Last Updated on February 26, 2022
You may be familiar with 10, maybe even 20 or 30 breeds- but how many breeds of horses are there? Although there are dominant breeds in each region, there are actually over 350 different horse breeds in existence! However, experts have some disagreement as to what constitutes a “breed” based on origin or history.
What Makes a Breed
Depending on the formal definition, a breed can be characterized by a homogeneous grouping of animals developed by humans, or via the Oxford Dictionary, “a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities.” This of course leaves room for interpretation, and may not necessarily cover “registered” or “formal” breeds. If we hop species and look at dogs, for example, designer “breeds” are in fashion. These are crosses of two established breeds, but the result is not considered a breed… yet. This is a contributing factor as to why there is no set number for how many horse breeds there are.
Origins matter, especially when looking at bloodlines. Arabians and American Saddlebreds (ASB) are both horse breeds. However, the National Show Horse is a cross between the Arabian and the ASB. In 1981, a breed registry was founded for the National Show Horse, making it official in some eyes. When examining popular crosses such as a “Moresian”, these are not considered a separate “breed”. Morgans and Friesians are separate entities and both “official” breeds, but the cross does not have a sanctioning body or oversight despite the definitions above.
Many breeds can be charted and dated back to discover their origins. But through time, humans have added “improved” characteristics into current “breeds” by outsourcing from other breeds’ stock. As for the Morgan horse, America’s “first breed”, there was a singular founding sire. Known as “Figure”, this sire founded the Morgan horse lineage we have today due to the strong traits he passed on to all his foals. Figure’s sire is not known but thought to possibly be a Thoroughbred by the name of True Briton.
How Many Breeds of Horses are There? Breed Divisions
Horse breeds can be subcategorized. Unlike dogs that are divided by “job” or “class”, horse breeds are more easily categorized by size. Some people will include division based on movement, such as gaited horses. However, gaited horses can come in various sizes as well. Although it may seem cut and dry, many breeds have both light horses and ponies! In terms of competition, this can be tricky as size may qualify a horse or pony into another division despite classification. Some horses do not fall in a specific division, and there is great debate about what they should be classified as. For example, some people will say Friesians are warmbloods, whereas others will say they are a “light draft”. Genetically, the modern Friesian falls into the warmblood grouping of breeds. However, they were originally bred “less sporty” and as a draft horse.
The primary divisions include:
- Shetland Pony
- Connemara Pony
- Dales Pony
- Pony of the Americas
- Dartmoor Pony
- Haflinger Fell Pony
Standard Horse Breeds (Light Breeds)
- American Quarter Horse
- American Saddlebred
- Morgan Horse
- Arabian Horse
- Tennessee Walker
- Appaloosa Horse
Warmblood Breeds (Medium Weight)
- American Warmblood
- Irish Draught
Draft Breeds (Heavies)
- Belgian Horse
Choosing the Right Breed
With so many breeds of horses, how do you begin to even pick a breed? Despite there being over 350 breed options, many are considered “critical” in endangerment rankings. Others simply have small numbers or are uncommon in a specific region. A good place to begin is size- this can greatly narrow down breed selection alone. One of the defining components of what makes a “breed” is appearance. Some horses have short and compact stocky builds, while others feature long legs and a sleek overall appearance.
Temperament is also an important breed characteristic that can help you choose an appropriate breed. There are certain characteristics more beneficial to beginner riders and horse owners, whereas some breeds may be “hot” by nature and more reactive than what a beginner needs. There is a plethora of information on breed organizations and horse breeds online. You can use our search bar to see which breeds we’ve covered here!
How many more horse breeds will there be? As human involvement and selective breeding continue, we will likely see the 350+ number reach the 400+ breeds. Despite so many horses carrying the same origins or utilizing bloodlines from other breeds, modern DNA testing is being utilized by breed groups to keep breeds more separate. However, common crosses are pushing for registry and some entirely new breeds!
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Are there any extinct horse breeds?
One of the most famous extinct equine breeds of modern times is probably Quagga. The Quagga breed was a sub-species of the Plains Zebra. The species originated and lived in the area of modern South Africa. Quagga was hunted to extinction by Boer settlers, who were hunting Quagga horses for its meat and its coat. The last Quagga died in captivity in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883.
What horse breeds are 18 hands?
An adult Percheron is about 18 hands tall and can weigh up to 2600 pounds. They are descended from French war horses and are bred to be used for pulling carts and hauling heavy loads. They can pull up to 600 pounds. Percherons have strong, well-muscled necks and strong shoulders. They are one of the most docile and versatile of all horse breeds. They are used for draft work, general farm work, and some pleasure riding. Percherons are very smart and are easily trained. They can be good for beginners or advanced riders. They are also gentle and good with children.
How many rare horse breeds are there?
The rarest horse breeds in the world are the Sorraia, Nokota Horse, Galiceño, Dales Pony, and the Choctaw Indian Pony. Today there are less than 250 horses of each of those breeds remaining in the world and they are considered critically endangered.
The Sorraia is an extremely rare horse breed. The Sorraia breed is indigenous to Spain, and it is known for its good temperament, especially in regards to other horses. The Sorraia horse is one of the oldest breeds in the world. It is used for dressage, jumping, and carriage driving.
The Nokota Horse is a rare breed of horse indigenous to North America. This horse is known for its excellent temperment and speed. The Nokota Horse was originally found in the Appalachian Mountains and was used by the Cherokee and the Creek Indians as a pack horse. It is named after the Nokota Indian Nation, where it was found.
The Galiceño is a rare breed of horse indigenous to Spain. Galiceño horses are known for their gentle, strong, and confident personalities.
What are the top 3 most common horse breeds?
Horse breeding has a long history, dating back to the 11th century. Some breeding is meant to create a horse with calm temperament, and some is designed to create a more powerful or more agile horse. Below are listed 3 most popular horse breeds today:
Arabian. This breed of horse originates from the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Horse Society estimates that there are more than 300,000 Arabian horses in the United States. Their history dates back more than 1,500 years, with Arabians considered one of the oldest breeds of horse. They are generally known for their smooth, round and flowing bodies. The Arabian horse can be found in many different colors and sizes.
Quarter Horse. This breed is the most popular in US. Quarter horses have a very strong constitution and can work for hours with little or no rest. Their strength comes from their large, deep chest and short back. They are known as “The working horse of the plains”.
Thoroughbred. This breed of horse originates from the region of Kazakhstan and is known for its speed, stamina and endurance.
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.