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Relative to their size, horses are one of the fastest land mammals on Earth.
The fastest horse ever was a Quarter Horse named A Long Goodbye, who once galloped at an incredible speed of 55 mph (88.5 km/h).
Horses have many evolutionary adaptations that allow them to carry their large bodies at high speeds. For example, their long legs and powerful hindquarters give horses a greater stride length and stride rate than most other animals have. These two factors determine the speed at which an animal can travel.
For horses that live in the wild, running fast is crucial to survival. A newborn foal can usually stand up and run within an hour after birth, allowing it to keep up with the herd in case there is danger.
Their speed and agility are some of the main reasons humans domesticated horses in the first place.
Many horse breeds today are bred for racing and sport, which further highlights the fantastic athletic abilities of the species.
Fastest Horse Breeds in the World
The fastest horse breeds in the world are the Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, and Anglo-Arabian. Other fast horse breeds include the Akhal-Teke, Morgan, Appaloosa, Paint Horse, Barb, and Standardbred.
Hot-blooded horse breeds such as the Arabian, Thoroughbred, Barb, and Akhal-Teke are known for their speed and endurance. The combination of these breeds will also produce a very fast horse.
An example is the Anglo-Arabian breed, which was developed from Thoroughbred and Arabian bloodlines.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the fastest horse breeds in the world that continue to amaze us all with their speed and brilliance:
1. Quarter Horse
Quarter Horses are the fastest horse breed over a short distance (¼ mile). They reach speeds of over 50 mph (80 km/h), with the fastest ever recorded at 55 mph.
In 2005, a racing Quarter Horse named A Long Goodbye set the world record for the highest speed achieved by a horse at 55 mph (88.5 km/h). Quarter Horses are traditionally raced over a distance of two furlongs or a quarter of a mile, hence their name.
The breed is also known for its versatility and ability to excel in various disciplines. Their explosive speed and maneuverability make the Quarter Horse ideal for western events such as barrel racing.
This stunning breed is easily recognized by its large, muscular hindquarters and compact body. Most Quarter Horses stand between 14 and 16 hands tall, but some can grow over 17 hands.
Due to their calm disposition and willingness to work, Quarter Horses are well suited to ranch work and trail riding.
Thoroughbreds are the fastest horse breed in the world over a distance of 2-3 miles. They dominate the horse racing industry and hold the Guinness World Record for the highest race speed recorded over two furlongs (¼ mile).
The record was achieved in 2008 by a 2-year-old Thoroughbred filly called Winning Brew. Trained by Francis Vitale, the horse ran with a top speed of 43.97 mph (70.76 km/h) at the Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania, United States.
Centuries of selective breeding has allowed the Thoroughbred to dominate the horse racing industry. Known for their “hot-blooded” temperament, these horses are highly competitive, energetic, and full of fire.
All existing Thoroughbreds today descend from just three founding fathers. These are the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian.
Thoroughbreds have a tall, slim conformation, averaging 16 hands at the withers. They are naturally athletic and agile, making the breed ideal for most speed events, such as racing, show jumping, eventing, or steeplechasing.
Akhal-Tekes are among the fastest and rarest horse breeds in the world. The top speed of these unique horses can reach 35 mph (56 km/h). In contrast, the average horse can gallop at speeds of 25-30 mph (40-48 km/h) at most.
Originating in modern-day Turkmenistan, Akhal-Tekes are the closest descendants of the ancient Scythian horse. They were bred by nomadic tribes for speed and endurance so they could travel long distances swiftly and without difficulty.
Due to their fiery temperament and unrivaled stamina, Ahkal-Tekes were highly sought-after in the ancient world as racing and war horses. Moreover, their unique metallic coat sets this horse breed apart from all others. Much like the Arabian, Akhal-Tekes have an elegant and refined conformation.
In terms of size, these horses average 15.2 hands in height and 900 to 1000 pounds in weight. They are a very intelligent breed, known for forming attachments with one person only.
With an estimated global population of 6,000 or less, the Akhal-Teke is a rare and endangered horse breed.
The Arabian is an ancient horse breed that developed in the arid conditions of the Arabian desert. Like Thoroughbreds, Arabians can also run at high speeds over a medium distance. However, the breed is most famous for its exceptional endurance and hardiness.
It’s no surprise therefore that Arabians dominate the endurance discipline, where horses and riders have to travel up to 100 miles in one race.
In 2010, a gray Arabian called Jayhal Shazal completed such a race in just 5 hours 45 minutes. With an average speed of 17 mph throughout the race and 22 mph in the final loop, he set the world record for the fastest finish of a 100-mile race.
Despite their small size (14.1 to 15.1 hands), Arabians have superior stamina and agility. Throughout history, they have been used for war and raiding by nomadic tribes and great generals alike.
The Arabian is also a very versatile and intelligent breed, known for its ability to bond with humans.
Other than endurance, these horses will excel in most riding disciplines, including racing, show jumping, eventing, dressage, and western riding.
5. Barb Horse
The Barb is a hot-blooded horse breed known for its remarkable hardiness, speed, and stamina.
Originally from North Africa, the Barb has influenced and improved many horse breeds worldwide. Among these are the Thoroughbred, Andalusian, Lusitano, Criollo, Paso Fino, Quarter Horse, Mustang, and Appaloosa breeds.
Throughout history, Barb horses were used for racing and war not only in their home countries, but also in Europe. Several noble and royal families kept stables of Barb horses to improve existing breeds.
Other than speed and stamina, Barb horses are also known for their sure-footedness and talent for high-school dressage. Their strong and relatively short bodies are ideal for collection, where the horse brings its hindquarters further underneath the body.
Last but not least, Barb horses are extremely bright and eager to please.
Unfortunately, their numbers are decreasing due to the difficult economic situation in North African countries.
Primarily known for their flashy spotted coats, Appaloosa horses are also great sprinters. This is due to their common ancestry with the Quarter Horse, Arabian, and Thoroughbred breeds.
The Appaloosa was originally developed from Spanish horses by the Nez Perce tribe in North America. Later on, other horse breeds were added to improve the speed and athleticism of the original type.
After nearly going extinct, the breed was brought back to life in the early 1900s. To preserve and enhance this unique breed, the Appaloosa Horse Club formed in 1938.
Like its Arabian and Quarter Horse relatives, Appaloosas are also extremely versatile. They are commonly used in both English and western riding, as well as trail riding and endurance.
This small but mighty breed is quick and agile both under saddle and in harness. Dating back to the late 18th century, the Morgan is one of the first horse breeds ever developed in the United States.
All Morgan horses today derive from the foundation sire of unknown origin called Figure. The horse was later renamed after its famous owner Justin Morgan, which later became the name of the breed.
Traditionally, Morgans served as coach horses, general riding horses, as well as cavalry horses during the Civil War. Many were also used in harness racing due to their impressive trotting speed.
Moreover, this compact but refined breed influenced several modern horse breeds, such as the Quarter Horse, Standardbred, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Hackney Horse.
Nowadays, Morgans are mainly used for ranching and western riding but also do well in English disciplines.
The Standardbred is built similarly to a Thoroughbred, with strong shoulders and hindquarters that give the breed power and speed.
These horses are the kings of harness racing and hold the record for the fastest one-mile finish time at 1 minute 46.20 seconds.
The world record above was also set by a pacing Standardbred named Cambest, who achieved a top speed of 33.84 mph (54.46 km/h) at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
There are two types of Standardbred racehorses: trotters and pacers. Pacers are sightly faster at completing a race than trotters.
Originally from New England, the Standardbred is a mixture of several other trotting and pacing breeds. Among its ancestors were the Thoroughbred, Morgan, Canadian Pacer, and the now extinct Narragansett Pacer breed.
Other than harness racing, Standardbreds also do well in show jumping, eventing, and many other sports due to their athletic build. They are friendly, willing learners, great with both beginner and advanced riders.
9. Paint Horse
You might not think of the colorful Paint Horse as one of the fastest horse breeds, but they are more than capable runners.
In 2006, a solid-colored Paint racehorse Got Country Grip set the record for the breed at 40 mph (64 km/h).
When you look at the origins of the American Paint Horse, the breed’s talent for racing becomes clear. The Paint Horse was developed from Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse bloodlines in the mid-20th century.
A common misconception is to believe that the Paint is solely a color breed. On the contrary, these horses combine the typical conformation of a western stock horse with a pinto spotting pattern.
Color variations in the breed include tobiano, overo, and tovero spotting patterns. What’s more, solid-colored Paints also exist and are eligible for registration with the American Paint Horse Association (APHA).
While Paint Horses are certainly fast, they are typically used for western riding and some English disciplines such as show jumping.
An Anglo-Arabian is a cross between a Thoroughbred and an Arabian. Since both of these breeds are fast runners, the Anglo-Arabian also has a natural flair for speed.
Regardless of the breed of the parents, an Anglo-Arabian must have at least 12.5% of Arabian blood to be eligible for registration. The rest of the horse’s genetics must be of pure Thoroughbred breeding.
Anglo-Arabian breeding is most popular in France, where most of these horses are produced. The breed has had a significant influence on the country’s greatest sport horse, the Selle Français.
Anglo-Arabians have previously served as military horses, however, they are now used as general leisure and sport horses. Due to their speed and agility, they do well in the show jumping and eventing disciplines.