12 Most Popular Horse Breeds (Ultimate Guide) 

horse breeds

Walk around any stabling facility and you are likely to see a wide variety of horse breeds. 

Each horse breed has distinct characteristics that make identification easy. Plus, these characteristics lend themselves to the horse being better at certain riding disciplines than others. 

What are the most popular horse breeds for horse lovers around the world, where did the breed originate from, and what discipline is the horse best suited for? We reveal all, so keep reading.   

Friesian Horse 


What Does a Friesian Look Like? 

Originally bred in Friesland, the Netherlands, a Friesian horse has a personality like a golden retriever. Like gentle giants, they are as friendly and loyal as they are smart and playful. 

During the Middle Ages, Friesians were used as war horses. 

These cold blooded horses are easy to recognize. A nimble powerhouse, Friesians have a shiny black coat and flowing, heavy manes and tails. There are also thick feathers around their feet.

What Are Friesians Used For?  

These days, Friesian horses are used in harness racing, dressage, driving, and other equestrian recreational sports. They are also a popular breed to use in movies and TV shows.   

Arabian Horse  


What Is an Arabian?

Arabian horses are hot blooded and a light horse breed. While they are the most popular breed, they are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world, dating back to 3,000 B.C. 

Originally bred in the Arabian peninsula (Middle East), they have been exported to various countries around the world. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Arabian breed was used as a war horse or cavalry mount. 

An Arabian horse is an elegant horse that is easily recognized by its wedge-shaped head (forming a dish face), high tail, and overall height. The horse’s base coat color can be roan, black, gray, bay, or chestnut.  

What Are Arabians Used For?  

Known for their grace, stamina, curiosity, and intelligence, Arabian horses can excel in any riding discipline. However, they are favored in endurance riding. A gelded Arabian horse makes a great beginner riding horse. 

American Quarter Horse 

american quarter horse

What Is an American Quarter Horse? 

Like the breed’s name revealed, these modern breed horses are from the U.S. The American Quarter horse has the largest breed registry. 

An American Quarter horse is known for its athletic and muscular stature. This Quarter horse breed is medium-boned and has a wide forehead and flat body profile. 

What Is an American Quarter Horse Used For?

American Quarter horses are fast sprinters, especially over short distances.  

As such, the American Quarter horse is commonly used in short races that are usually only a quarter of a mile long.

When the Quarter horse isn’t participating in short racing, the horse is used as work or family horses. The American Quarter horse is equally popular with Western and English horse riders on the trail and in the show ring.  

Morgan Horse 

morgan horse

What Is a Morgan? 

The Morgan horse was bred by Justin Morgan in the 18th century, and this breed was one of the earliest breeds developed in the U.S. 

A Morgan horse has small ears, smooth body lines, a crested neck, and expressive eyes. Their coat color comes in chestnut, bay, and black. This horse breed also has a lustrous mane and tail.

What Are Morgans Used For?   

As an all-purpose horse, this horse breed is used in harness racing, saddle seat, and driving, as well as sidesaddle competitions and trotting competitions. 

Outside the professional equestrian world, Morgans pull plows or buggies and work as farm horses.    

As a courageous and kind horse, a Morgan horse is suitable for novice horse riders. 

Icelandic Horse 


What Is an Icelandic? 

Descended from Shetland ponies, Icelandic horses are a cold blooded and short horse breed. Icelandic horses are originally from Iceland, so they are hardy because they are used to living in harsh conditions. 

Icelandics are squat-legged with a long back and deep chest. Their physical characteristics include shaggy fur and puffy manes and tails. 

A gaited breed, Icelandic horses have five gaits: walk, trot, canter, pace, and tölt, which is a sped-up walk that is ideal over rocky terrain.   

What Are Icelandics Used For? 

In Iceland, this purest horse breed is used for traditional sheepherding. Elsewhere, Icelandics are used for casual riding, showing, and horse racing. 

Because of the level gait, an Icelandic horse is a great choice if you want a smooth ride that’s bounce-free or struggle with joint issues. 

Clydesdale Horse


What Is a Clydesdale?

The Clydesdale horse breed is originally from Lanarkshire, Scotland. These days, this draft horse is mostly found in the U.S. because this breed isn’t so popular around the world. 

A cold blooded breed, Clydesdales have thick coats, especially during the cold months.

A Clydesdale horse has flowing feathers, a white blaze, and markings on their legs, face, and body. The white markings on their legs makes it appear that they have white legs. 

Their coat color varies from roan, gray, and black to bay or brown.     

What Are Clydesdales Used For? 

This breed is another one of the popular horse breeds in terms of personality. These horses are trainable, calm, and quiet, so they are ideal for beginner horse riders. 

These horses are tall and muscular, making them ideal for forestry and agricultural work.

Because of their impressive looks and graceful movements, you can also find Clydesdales in equestrian shows.  

Gypsy Vanner Horse 

gypsy vanner

What Is a Gypsy Vanner? 

The Gypsy Vanner horse breed was bred specifically by Gypsies (or Irish travelers) in Ireland and the British Isles to pull their caravans. Thus, this horse breed is strong and muscular. 

With regard to their physical characteristics, the Gyspy Vanner has a well-developed neck and chest. While they have a small stature, they are heavy and broad. They have thick coats during the winter months. 

Thick feathers behind their knees and hocks and long manes and tails are distinct breed characteristics of this cob-type horse. The color of their coat is usually black and white. 

Another recognizable trait of this breed is their funny mustaches.   

What Are Gypsy Vanners Used For? 

These days, Gypsy Vanners are therapy animals and family horses. These beautiful giants are also still important members of the Romani families.   

American Paint Horse 

american paint

What Is an American Paint Horse? 

Originating from the U.S. like the horse breed’s name suggests, an American Paint horse is a crossbreed between a Quarter horse and a Thoroughbred. This crossing makes the breed powerful. 

Like a stock horse, they have powerful hindquarters, a broad chest, and muscular body. 

A recognizable trait of the American Paint horse is the spotting or painted patterns and coloring on its coat. 

What Are American Paints Used For? 

As social animals, this breed is easygoing, trainable, and calm. As such, they are a suitable horse if your kids want to learn how to ride.   

American Paint horses generally participate (and do well) in reining, trail riding, jumping, Western riding, and show jumping. An American Paint is also a popular choice for ranch work. 

Standardbred Horse


What Is a Standardbred? 

Even though the Standardbred horse’s bloodlines can be traced to the 18th century, this solid horse breed was mainly bred in 19th century America.  

Their coat colors range from bay, chestnut, and brown to black, gray, and other solid colors. A Standardbred may have stockings and blazes in the form of white markings. 

Standardbreds are intelligent, relaxed, and friendly. Loosely resembling a Thoroughbred, the physical characteristics of a Standardbred include a thick mane and tail, deep chest, and muscular legs. 

What Are Standardbreds Used For? 

A Standardbred horse is another one of the popular horse breeds for harness racing because of its stamina and speed. However, these horses also do well in the show ring and on trail rides. 

This horse breed does well in endurance riding, jumping, competitive carriage, and speed games. 

Thoroughbred Horse


What Is a Thoroughbred? 

Thoroughbreds are originally from the U.K., and they are a hot blooded breed.  

This breed has a deep chest, high withers, lean body, and long legs. The coat color of a Thoroughbred can be black, white, gray (or roan), palomino, bay (or brown), or chestnut. Some Thoroughbreds also have white markings.  

What Are Thoroughbreds Used For? 

Bred only for performance, these horses are known for their fast speeds and agility. After all, Thoroughbreds are recognized as the fastest racing horses in the world today. 

They can easily run long-distances; however, they also have a talent for doing well in equestrian competitions in the jumping and dressage disciplines. 

Shetland Pony


What Is a Shetland Pony? 

Shetland ponies is another one of the popular horse breeds. These horses are ideal for child horse riders. 

This short breed is strong, gentle, and intelligent, and best of all, they can outwork big draft horses. For example, they can pull heavy loads with more weight than a Clydesdale horse.  

A Shetland pony has a short stature. Physical characteristics of the pony breed include a compact body with a thick neck, broad head, and lush mane and tail. 

This horse breed was bred centuries ago and hails from the Shetlands Islands off the Scotland coast. 

What Are Shetlands Used For? 

The pony was used to plow farmland and pull carts, and later during the Industrial Revolution, they hauled coal. These days, this pony breed is used in children’s horse shows and kept as pets.  

Appaloosa Horse


What Is an Appaloosa? 

The Appaloosa horse is one of several breeds of spotted horses. Appaloosas are warmblood horses that are loyal, friendly, and gentle. Eager to please, the Appaloosa is a great horse for beginner and experienced equestrians. 

This breed arrived in the U.S. in the 17th century with Spanish explorers. Later, this breed made its way to the Northwest where the Nez Perce people began to breed them.

The base coat of an Appaloosa is generally a darker color, which is broken up with splotches of white or lighter pigmentation. An Appaloosa has a sparse mane and tail, and their dark hooves are often striped in white.   

What Are Appaloosas Used For?

Originally, Appaloosas were used for battle, hunting, and transport. These days, this versatile horse is used in long-distance trail rides, rodeo events, and English and Western riding sports.   

Final Thoughts 

Each horse breed’s physical characteristics differ and are distinct so you’ll be able to immediately name these breeds when you see them. 

Most breeds are versatile and used in a variety of horse riding disciplines. The only exception is the Shetland pony, which is used for kid’s riding lessons and as pets, and the Gyspy Vanner, which is a therapy horse and still very much used by the Gypsies.  

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