No two riders are alike. We all have different riding styles, interests and personalities. Horses are equally diverse and it’s important to match yourself to the right horse. With over 350 breeds to choose from, picking just one is difficult to say the least. Especially, if you are new to the world of horses. While color, size, temperament and gender do matter to most people, buying a horse that matches your riding style is the most important thing to consider.
Keep reading to discover the best breeds of horses for almost any kind of rider. Just about everyone falls into one of the 13 categories listed below. This list will help you narrow down the choices and hopefully make your decision easier! But remember, take your time. Finding the perfect horse should be a fun and exciting process. Let’s begin!
1. Best horses for Beginners
When it comes to first time horse owners, having a mature horse that is well-trained with an easy-going temperament is more important than the actual breed. You want a patient horse that doesn’t get stressed when you give it conflicting signals. New riders are more prone to falling off so avoid high strung horses that jump around a lot. That being said, there are several suitable horse breeds that work great for beginner riders.
- American Quarter Horse – As the most popular breed in America, quarter horses have even temperaments, are extremely reliable, and are easily trained. They are versatile and are popular with both Western and English riders.
- Morgan – Morgans are easy going horses that love to please. At 14-15.2 hands tall, they are less intimidating, very attentive and easy to train. Their patience with new riders is apparent and they easily adapt to more experienced commands.
- American Paint Horse – Most paint horses have American quarter horse in their bloodlines which gives them calm personalities. They are easily trained and mature horses are patient and forgiving.
2. Best horses for Kids
There’s nothing more magical than introducing your child to horseback riding. However, full sized horses can be scary and hard for children to control. It’s inevitable that a child will fall off at some point and choosing smaller breeds will help prevent major injuries. As your child grows, so should their horse companion. Take a look at the following pony breeds that are classic children mounts.
- Shetland Pony – The most classic breed for children is the Shetland Pony. At a maximum of 11.2 hands tall, these ponies are right at their level. Ponies can be devious and stubborn so make sure to consider their temperament and not just their cute factor when picking one out.
- Pony of the Americas – If you want your child to fit their pony a little longer, check out a Pony of the Americas. These spotted ponies are 11.2 – 14 hands tall. They are specifically bred to be suitable for children and are very gentle.
- Welsh Pony – Children that want to try jumping should start with a Welsh Pony. At a maximum height of 13.2 hands, these agile ponies excel at jumping. They also make great trail riders.
3. Best horses for Disabled Riders
Horseback riding has many physical and emotional benefits for disabled riders. Horses are very good at evaluating their rider’s ability. Therefore, a therapeutic horse must be calm, steady, and well-trained. You don’t want a breed that takes advantage of their rider. Here are several gentle horses to consider for riders with disabilities.
- Norwegian Fjord – A popular breed for therapeutic riding, the “light draft” Norwegian Fjord is a full size horse without the height. They like to take things slow but can get up and go if asked. Fjords are very gentle and have endearing personalities.
- Appaloosa – These pretty horses with unique colorings are known for their kindness and calm demeanor. They are great with young, novice and inexperienced riders.
- Morgan – Morgans are easy going horses that love to please and make great family pets. At 14-15.2 hands tall, they are less intimidating, very attentive and trainable. Their patience with new riders is apparent and they easily adapt to more experienced commands.
4. Best horses for Short Riders
Short riders don’t have to settle for short horses. Mounting steps, a wood fence or a platform makes getting into the saddle easy on tall horses. However, if you are mounting directly from the ground, you must be able to reach the stirrup with your foot. If you want to guarantee that you will always be able to mount your horse from any location, consider choosing one that is 15 hands or less. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the following breeds are typically on the shorter side.
- Norwegian Fjord – Adult Norwegian Fjords measure 13 to 14 hands tall at the withers. These horses are stout not small. They can handle children and adult riders.
- American Paint Horse – The American Paint Horse typically stands 14.2 to 15.2 hands tall at the withers.
- Morgan – The Morgan horse also makes this list of shorter horses with an average height of 14 to 15.2 hands at the withers.
5. Best horses for Big Riders
Whether you are overweight or simply taller than average, you will need a horse that is strong enough to carry you. Your long legs shouldn’t drag on the ground either. A strong horse isn’t necessarily the tallest, but they always have girth and muscle. Check out the following heavy lifters.
- American Quarter Horse – Large quarter horses can do it all. With their ropy muscles and speed, hauling bigger riders is easy for the fit quarter horse.
- Warmblood Breeds – Warmbloods are typically 15 to 17 hands tall, and with the height comes more muscle. These breeds usually have strong legs and feet perfect for supporting more weight.
- Percheron – If you never want to worry about your size affecting your horse, choose a draft breed. At 16 to 17 hands tall and 1,800 to 2,600 pounds, your weight on a Percheron’s back is nothing. You can ride them with any saddle type but the style of riding is limited due to their size. For example, you aren’t going to herd cattle or run barrels with this horse. They can be used in dressage, trail riding and other farm work.
6. Best horses for Casual Riders
Showing off your riding skills in public is not for everyone. In fact, many horse owners have never set foot in an arena and never will. If riding around the pasture or on a gravel road is more your thing, choose an easy-keeper. Reliable horses that remember their training no matter how long it’s been since your last ride will be the most enjoyable to own.
- American Quarter Horse – Quarter horses require no fuss. A solidly trained quarter horse will continue to impress regardless of his workload. You can try any riding style and saddle type with a quarter horse. He might not be the best, but he will hold his own.
- American Paint Horse – Another classic equine, the American Paint Horse makes a great pasture pet. They can easily go months without riding and quietly listen to commands the next time you get back in the saddle.
- Norwegian Fjord – These gentle giants are one of the calmest in the pasture. Their slow and steady demeanor is perfect for casual riding. They are ready to work when you ask.
7. Best horses for Smooth Riding
If you plan on spending long hours in the saddle or simply want the most comfortable ride possible, then look no further than these four-beat, gaited beauties. Please note that these horses typically walk faster than other breeds. This might make it difficult to go riding with friends who have non-gaited horses.
- Tennessee Walking Horse – A Tennessee Walkeris one of America’s most popular breed behind the Quarter Horse. Their four-beat running walk allows you to cover ground quickly and smoothly without the jolting movements of a standard trot.
- American Saddlebred – American Saddlebreds are known for their smooth ride and flashy style. This beautiful breed is a popular choice in long parades.
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse – These sturdy horses are sure-footed and reliable. Their natural four-beat gait is smooth as butter and as a rider, you can achieve near motionless comfort while your horse is in a fast canter.
8. Best horses for Trail Riders
Trail riding offers endless opportunities for exploring beautiful places with your horse. A high strung race horse is not going to make a calm and steady trail horse. Look for the following characteristics in a trail horse: a sturdy, well-muscled frame (but not too large), sure-footed, good endurance, calm, doesn’t spook easily, and you can get on from the ground. Many horses make excellent trail riders but these three definitely make the top of the list.
- American Quarter Horse – Again, these horses can do it all. Their build, temperament and trustworthiness are put to the test and pass each time they are out on the trail.
- Tennessee Walking Horse – If you like long trail rides, consider the comfort that gaited horses provide. The less sore you are, the better the ride. Tennessee Walkers are excellent on the trail. And with their fast walk, you can cover more ground during your adventures.
- American Paint Horse – Your paint horse can go from turning heads in the arena to blazing down the mountain trail with ease. Their attentiveness and agility allows for anything out on the trail.
9. Best horses for Farm Work
If you need a big, strong horse for traditional farm work, look no further than the draft breeds. Towering above the average horse, draft horses have the weight and power required to pull farm equipment, wagons and carriages with ease. These beautiful giants won’t shrink the work you ask of them. You can also train them as riding horses.
- Belgian – These gentle giants are easy to train and keep. They can reach 17 hands and 2,000 pounds.
- Clydesdale – Clydesdales are the most recognizable draft breed, are strong and make excellent field workers.
- Percheron – The Percheron and Belgian are the most popular work horses in the United States today.
- Shire – If you want the biggest horse around, then go with a Shire. They can grow 19 hands tall. Make sure you are comfortable working with such large animals and have the proper facility to keep them. Their sleek black coats and feathery legs draw attention even while working in the field.
- Haflinger – Haflingers are one of the smaller work horse breeds at 15 hands and 1,000 pounds. However, don’t underestimate their stouter frame as their drive to work makes up for their smaller size.
10. Best horses for Barrel Racers
Agility and speed is everything when it comes to barrel racing. You want a horse that is quick with a short body and strong hind quarters for whipping around those barrels at lightening speed.
- American Quarter Horse – Strong hind quarters and muscular chests drive these horses around the barrels at top speeds. Quarter Horses excels at sprinting short distances which is why they are a great breed for barrel racing.
- American Paint Horse – Paint Horses are another good choice for barrel racing. Their solid muscles and compact form make circling the barrels a breeze. Look for agility and speed as well.
- Thoroughbreds – Thoroughbreds are made for long distance and speed. However, you can use that speed for a barrel racer with the proper training. It is much easier to train a thoroughbred that has not been used as a prior race horse.
- Mustang – A well-trained Mustang may be your next great barrel horse. These compact horses have an innate willingness to learn and respond to your training requests with strength and agility.
11. Best horses for Dressage
Warmbloods are considered the best horses for dressage because they have excellent conformation, beautiful lines, smooth movements and are highly trainable. Here are the top notch warmblood breeds used for dressage.
- Dutch Warmblood – Many Olympic medalists have ridden to victory astride a Dutch Warmblood. Their controlled, yet intricate moves, lead to flawless performances. These tall beauties command attention as soon as they enter the arena.
- Hanoverian – From German descent, Hanoverians are a competitive rider’s dream. Their athleticism, reliability and graceful movements shine in the dressage show ring.
- Oldenburg – Also from Germany, Oldenburgs have commanding heights with compact builds. Trained riders can command their powerful bodies into graceful and elegant lines.
12. Best horses for Jumping
If you want to compete in Hunter, Show or Cross-Country Jumping, make sure you get a horse that naturally excels at jumping. Not all horse breeds are good jumpers but there a several that do it with flying colors.
- Dutch Warmblood – This is the current number one horse breed in the world known for jumping. Powerful muscles, an uphill build and long legs send this horse flying over the tallest jumps.
- Oldenburg – Their commanding height shines not only in the dressage ring but also in the jumping circuit as well. Long, strong legs carry their riders easily over high jumps.
- Trakehner – Another excellent jumper, Trakehners excel due to their lighter weight and elongated bodies. They make clearing difficult jumps look effortless.
- Holsteiner – Holsteiners have extremely muscular legs and necks which help propel them consistently over higher jumps than the competition.
13. Best horses for Riders on a Budget
If you, my friend, are just looking for a rock solid horse to ride without breaking the bank, then consider the following tips. Look for local horses that aren’t registered. Horses with papers usually cost more and if you’re not showing or breeding, who cares. Also consider training a horse yourself. The more speciality training a horse has, the more money it’s worth. Now take a look at these budget friendly breeds.
- American Quarter Horse – You can’t go wrong with a well-trained Quarter Horse, no matter what riding style suits you best. Since this is an extremely common breed, you will have plenty to choose from in multiple price ranges.
- Mustang – You can buy a wild horse for only a few hundred dollars through the Bureau of Land Management Adoption and Sales Program. While the upfront cost may be significantly cheaper, professional training can get extremely pricy if you aren’t capable of training a horse yourself.
- Grade Horse – Grade horses are essentially like mutt dogs. Their blood lines and exact parentage isn’t documented or tracked. These horses usually retain the best qualities from each side and can surprise you with hidden talents. Since they aren’t purebreds, they typically cost way less.