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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