciate how difficult it is to choose the 10 horse breeds in the world. It all depends on personal preference and a particular breed’s purpose.
However, we have tried to bring you the best horse breeds in many categories. Most of these breeds result from centuries of selective breeding for a specific purpose, such as speed, endurance, versatility, or strength.
While some horse breeds differ considerably, they are all part of the same species, Equus ferus caballus.
Let us appreciate the unique qualities of these outstanding equines by getting to know them a little better!
Most Beautiful Horse Breed: Andalusian
The Andalusian is considered the most beautiful horse breed in the world. Andalusian horses have a beautiful self-carriage, arching neck, perfectly proportioned body, and flowing mane and tail.
Some rare and unique coat colors like the cremello, perlino, and pearl appear in the Andalusian breed, further adding to its beauty.
Also known as Pura Raza Española (PRE), this native Spanish Horse breed is suitable for riding and driving. However, the breed excels the most at classical dressage and mounted bullfighting.
The Andalusian is also one of the most influential horse breeds. Spanish bloodlines are found in most modern American horse breeds, such as the Quarter Horse, Paint, and Mustang.
Horse breeds like the Arabian, Akhal-Teke, Friesian, and Lipizzaner have also been named the most beautiful.
Most Versatile Horse Breed: Quarter Horse
The American Quarter Horse has become the most popular horse breed in the United States because of its versatility. There is virtually no discipline a Quarter Horse cannot be trained for. They are equally suitable for English and Western riding, as well as driving, showing, and Natural Horsemanship.
There are over three million registered Quarter Horses, with tens of thousands more being registered each year.
It’s no coincidence that many call the Quarter Horse the breed of records. They are also the fastest horse breed on the planet, with top racehorses achieving speeds of 55 mph (88.5 km/h) on a quarter-mile.
Alongside their many talents, Quarter Horses are also famous for their intelligence and even temperaments. As a result, they work just as well with beginners as more experienced riders.
Also read: 8 Weird & Unusual Horse Breeds
Best Racing Horse Breed: Thoroughbred
Few people haven’t heard of the iconic Thoroughbred horse, known for its role in horse racing. Although Quarter Horses can achieve a higher top speed, Thoroughbreds are the fastest horses on a medium distance (up to 2 miles), clocking in at 40 mph (64 km/h).
Today, all living Thoroughbreds descend from just three founding fathers, namely the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerley Turk. The breed has been extensively used to increase speed and stamina in many horse breeds, including the Quarter Horse, Morgan, and Standardbred.
While Thoroughbreds are the kings of horse racing, they also excel in show jumping and eventing. Many retired racehorses nowadays start second careers in jumping or as hobby horses.
Thoroughbreds are also among the most expensive horse breeds in the world. After winning the Kentucky Derby in 2000, the racehorse Fusaichi Pegasus sold for an eye-watering $70 million, a record that still stands today.
Most Famous Horse Breed: Arabian
Because of its rich history and distinctive appearance, the Arabian is the most famous horse breed. These beautiful equines stand out with slender bodies, concave heads, and high tail carriage.
Besides being beautiful, unique, and intelligent, the Arabian is also one of the oldest horse breeds. Experts believe the breed is over 4,000 years old and was among the first breeds developed by humans.
Today, Arabians dominate the endurance discipline, frequently winning world-class events like the Equestrian Games and the Tevis Cup. With that being said, they are also one of the most versatile equines and will succeed in almost any discipline.
What’s more, Arabians also stand out with their affection and affinity for humans. For thousands of years, they have been selected for their ability to bond with humans, which explains this unique trait.
Also read: 8 Most Famous Arabian Horses in History
Strongest Horse Breed: Belgian Draft
These powerful equines have been dazzling crowds for decades with their ability to pull enormous weights. To illustrate their strength, a team of Belgian Drafts once pulled 17,000 pounds (7,700 kg) over a distance of 7 ft 2 (2.18 m) at the National Western Stock Show in Colorado!
Although they originate in Belgium, Belgian Drafts have become America’s most popular draft horse. Hence it’s no surprise that the United States developed its own version of the breed, which is slightly smaller than its European counterpart.
On average, Belgian Draft horses grow 16.2 to 17 hands tall and weigh around 2,000 pounds (over 900 kg) at maturity. Their color in North America is mostly chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, although other colors are still common in Europe.
We can’t talk about Belgian Drafts without mentioning Big Jake, who was the tallest horse in the world until his recent death in June 2021. Jake acquired his Guinness World Records title in 2010 when he stood 20.2 3⁄4 hands tall and weighed 2,600 pounds.
Also read: Meet Petra, the Strongest Horse in the World
Best Sport Horse Breed: Dutch Warmblood
Showjumping and dressage enthusiasts will be familiar with this excellent breed that has produced the world’s most successful sport horses. The Dutch Warmblood breeding program began in the 1960s to develop the perfect breed for equestrian competitions.
Also known as KWPN, this breed is the ultimate competition horse for English riders. Dutch Warmbloods are not only talented in show jumping and dressage but also excel in eventing, show harness, and hunter classes.
Many of the breed’s top horses sell for large sums of money in the hundred thousand dollar range. Besides being excellent athletes, Dutch Warmbloods also have impeccable temperaments and highly trainable brains.
Also read: 10 Horse Breeds You’ve Never Heard Of
Best Gaited Horse Breed: Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic Horse is a popular breed that’s most common in Europe but also found worldwide. Alongside the three basic gaits (walk, trot, and canter), these horses can also perform two unique gaits (pace and tölt).
Pace is a two-beat gait where the horse’s legs on the same side move together. This gives the rider a smooth sensation without the bounciness in trot. Meanwhile, tölt is a four-beat ambling gait that’s also smooth to ride but is somewhat faster than pace.
The unique gaits of Icelandic Horses allow them to carry riders safely and swiftly over uneven terrain. Although the breed is on the smaller side (12 to 14 hands), it is suitable for both children and adults to ride.
Like the Arabian, the Icelandic Horse breed is also regarded as one of the most ancient in the world. It is the only horse breed currently living in Iceland, as the country has banned the import of horses in 982 to stop the spread of disease.
Toughest Horse Breed: Mustang
Today’s free-roaming Mustangs descend from the Spanish horses brought in by conquistadors in the late 15th century. They have become an integral part of American heritage and culture.
Due to extensive crossbreeding with other breeds, Mustangs come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. They are relatively small but sturdy horses with an average height of 14 to 15 hands.
As a result of natural selection, Mustangs have become one of the toughest horse breeds. They can survive extremely high and low temperatures and have superior endurance only rivaled by Middle Eastern horse breeds.
Today, the feral Mustang population is controlled and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Out of all Mustang subtypes, the purest Spanish bloodlines are found in Kiger Mustangs.
Best Children’s Horse Breed: Shetland Pony
The Shetland Pony is the most popular children’s horse breed today. This Scottish breed originates in the Shetland Isles, located north of the mainland. It can be up to 107 cm (42 in) tall at the withers, making it an ideal size for children.
Although small, the Shetland Pony is surprisingly strong for its size. This results from its dense bone structure pointing to the breed’s draft origins.
Shetland Ponies will happily perform both riding and driving tasks. Children love them for their playful nature, colorful coats, and thick manes and tails.
Having lived in the cold and windy Shetland Isles for centuries, these tiny equines are incredibly hardy and tough. They also live longer than average lives up to 30+ years. The oldest Shetland Pony ever reached the ripe age of 56, which is 145 human years!
Best Driving Horse Breed: Clydesdale
The Clydesdale breed can thank its fame to Budweiser Commercials, which show off the breed’s charm and elegance in a carriage. Like the Shetland, the Clydesdale horse breed is also native to Scotland.
If you know your horse breeds, you might think Clydesdales look a lot like Shire Horses. This is no coincidence, as the Clydesdale breed has considerable Shire blood, which was used in the 19th century to increase its height.
Like other draft breeds, the Clydesdale population significantly dropped after World War II. In the 1970s, the Rare Breeds Survival trust named the breed vulnerable to extinction.
Thanks to the passionate breeders who worked hard to save the breed, the Clydesdale is still with us today. Besides driving, these fabulous horses are also used for riding, parading, and as drum horses by the British Household Cavalry.