The hundreds of horse breeds in existence are classified into different types, which have been grouped together because of similarities in appearance or usage. In this article, we will describe some of the most common types—and breeds—of horses seen in the United States today.
Swift and agile, light horses are those who are generally used for a variety of activities, including recreational and performance endeavors.
American Quarter Horse
These compact, sturdy horses are quite common in the western United States, where they are used on cattle ranches and for various sports, such as reining and roping. The American Quarter Horse is also the fastest equine sprinter. He stands approximately 14.3 to 16 hands high and weighs 1,100 to 1,325 pounds (500 to 600 kg). He can be a variety of colors, including bay, black, brown, and chestnut.
The Arabian is an ancient breed, originating in the Middle East thousands of years ago. He is well known for his beauty and intelligence and excels at endurance, Western, and English sports. This breed stands approximately 14.1 to 15.1 hands high and weighs 800 to 1,100 pounds (365 to 500 kg). Colors include bay, black, chestnut, gray, and roan.
The small, compact, and muscular Morgan was bred for his versatility. He is a capable driving horse and also performs well at dressage, cutting, reining, jumping, and endurance. The Morgan stands approximately 14 to 15 hands high and weighs 800 to 1,000 pounds (365 to 455 kg). Common colors are bay, black, and chestnut.
Standardbred horses are used as harness racers—they pull their drivers in lightweight vehicles called sulkies. They are eager to please and so also excel at other activities, including dressage and barrel racing. Standardbreds stand approximately 15 hands high and weigh 1,000 pounds (455 kg). They can be a variety of colors, most commonly black, brown, and chestnut.
The Thoroughbred is primarily a racing horse; he can run more than 40 miles per hour (65 kph). However, because this breed’s racing career is fairly short, Thoroughbreds are often retrained to perform in jumping, hunting, and steeplechasing events. This breed stands approximately 16 hands high and weighs 1,000 pounds (455 kg). They can be bay, black, chestnut, gray, palomino, and roan.
Gaited horses are known for their extremely smooth, easy-riding gaits. They were developed to accommodate plantation owners in the South, who had to traverse their rolling farmlands and plantations for hours on end and so desired a comfortable ride. Today, these people-oriented horses appear in the show ring and are used for trail riding. The following breeds are also considered light horses. (See section “Light Horses.”)
American Saddlebreds stand approximately 15 to 16 hands high and weigh 1,000 to 1,200 pounds (455 to 545 kg). Common colors include bay, chestnut, black, and brown.
Missouri Fox Trotter
These horses stand approximately 14 to 16 hands high and weigh 850 to 1,200 pounds (390 to 545 kg). They are commonly chestnut in color.
Tennessee Walking Horse
This breed stands approximately 15 to 16 hands high and weighs 900 to 1,200 pounds (410 to 545 kg). Colors include bay, black, chestnut, sorrel, and white.
These muscular, large-boned, powerful animals were bred as war and work horses. They have gentle temperaments and are also capable jumpers and dressage horses.
The Clydesdale is one of the most popular draft horse breeds. He stands approximately 16.1 to 18 hands high and weighs 1,600 to 2,400 pounds (730 to 1090 kg). Common colors include bay, black, brown, and chestnut.
Horses of Color
These horses feature unique spotted patterns that were developed by European explorers and Native Americans. Spotted horses are believed to have come to America with the Spaniards, where they interbred with the feral horses there. The Native Americans then domesticated them. Today, they are prized for their intelligence and easygoing nature.
The following horses are also considered light horses. (See section “Light Horses.”)
This breed stands approximately 14.2 to 16 hands high and weighs 1,000 to 1,100 pounds (455 to 500 kg). Appaloosas can be blanket (white on hips and/or loins), frost (dark body with small light speckles), leopard (dark spots on white body), marble (light coat with small dark speckles), or snowflake (dark body with light spots or speckles).
Technically considered a color type and not a breed, the Palomino can thus vary in height and weight. An approximation is 15 hands high and 1,000 pounds (500 kg). Palomino is a rich golden color.
This color type stands approximately 14 to 15.2 hands high (ponies stand up to 14 hands high); weight varies widely. The pinto color pattern features large patches of white paired with another color.
A pony is a horse who measures no more than 14.2 hands high. These animals are short, rugged, sturdy, and intelligent and have been used extensively on farms and also in coal mines because of their ability to travel into narrow mine shafts. Today, the versatile pony can compete in most equine sports and is valued as a mount for children and small adults.
This smaller pony stands no more than approximately 10.2 hands high; weight varies. The most popular color is black.
This talented jumper is approximately 12 hands high and weighs 500 pounds (230 kg). Welsh ponies can be a variety of colors, including bay, black, chestnut, cream, gray, and roan.