Draft Horses Vs. Riding Horses

Draft horse vs riding horse? Ever wonder what it’s like to ride a 19 hand Shire? Ever wonder what it would be like to hitch a cart to your sturdy trail horse? If so, this article is for you!  What truly is the difference between a draft horse and a riding horse?

And, are there disciplines that can only be done with draft horses? Are the disciplines that can only be done with riding horses? In this article, I’ll be discussing the differences between draft horses and riding horses and also identifying some ways in which they are similar.

Draft Horse VS Riding Horse: Horse Types

As with anything that can be categorized anywhere in the world, the broad category of horses are broken down into general types. Within these types are then different horse breeds. Horse types include miniature, ponies, horses (i.e.- riding horses), and drafts.  

For the sake of this article, a “riding horse” is a horse 14.2 hands or taller that does not constitute as a draft horse. Some examples of riding horses include Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Arabians.

Horse types exist to categorize horses into groups that have shared characteristics.  These characteristics include height, confirmation, weight, discipline, and more.

Draft Horses

So, what does the draft type look like? Draft horses are characteristically known as the “gentle giants” of the horse world.  This is because they are typically tall, heavy, and wide. Drafts traditionally stand between 16 hands and 19 hands high.

They typically weight between 1300 and 2000 pounds and have hooves bigger than your face.  They are characteristically wide in the shoulder, barrel, and hindquarters, and they boast beautiful leg “feathers” as well as thick, stout necks.

Draft horses in the past have been used as farming horses, plow horses, and the like.  Today, they are still sometimes used as plow horses but are more commonly seen in front of a carriage.  Draft horses are known for carriage driving, both for pleasure and in competition.

Riding Horses

The horse or “riding horse” type is probably what you ride when you take lessons or when you trail ride when you go on vacation.  They are the horses most suitable for carrying people on their backs.

Riding horses typically stand between 14.2 and 17 hands tall, and they generally weigh between 1000 and 1300 pounds. Though it depends on the breed, they are typically long-necked, longer-backed, long-legged, and altogether comfortable for a person to sit on.

Draft Horse VS Riding Horse: Horse Types

In every regard, they are traditionally smaller than the draft type and are used in any discipline that involves riding.  In the western arena, this includes rodeo sports, cutting, reining, trail riding, and more. In the English arena, this includes hunter/jumper, eventing, dressage, pleasure, and more.

Draft Horse VS Riding Horse

Can You Drive a Riding Horse?

Clearly certain horses are naturally inclined to be better at certain disciplines.  But, does this mean that you can’t try to do uncharacteristic things with the horse that you own? Of course not!

So, can you drive a riding horse? Of course! Obviously, you don’t want to push your horse to do something that you don’t think it is physically able to do. 

For example, it’s going to be a bad idea to try to ask a 15 hand Arabian to haul 18 people down the road in a giant cart, but that doesn’t mean that the 15 hand Arabian can’t haul a small carriage!

Riding horses are actually the horse of choice in competitive 3-day driving.  Though it is a small part of the driving world, it still demonstrates that horse types aren’t bound to specific disciplines!


Of course, if you want a horse that can be used for regular and intensive hauling and carriage work, the most suitable horse for this job will be a draft horse.  Drafts are built to haul heavy weights over long distances.

A draft horse is going to physically hold up much better doing this job than a riding horse will because drafts are physically built to do that kind of job.  No, cross-training doesn’t hurt anyone, but be sure of your horse’s limits before asking them to do something they may not be physically inclined to do.

Riding Draft Horses

So, can you ride a draft horse? Of course! Draft horses are typically actually very safe and comfortable to ride.  Though, it may be difficult to find the tack that will properly fit them, unless you ride drafts regularly.

Personally, I have seen drafts be competitive in the dressage ring, the eventing rings, and even in low-level equitation rings.  They also make great fox hunting and trail riding mounts.

Draft crosses are even a preferred mount in fox hunting, 3-day eventing, and dressage.  Draft horses are known for their calm, quiet demeanor, and this can make them fantastic riding partners.

Of course, if you want to compete in national-level hunter derbies, you can’t be riding a draft horse.  If you want to compete at Maclay Equitation Finals, you can’t be riding a draft horse. Draft horses can do English disciplines! But, if you are expecting to compete at the top level of the sport, you’ll need a horse that is physically suited to take you around the ring at that level.

Most of the time, draft horses cannot physically perform Grand Prix dressage movements or jump 3’6” fences. This isn’t because they aren’t athletic, it’s because they physically are not built to move in the ways that those tasks require. Yes, ride your draft horse if you want- but be realistic about what your expectations in the saddle are.


Are drafts and riding horses different? Of course! But, can they be trained to similar things? Yes! Drafts and riding horses are different in the build and their size, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t have similar jobs.

I hope this article helped you learn about the differences and similarities between draft horses and riding horses.  If so, please give it a share, and share with us your experiences with either type in the comments!

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