A horse breed has distinct characteristics that breeders selectively choose over several generations. When talking about the hundreds of different horse breeds, things can get a bit complex. Horses from all over the world have come and gone, and some breeds have convoluted lineages.
In most cases, a breed registry records a horse breed’s bloodline. Horses produced by two same-breed parents are “purebreds.” With so many variables, how can you differentiate one horse from the next? With this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about horse breeds!
How Many Horse Breeds Are There?
There are slightly more than 350 horse breeds in the world today, each with unique traits that make them all special. Did you know that all modern horses descend from two distinct lines? These two lines were the Arabian horse and the Turkoman horse, which is now extinct.
Breed registries are considered the premier authority on whether a given breed is considered a “horse” or a “pony.” Some horses that are small enough to be considered ponies are still called horses because of their overall conformation (body proportions).
What Does it Mean for a Horse to be Hot or Cold-Blooded?
When discussing a horse’s natural temperament, you may hear the phrase “hot-blooded” used to describe a particularly energetic or spirited breed. Equestrians also use the phrase “cold-blooded” to describe a breed that is calm or docile.
Hot-blooded horses are lively, genetically built for high speed and endurance. Cold-blooded equines are gentle giants that are fantastic for slow and heavy work, often used for hauling or agricultural jobs. Warmbloods are a versatile mix of cold and hot-blooded horses.
The hot-blooded category is comprised of ancient Arabian horse breeds originating from the Middle East. These steeds were mainly bred for speed and agility. Due to their naturally high energy levels, hot-blooded horses are often characterized as the following:
- Quick learners
- Potentially bad-tempered (this is where they get the name “hot-blooded” from)
- May react quickly to unfamiliar circumstances
Here are a few breeds considered to be hot-blooded:
- Moroccan Barb
- Shagya Arabian
- Spanish Barb
The cold-blooded category is comprised of the taller, heavier horse breeds used for hauling & agriculture. These muscular horses excel in activities that require a lot of strength, such as pulling wagons, carriages, and plows. Due to their comparatively lower energy levels, cold-blooded horses are often characterized as the following:
- Moves slowly in long, smooth strides
Here are a few breeds considered to be cold-blooded:
- American Cream Draft
- Belgian Heavy Draft
- Black Forest Chestnut
- Suffolk Punch
Horse Breed Categories
While we would love to detail all 350+ breeds from around the world, we’ll start with a brief overview of each type of horse breed. We sort horses, ponies, and our other equine pals across the world into these six distinct categories:
- Draft horses
- Light horses
- Gaited horses
- Non-horse equines
Going down in history as one of the most industrious animals in the world, this large steed was once responsible for what eighteen-wheelers do today. In the pre-modern era and even through World War 2, draft horses hauled lumber, pulled transportation, and moved equipment. Draft horses are cold-blooded, large, robust, and sturdy, weighing in at over 1,600 lbs and standing over 16 hands (about 5.3 feet) tall.
- Draft horses include: Belgian, Percheron, Shire, Suffolk, and of course, the Clydesdale.
A genetic blend of perfection, warmbloods are precisely what the name implies. These horses are a mix of hot and cold-blooded breeds that enjoy both of their lineages’ benefits. These sensible and typically well-behaved steeds dominate equestrian Olympic sports, as they are naturally strong, tall, and athletic creatures.
- Warmbloods include: Selle Francaise, Dutch Warmblood, Trakehner, Holsteiner, and Hanoverian.
The quick and agile counterpart to the draft horse, the light horse is top-of-the-line when it comes to riding horses. Varying widely in height, weight, build, and color, these fleet-footed steeds are a marvel to behold in motion. Most light horses are hot-blooded.
- Light horses include: American Quarter, Rocky Mountain, Paints, Pintos, Morgan, and Polo Pony.
A type of light horse bred for riding; these fine equines are famous not for their speed but their smooth ride. Most horses have four gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop (think walk, jog, run, sprint). Gaited horses are still able to perform these standard gaits with the added bonus of breed-specific movements. These can include the pace, stepping pace, running walk, foxtrot, rack, and slow gait.
- Gaited horses include: Campeiro, Campolina, Pampa, and North American Single-Footing Horse.
A pony is any horse that measures less than 14.2 hands (about 4.7 feet).What ponies lack in height they more than make up for in intelligence. They can be used for plowing, riding, packing, pulling, harness, jumping, and even ranch work.
- Ponies include: Welsh Mountain Pony, Icelandic Pony, Shetland Pony, and Hackney Pony.
While all equines are in the “horse family,” they are not all what we commonly call horses. While non-horse equines closely resemble horses and may even be interbred with them, they have their own unique traits. These animals include:
- Donkeys: The original beast of burden. Much stronger and sturdier than the horse. Easy to keep.
- Mules: The cross between a horse and a donkey. More agile than the donkey and relatively stronger than the horse.
- Zebras: A wild and non-domesticated equine with an iconic coat. Difficult to train for the saddle.
What Are the Most Common Horse Breeds?
Usually created to have specific features, most horse breeds feature distinct, recognizable characteristics. Some of the most common breeds include:
- The American Quarter Horse: Perfect for beginners and professional equestrians alike, the American Quarter Horse is famous for its manageability, agility, and athleticism. With the largest breed registry globally, the American Quarter Horse is an all-star in the show ring and on the trail.
- Height: 14 to 16 hands (56 -64 inches)
- Weight: 950 – 1,200 lbs
- The Arabian: The Arabian is a spirited breed, potentially posing a bit of a challenge for beginners. Every light horse breed in the world (Appaloosas, Morgans, and Andalusians, etc.) can trace their ancestry back to early Arabian horses.
- Height: 14 to 16 hands (56 -64 inches)
- Weight: 800 – 1,000 lbs
- The Thoroughbred: Known as the most popular racing horse in North America, the Thoroughbred is a hot-blooded breed with impressive agility, speed, and no shortage of spirit. The Thoroughbred is a beautiful multipurpose horse that also excels in areas beyond the racetrack, such as jumping and dressage.
- Height: 15 to 17 hands (60 -68 inches)
- Weight: 1,000 – 1,300 lbs
- The Appaloosa: Initially developed for battle and hunting by the Nez Perce Native Americans, the Appaloosa is believed to be the product of wild American horses that mixed with Thoroughbred, American Quarter, and Arabian equines. This versatile steed is excellent for herding, long-distance trail riding, pleasure riding, and lots more.
- Height: 14 to 15 hands (56 -60 inches)
- Weight: 950 – 1,200 lbs
What Are the Rarest Horse Breeds?
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy maintains a list of 18 horse and pony breeds at critical risk of extinction. Some endangered breeds have less than 10,000 members worldwide; others have less than 100. Each breed listed below has just a few thousand members or less around the globe.
- Galiceno: The Galiceno Horse is the rarest horse breed in the world, created initially from horses brought from Spain by Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors. With less than 100 pure Galiceno horses left, this critically endangered breed’s future is being carefully monitored.
- Suffolk: There are currently only 300 Suffolk Punch horses left in the entire UK. These falling numbers threaten the breed’s health and viability. Suffolk Punch horses once formed the backbone of rural life in the United Kingdom.
- American Cream Draft: As farming became mechanized in the middle of the 20th century, the demand for draft horses declined, leading to a sharp decrease in the breed’s population. Today, the estimated global population of the breed is less than 2,000.
- Exmoor Pony: The Exmoor Pony Society recently stated, “There are approximately 500 ponies on Exmoor and a further 3,500 in locations across the UK and several other countries.” This makes for a rough total of about 4,000 Exmoor Ponies worldwide. The Exmoor Pony has been given “endangered” status from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and “threatened” status by the Livestock Conservancy within the past decade.
- Akhal-Teke: Currently listed as “vulnerable” by the Equine Survival Trust and listed as “threatened” by the Livestock Conservancy, The Akhal-Teke breed contains only 6,600 members globally.
What is the Most Dangerous Type of Horse Breed?
While all horses may inadvertently be harmful if not properly handled, the Akhal-Teke’s protectiveness might make it one of the most dangerous. The Akhal-Teke (pictured above) is among the most intelligent and loyal horse breeds in the world, descended from the overall smartest equine: the Arabian.
The Akhal-Teke often forms an intense, loyal bond with only one rider. The horse will strive to keep their rider safe, similar to a guard dog. Because of this loyalty, an Akhal-Teke may attack a person it perceives as a threat to its rider. Their fierce loyalty makes Akhal-Tekes some of the most dangerous steeds, but keep in mind that no horse is intentionally mean.
Since horses are so large and powerful, a bite, kick, or buck might not always be voluntary. Typically, the most dangerous horse is a scared horse. In nature, horses are prey animals. They have two options when they feel threatened: fight or flight. Since they have the strength to protect themselves, they will use that strength if they feel uncomfortable.
How Can I Tell What Breed My Horse Is?
You can identify your horse using a variety of signs. Breeds such as the Appaloosa or the American Paint Horse, for example, have distinct color patterns and markings that make it easy to determine which lineage they belong to.
One great way to determine what breed of horse you own is to look at its pedigree (family tree). If a previous owner registered your horse with an official breed organization, there should be a set of registration papers with an abbreviated pedigree on file. Databases like this one may help you find your horse’s pedigree.
Let’s say you can’t visually identify the horse and it is unregistered. In this case, you may have to consult an equine veterinarian. There may also be an upper-lip tattoo that identifies the horse.
Some horses might have brands on their bodies or upper lips, but modern registries often ban this practice. For example, Thoroughbred racehorses have a lip tattoo consisting of a letter followed by five numbers.
We hope we were able to answer your questions about horse breeds thoroughly. We know your trusty steed is important to you, which means they’re important to us. If you’ve still got questions, be sure to check out our other horse care articles and products. HolistaPet’s CBD horse pellets and CBD oil can help your resilient horse breed feel even better!