The 10 Best Horse Breeds and Their Unique Features
Many a horse-crazy child has pored over the encyclopedias of horse breeds like the beautifully illustrated Kingfisher Illustrated Horse and Pony Encyclopedia. Colorful steeds graced these pages: island ponies of Japan, desert sprinting horses as old as the human race itself, and giant draft horses hauling logs through the northern forests of the world, and various solid and painted horses of every variety filled our young minds with knowledge and our eyes with wonder. But while there are about 350 recognized breeds around the world, ten breeds are the most common, and the most likely to be found and crossed with other breeds are these beauties.
The oldest and one of the most recognizable breeds of horse, the Arabian is famous for its looks and character. Notable for its fine bone structure, dished face, and strong yet sturdy back, the Arabian arose from the deserts of the Arabian penninsula, wild and distinctive as a sandstorm. There are many legends about the development of this breed, but it was foundational in the development of the Thoroughbred, the warmblood breeds, the horses of the Iberian peninsula, and many of the pony breeds from all over the world. They may be seen in all solid horse colors, but pure Arabians are not known for having spotted or pinto coloring. While many negative stereotypes exist about Arabians, they are known for their toughness, intelligence, resilience, and endurance. They can be seen competing in virtually every equestrian sport, though they particularly dominate at endurance events.To delve deeper into the Arabian’s unique character and origins, consider the book “The Classic Arabian Horse” by Judith Forbis, an authority on the breed.
A breed that has almost as many stereotypes as the Arabian is the Thoroughbred. Made most famous by the racing industry, Thoroughbreds are highly athletic, spirited, and fast. They can reach an average galloping speed of 40 miles per hour during their races. Thoroughbreds retired from racing have gone on to compete nationally and internationally in every discipline in the equestrian world. The Thoroughbred has also been used to improve the bloodlines of many other breeds of horses, especially warmbloods. They are known for being fine-boned, energetic, with a high work ethic, and while many of them may be a lot of horse for a novice rider, virtually everyone who owns a thoroughbred says they won’t go on to have any other breed of horse. The book “Speed and the Thoroughbred” by Alexander Mackay-Smith provides comprehensive information about this breed’s history, characteristics, and uses outside of racing.
American Quarter Horse
An American treasure, the Quarter horse gets its name by being able to reach the highest speeds over a quarter of a mile (approximately 55 miles per hour). The Quarter horse was developed from crossing smaller Thoroughbreds with mustangs and the ponies of Native Americans in the American West to produce a hardy, muscular, steady horse that would be the faithful companion of cowboys and working ranchers on the American frontier. The Quarter horse is known for being muscular, agile, gentle and calm, and tremendously versatile. It is most commonly ridden in western events around the world, but with its gentle, loving temperament, it is also a common child’s mount in English disciplines, Pony Club and 4-H events. It may be found in any solid color. “The American Quarter Horse” by Steven D. Price is a must-read for Quarter horse enthusiasts.
A french breed originally bred for carrying knights and all their armor into battle, the Percheron is one of the best known breeds of heavy horseThey may be black or gray, and they are often crossed with lighter-boned breeds to create large, strong riding horses. “Percheron Horse in America” by Joseph Mischka offers a captivating exploration of this breed’s history and influence.
An Irish breed that has now made its way around the world, the cob is a stocky horse heavy horse that is also able to be ridden. Cobs tend to be shorter than draft horses, but have broad backs and dense bones, making them capable of carrying loads that are greater than one would expect of their height. They tend to grow long whiskers under their chins, and many of them have feathering, or long hairs on their lower legs which covers their hooves. Cobs are ridden in foxhunting, Pony Club games, English riding, and hacking out over trails. They may be any solid or patterned color known to horse kind. The book “The Irish Cob” by Flore Ryan offers a comprehensive overview of this breed’s unique features and capabilities.
American Paint Horse
Developed originally from colored lines of Quarter horses and mustangs, the American Paint Horse is a flashy addition to the barn and show ring. The Paint horse coat patterns may be fitted into three broad categories: tobiano (the white in the horses coat may cross the back), overo (the white does not cross the back), and tovero (a combination of the two). Furthermore, if a Paint Horse is born to two registered Paint Horse parents with no classic paint markings, it is known as a breeding stock paint, and is still eligible for breeding, registration, and competition. Competing in all disciplines with all ages of riders, the American Paint Horse catches attention everywhere it goes. “The American Paint Horse” by Glynn W. Haynes provides readers with a comprehensive look into this breed’s history and characteristics.
The mustang, while not an official breed with a registering organization as such, is a symbol of the American West. They are descended from the horses of Spanish conqustadores which escaped from their masters hundreds of years ago. Their physical features and genetic testing results show strong infleunces from the horses of the Iberian peninsula and ponies from Europe and the British Isles. They are smaller horses, with feet as strong as nails and efficient metabolisms, making them easy keepers many times.. They are found in every color of the equine rainbow, solid and patterned. They are known for being smart and willing, though gentling and training a wild mustang is not a task that ought to be undertaken lightly by any horse trainer. “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West” by Deanne Stillman is a wonderful resource that documents the rich history of these horses.
The ponies that bring many youngsters their first ribbons and mark the first chapters in their stories with horses are Welsh ponies. Welsh ponies are descended from native ponies on the British Isles, and were refined through crosses with Arabians and Other larger riding horses. Today, these ponies are versatile and athletic, known around the world as Pony Club partners, adventure buddies, and show ring competitors who taught their young riders more about life and riding than any two-legged instructor ever could.“The Welsh Pony” by Olive Tilford Dargan is a classic text that details the characteristics and history of these ponies.
Originally developed on the British Isles to work in coal mines, the Shetland pony is a lot of spunk in a tiny package. The smallest of the rideable horse breeds, the Shetland pony breed standard does not allow a pony to stand taller than 10.2 hands high. Many of the first experiences that a child has on a horse is on a Shetland pony, or a Shetland pony cross. They can be prone to founder and obesity, given that they are very small and yet have the appetites of their larger cousins. There are many sayings about the cheekiness of a pony, and virtually every equestrian has the orneriness of a pony with at least some Shetland blood to thank for teaching them about persistence and the value of overcoming obstacles! The book “Shetland Ponies” by Amanda Parise-Peterson gives young readers insight into this fascinating breed.
The most common horse “breed” is not a breed at all, but a cross of one or more breeds. These horses are known as grade horses. Many of these horses have hearts of gold, and as the saying goes, a million-dollar horse can colic as easy as a backyard grade horse you got for free. Many of these horses have the best traits of their respective genetic heritages. While there isn’t a specific book about grade horses, “Horses: A Guide to Selection, Care, and Enjoyment” by J. Warren Evans is an excellent resource for understanding the unique characteristics that may come from mixed-breed lineage.
The most popular breeds of horses are all slightly different, but each has a unique set of features that are perfect for the right person. Enjoy and appreciate the horse you have for all his unique features. And if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide for horse care, consider The Complete Book of Horses: Breeds, Care, Riding, Saddlery, it’s an excellent resource.
What breed is your horse?