There are hundreds of horse breeds in the world. For those of us interested in learning more about them, it can be hard to know where to begin.
This article will simplify everything you need to know about some of the most popular breeds of horses, as well as the purpose each horse breed serves in different competitions. By the end of the article, you should have a good understanding of which horse breed is best suited for each type of riding and situation.
Types of Equestrian Competition
First, let’s take a look at the different types of competitions that you and your horse might find yourselves competing in:
Steeplechase racing is like ordinary racing but includes a few jumps and ditch crossings, which is similar to the steeplechase race we see in athletics.
Flat racing is the horse racing we are all accustomed to. Each horse lines up at the beginning and the race begins once they are let out of the gates. Flat racing is an easy way to determine which horse is the fastest. Each race is different according to the terrain and the shape of the course itself.
Harness racing is when each horse pulls a cart along with a jockey sitting inside, which is a test of both speed and strength. The winning horse needs enough strength to pull the jockey along and enough speed to surpass the competitors.
Another form of harness racing is saddle trot racing. The only difference is how the driver is positioned.
Show jumping is a popular equestrian activity most of us are familiar with. The image of a horse jumping over hurdles immediately pops into our minds. The idea is that a horse is led through a series of obstacles that it must jump over successfully.
The novice might look at those horses as ordinary and think that any horse can do it, but some breeds are much better at show jumping than others.
Dressage is an interesting style of competition where the horse and rider are tested on athletic abilities like speed, agility, and jumping, and also on precision, balance, responsiveness, and obedience. You may have seen images of a horse prancing very carefully and precisely through a series of choreographed movements. This is dressage.
Dressage is not as easy as it appears. The fact that it’s an Olympic sport shows that it requires top-tier athletic abilities. It takes time and lots of practice to be considered an expert in dressage.
Best Horse for Beginners: American Quarter
Before you can get to any of the competitions above, you first need to learn how to ride a horse. Whether you want to buy your own horse or you’re taking horse riding lessons, picking the right horse is an essential task for a novice. You have to find a horse with a good memory (so that it’s easy to train), and a horse that is calm enough to be ridden.
The American quarter horse is one of the most popular breeds globally, and it has a well-deserved reputation for being the best option for first-timers. The horse is usually between 56 to 64 inches tall (14 to 16 hands) and weighs between 950 and 1,200 pounds.
The quarter horse is the oldest surviving American breed, originally bred by Virginia settlers. The horse was developed by mixing thoroughbreds from the UK and local mustang ponies. Even though it has been around for so long, it only got official recognition in 1941.
You can easily recognize this horse by its brownish-red color. Other quarter horses can also be gray or palomino. Most American quarter horses have white marks on either their face or bodies. You can also recognize a quarter horse by looking for the wide forehead and flat profile.
As time passed, quarter horses were bred with thoroughbreds giving them a strong body with a muscular neck and powerful shoulders. Though the weight distribution appears uneven at first, this horse is great at making tight turns.
The horses we usually see featured in movies are quarter horses, so it should look familiar when you see them in real life.
This horse is great for beginners because it has an even temperament, is calm enough to be ridden, and it’s friendly with everyone. Though extremely energetic at times, the horse is easy to ride once it calms down. The horse is also intelligent and quick to learn.
The quarter horse is sure-footed, so you’re less likely to fall while you’re riding it. It’s also agile, meaning you can ride it on different terrains. Just by looking at it, you can tell the horse is safe and steady. It’s gentle enough for anyone who has never interacted with horses before but also challenging enough for you to enjoy as your riding skills improve.
If you find a successfully trained horse, it’s easy to keep up with and has a simple grooming routine. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance horse that’s also kid-friendly, the American quarter horse is the best choice.
Best Horse for Racing: Thoroughbred
Even though there are different types of racing, speed remains the most important factor. If you want to win races, you need to be riding the fastest horse. Obviously, other factors like temperament also contribute to your choice, but you’ll ultimately need a fast horse. This is why a thoroughbred is the best horse for racing.
Thoroughbreds are the fastest breed in the world. The current world record for the fastest race is held by a thoroughbred. Winning Brew ran a mind-blowing 43.7 miles per hour at the Penn National Race Course. This wasn’t a surprise since thoroughbreds were solely bred to be racing horses.
From the time that horse racing became popular in the 18th century, thoroughbreds have led the pack. The breed can trace its origins to three champion horses: Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian.
When full-grown, thoroughbreds are 5.3 feet tall (15.2 to 17 hands), weigh approximately 1,000 pounds, and are usually brown, chestnut, black, or gray.
You can recognize them by their slim bodies and short legs. They are leaner than other horses, but that doesn’t mean they are not as strong. You can tell they are built for speed by looking at their lean and robust gait. They exude a sense of majesty that is difficult to miss.
The disadvantage of owning a thoroughbred is how highly temperamental they are. They are pretty sensitive and hard to tame. Thoroughbreds are full of energy and don’t easily respond to instructions.
They are not a good choice for beginner riders, but an experienced rider might be up to the challenge. Once fully trained, a thoroughbred can perform beyond your imagination.
Best Horse for Show Jumping: Oldenburger
Since show jumping is about which horse can elegantly clear the obstacles in the fastest time, a good show jumper needs to be sure-footed, agile, brave, and have good form. Natural ability is a great contributor, but the other factors can be taught.
Sure-footedness is essential because it means the horse can make difficult jumps and still get a soft landing.
Agility refers to the horse’s ability to adjust quickly and avoid hitting any obstacles. It means the horse quickly adapts to the course and takes less time to finish it.
A show jumping horse needs to be brave so it can confidently take on each obstacle. A part of the show jumping criteria includes watching how the horse acts, so your horse needs to be confident. Every course it takes on will be relatively new so confidence will go a long way.
Breeds from Germany and Netherlands excel the most in showjumping events. The Oldenburger is one of the oldest German breeds, and it’s the best horse for show jumping. It is a warmblood that was initially used as a workhorse.
The original breeds served in the military and were used by the royal family. With time, breeders recognized the horse’s excellent performance capabilities and started using it for show jumping.
The Oldenburger is a naturally large horse that stands around 5.7 feet (16 to 17 hands) and weighs up to 1,700 pounds. It is usually black, chestnut, gray, or brown.
Like most sport horses, they have strong and distinctive shoulders, and the gait generally leans upward. The horses have a full mane, a shiny coat, and a strong neck. Their features are long so that the horse appears more majestic.
Oldenburgers have strong hind legs, and this is what makes them fantastic jumpers. Instead of just having a powerful appearance, they can also perform just as well.
The Oldenburger is the best horse for show jumping because of its curious and willing nature. It is a friendly horse that you can easily train to respond to instructions. Physical traits come together with a generous spirit to create a show jumping champion.
Best Horse for Dressage: Dutch Warmblood
Buying a horse for dressage can be expensive, so it’s crucial to ensure that you’re making the right choice. The most important consideration is the level you currently ride at and the level you see yourself riding in the future.
It’s essential to be realistic with yourself and set achievable goals. You’ll most likely regret it if you spend thousands of dollars on a horse you can’t control or a horse that isn’t challenging enough for you. This is why we suggest getting plenty of riding experience before committing to buying a horse.
You should also consider the horse’s rideability. Put a saddle on the horse and find out if you’re comfortable or not. Be careful not to rush the process, because your lack of comfort will show once you’re in competition, and this could damage your scores. It would also show in training and this would be discouraging.
Also, think about the horse’s temperament. You want a horse that you can easily get along with and control. You wouldn’t want to end up with a horse that throws tantrums on competition day. The entire point of the competition is to measure the horse’s obedience and discipline.
There are other physical traits such as size that you should consider before buying a horse for dressage. While a big horse may look impressive, it can be difficult for you to coordinate with.
Smaller horses are better suited for small riders. Also, look at whether the horse can do the required paces for dressage. They should be able to move in a four-beat walk, two-beat trot, and three-beat canter.
Not every breed lives up to these requirements, but the Dutch Warmblood is the best horse for competitive dressage. Dutch Warmbloods were bred in the 1960s and are some of the most successful competition horses on the market.
While they are a complex mix of champion breeds, a Warmblood only receives the elusive title once it is approved by the Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands (KWPN). This elusive society governs dressage as well as show jumping horses. If your horse has their approval, you know that you are handling the best of the best.
Dutch Warmbloods are usually 5.3 feet tall (15 to 17 hands) and weigh up to 1,430 pounds. They are typically black, gray, or chestnut in color, and some have visible white markings on the legs and face.
The build is well-proportioned and the horse has a straight profile. Having a straight profile is what makes it the best horse for dressage because it has a strong gait. Everything about the horse projects strength and stability, and this will help you win dressage competitions once you develop a strong connection with the horse.
The strict selection criteria is what makes Dutch Warmbloods perfect for dressage. Each year, the Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands meets up to inspect the quality and set the standards for warmbloods. They look beyond the physical traits and conduct tests to ensure each horse has an even temperament.
Strict quality control means that all warmbloods on the market perform at the highest standards. A high-quality horse and a skilled rider will create an unbeatable combo.
It’s challenging to decide which is the best horse breed for competition because each horse performs best in different circumstances and for different purposes. We have broken down the best horses according to competition categories, but there are many other purposes for horses.
If you are generally interested in horses and you would like to learn more, feel free to explore the rest of our site and check out our other articles.