The speed at which a horse can run is highly dependent on its breed. However, on average, horses can reach speeds of up to 25 to 30 mph (40 to 48 kph).
How fast a horse moves also depends on the type of gait the horse is using. For instance, a trotting gait consists of a two-beat rhythm where the horse moves at a relatively slow pace. The gallop, on the other hand, is a four-beat rhythm that is used to achieve a much higher speed.
There are plenty of other factors that affect the speeds horses can reach apart from the breed. This includes the riding conditions, the distance that needs to be covered, and the horse’s diet.
With this in mind, I’m going to answer the question “how fast can a horse run?” as comprehensively as possible. We’ll take a look at the fastest breeds, the fastest-ever racehorse, how to improve your horse’s speed, and much more!
How Fast Can a Horse Run With a Rider?
Carrying a rider is guaranteed to slow a horse down and prevent it from reaching the maximum speed it could without one. For example, a Thoroughbred horse’s average speed is around 40 mph (64 kph) without a rider but with one, it can drop as low as 20 mph (32 kph).
The speed a horse can run when carrying a rider depends on several factors including the breed, training, weight of the rider, and the riding conditions. For instance, the speed of the horse may be greatly reduced when riding through rocky terrain.
How Fast Can a Domestic Horse Run?
On average, domestic horses can run at 30 mph. The fastest domestic horse is the Quarter Horse which can achieve speeds of up to 55 mph (88.5 kph).
Generally speaking, domesticated horse breeds are faster than wild horse breeds. Yet, some wild horses such as Mustangs are known to be pretty speedy, and they could certainly outrun some domestic breeds at full speed.
Again, this can depend on many different factors such as terrain. A domestic horse that has only ever run on flat terrain may struggle to get anywhere near its maximum running speed on rocky or hilly terrain. On the other hand, a wild horse is more likely to be used to this type of terrain.
How Fast Can a Wild Horse Run?
The record speed for a wild horse is 54 mph (87 kph) which was set by a Mustang. This is only slightly less than the record speed for a domesticated horse which stands at 55 mph (88.5 kph). As wild horses aren’t domesticated or trained, they’re usually unable to reach the same speeds as domestic horses which is why the above stat is so impressive.
How Fast Do Racing Horses Run?
Over shorter distances, a Quarter Horse can reach speeds of 55 mph (88 kph), and Thoroughbred and Arabian horses can exceed speeds of 40 mph (64 kph).
As you’d expect, typical racehorses run much faster than the average horse. That’s because racehorse breeders carefully select the sire and dam to maximise the speed potential of the offspring.
Plus, racehorses undergo years of training to make sure they can run much faster than the average horse speed.
The conditions of the track and the length of the race can greatly affect a racing horse’s performance in terms of speed. For instance, while the Quarter Horse is the fastest racehorse over short distances, the Arabian is able to maintain its speed over longer distances.
Fastest racehorse in the world
The fastest race speed recorded for a racehorse over two furlongs is 43.97 mph (70.76 kph). This record was set in 2008 by Winning Brew at Penn National Race Course.
However, the fastest horse ever recorded on a dirt track was Secretariat, who achieved an average speed of 37.9 mph (70 kph) at the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
What Are the Fastest Horse Breeds in the World?
Let’s take a look at the fastest horse breeds based on the top speed each breed can achieve.
1. Quarter Horse – 55 mph
With a top speed of 55 mph (88.5 kph), the Quarter horse takes the top spot for the fastest horse breed in the world.
This breed got its name from the quarter-mile races that it’s famous for in the United States. Over short distances, this breed can out-gallop any other – even the Thoroughbred!
2. Andalusian – 45 mph
Surprisingly, the Andalusian just manages to take second place with a top speed of 45 mph (72.5 kph).
Some reports claim that this horse can equal the speeds of the Quarter horse and reach speeds between 50-55 mph over a short distance! Either way, this stunning breed sits securely in second place.
3. Thoroughbred – 44 mph
The famous Thoroughbred reaches top speeds of 44 mph (70.9 kph).
This breed is the fastest over medium distances, so there’s a good chance Thoroughbred racehorses can beat the lightning-fast Quarter horse in a two-mile race.
The fastest Thoroughbred ever recorded was Winning Brew – a two-year-old racehorse from the US.
4. Appaloosa – 41 mph
Reaching top speeds of 41 mph (65.9 kph), the beautiful Appaloosa comes close to beating the Thoroughbred!
These unique-looking horses were originally bred for their high speeds and endurance by the Nez Percé Indians in the Americas.
Now, they compete with Quarter horses in barrel racing, and are also popular flat and endurance horses.
5. Arabian – 40 mph
The Arabian horse takes the top spot for the fastest long-distance runner. Reaching speeds of 40 mph (64.4 kph), these horses are excellent in endurance races that take place over great distances.
6. American Paint – 40 mph
In sixth place is the humble but beautiful American Paint, who can reach speeds of up to 40 mph (64.4 kph)! These horses are famous for their coats and versatility in riding.
They are athletic and intelligent, with flashy colouring to pull the eye in.
7. Hanoverian – 40 mph
The Hanoverian is a breed of Warmblood horse that comes from Germany. They can gallop 40 mph (64.4 kph) and are frequently seen performing in the Olympic Games.
Overall, this breed is one of the most successful and has won gold medals in all of the equestrian competitions in the Olympics.
8. Akhal Teke – 35 mph
Featuring a unique metallic-like coat and long limbs, the Akhal Teke can reach speeds of 35 mph (56 kph).
This horse is a Turkmen breed and is known for their intelligence and endurance, making them popular long-distance race horses.
9. Standardbred – 30 mph
Most famously known for their harness racing, the Standardbred can gallop 30 mph (64.4 kph) when they want to!
This breed’s bloodline can be traced back to 18th century England but was developed in North America, where they have become incredibly popular.
10. Mustang – 30 mph
The small but mighty Mustang typically reaches speeds up to 30 mph (64.4 kph).
They are also amazing endurance horses and can compete with Arabians.
Because this breed is technically feral, only the strongest horses breed, resulting in strong and hardy animals.
Top Speeds of Popular Horse Breeds
OK, we’ve already covered the fastest breeds but how fast are horses that belong to the most popular breeds? Let’s take a look.
1. Dutch Warmblood – 30 mph
The Dutch Warmblood can achieve speeds of up to 30 mph (64.4 kph).
This matches the speeds of the Standardbred and Mustang, so while reasonable, doesn’t come close to the Quarter horse.
These horses are primarily used for show jumping and dressage and come close to the success of the Hanoverian in competitions.
2. Friesian Horse – 30 mph
Now, they are popular for all levels of riding, as they are docile and easy to work with.
You can usually recognise a Friesian because of their beautiful jet-black colouring, luxurious mane and tail, and their high-step trot.
3. Shetland Ponies – 30 mph
Surprised? When you asked yourself “how fast is a horse?” you probably didn’t picture a pony, right?
Well, Shetland ponies can reach impressive speeds of 30 mph (64.4 kph)! This Scottish breed of pony hails from the Shetland Isles, an island archipelago a short distance from the mainland.
These horses only reach about 107 cm at the withers, making them one of the smallest horse breeds around.
4. Haflinger – 27 mph
The Haflinger is a distinctive breed with a chestnut coat and flaxen mane and tail. Coming in at only around 140 cm (13.3 hands) at the withers, this small breed can gallop up to 27 mph (43.5 kph).
5. Connemara Pony – 27 mph
Originating from Ireland, the Connemara pony is another popular breed. Although it may be small, this horse can reach speeds up to 27 mph (43.5 kph) and they’re known to be great show ponies.
These horses are versatile and athletic, and their gentle disposition means that they are a good option for anyone looking for a calm horse.
6. Belgian Draft – 25 mph
The Belgian Draft is a strong and stocky horse that reaches up to 17 hands high. They can gallop at 25 mph (40 kph).
This breed is gentle, easygoing, and self-aware, which is a must considering their size!
7. Clydesdales – 20 mph
Here we have one of our personal favourites, the Clydesdale! These gentle giants grow to be around 18 hands high, and can gallop at an impressive 20mph (32kmph).
While they certainly aren’t the fastest horses around, their gentle and docile disposition means that they are well-suited to a number of activities and sports.
They excel at trail riding or hacking thanks to their calm demeanours, but can also succeed dressage.
A Clydesdale horse is one of the best horses you could ask for, and make for excellent steeds in riding schools.
8. Criollo – 20 mph
The Criollo is a horse breed native to the Pampas in South America. These relatively small horses can reach speeds of 20mph (32kmph), but are mostly known for their excellent endurance.
In countries like Argentina, this is the preferred horse breed, as it is hardy and very dependable.
9. Falabella – 20 mph
Also known as the miniature horse, the Falabella is the smallest horse breed. Despite that, these spirited equines can reach top speeds of 20mph (32kmph)!
Considering that they are only around 8.5 hands high, you can’t help but be impressed with that.
These tiny horses can only be ridden by small children due to their size, and they can also pull little carts. They are easy to train, and excel in a number of sports, including unridden jumping.
10. Morgans – 20 mph
Finally, we have the Morgan horse. This pleasant horse breed has a distinctive appearance, with an alert head and high tail similar to an Arabian.
They reach top speed of around 20mph (32kmph), putting them at the lower end of the speed spectrum in speed.
However, because of their personality, these horses are popular for various sports, including showjumping, dressage, endurance racing, and even Western riding.
Factors That Affect a Horse’s Speed
The top speed of a horse is highly dependent on its breed but several other factors also have an effect.
It’s often assumed that breeds with long legs, like Thoroughbreds, are naturally faster than breeds with shorter legs. Yet, it tends to be harder for horses with longer legs to move their legs forward and back quickly which is what’s required for reaching high speeds.
A horse’s stride is the distance it can cover in a single leap. So, longer-legged horses like Thoroughbreds also have the longest strides – 20 feet on average. You may also hear the length of a horse’s stride referred to as its “stride angle”).
However, the stride rate is what determines how quickly a horse can run. This is the number of strides a horse can take in a certain amount of time. On average, this is around 130 to 140 strides per minute for a racehorse, and horses with shorter legs tend to be able to achieve a higher stride rate than ones with longer legs.
A horse’s diet is also a big factor in how fast it will be able to run:
- Energy levels: Carbohydrates such as oats and barley are important as they provide horses with the energy they need to perform at their best.
- Weight management: If a horse is overweight, then it will struggle to run at high speeds. On the other hand, if it’s underweight, it will lack stamina. A balanced diet helps your horse to maintain a healthy weight and achieve optimal performance levels. High-quality conditioning feeds are a great way to make sure your horse gets the nutrition it needs.
- Muscle development: For your horse’s muscles to develop and repair properly, its diet must contain a sufficient amount of protein. Foods like alfalfa hay and soybean meal contain large amounts of protein and are a great choice when feeding racehorses.
- Vitamins and minerals: Any deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can have a negative impact on a horse’s overall health, which can then affect its speed and endurance levels.
Regardless of a horse’s stride rate and diet, if it’s not trained properly, then it stands little chance of being a truly fast horse. Training enhances a horse’s natural ability and conditions it to be able to achieve high speeds consistently.
The most common forms of training are:
- Cardiovascular fitness: This improves a horse’s stamina and endurance so that it can maintain high speeds over longer distances.
- Muscle development: Targeted exercises like sprint work and interval training help to develop specific muscle groups.
- Mental conditioning: Regularly exposing a horse to consistent routines, various stimuli, and positive reinforcement helps to mentally prepare a horse for races.
- Coordination and balance: When a horse can control its body properly, it can use its energy more effectively leading to improved speed and agility.
How to Improve Your Horse’s Speed
The three points above are the most important factors when it comes to the speed of your horse. Of course, you can’t do anything about the length of your horse’s legs! But, you do have control of your horse’s diet and training.
The first thing to do is to make sure your horse is getting all of the nutrition it needs. You should ensure it has a well-balanced diet that also includes supplements for maintaining good hoof health, gut health, and stamina.
You also need to implement a structured training program that includes exercises such as interval training, hill work, speed workouts, and balance and coordination training – all of these have a huge effect on the top speed of a horse.
Is the Thoroughbred the fastest horse?
The Thoroughbred isn’t actually the fastest horse in the world! The breed is the fastest breed at medium distances. However, the Quarter horse beats their top speed by about 10 miles per hour when it comes to short distances!
The Arabian is the fastest horse in the world when it comes to long distances. Because of this, it can be difficult to define the “fastest” horse breed, because they are all bred for different purposes. Horses for courses!
As such, it’s always best to view horses individually rather than with a wide lens.
Who would win in a race between a Clydesdale and a Shetland?
This depends on numerous factors such as the distance of the race and the condition of the individual horses. In a shorter sprint, the Shetland Pony would most likely outpace the Clydesdale. Yet, due to its size and strength, the Clydesdale would probably achieve a higher average horse speed over a longer distance.
Is it risky to push your horse to its top speed?
There are several risks involved in consistently pushing a horse to its top speed, including:
- Excessively straining a horse’s tendons, muscles, and bones which can cause injuries like sprains, strains, and fractures.
- Placing too much stress on the horse’s cardiovascular system which can lead to heart-related issues.
- Stress to the respiratory system which can cause exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH).
How fast can a horse run in mph?
A horse with no rider can gallop at 55 mph
How fast can a horse run in kph?
A horse with no rider can gallop at 88.5 kph
Quarter horses take the top spot for the fastest horse breed over short distances, with an impressive top speed of 55mph.
Thoroughbreds are the fastest horses for medium-length races, with speeds of up to 44mph, and Arabians are excellent endurance racers with speeds of 40mph over long distances.
While we all love fast horses, please remember that the speed of your horse doesn’t always matter. Every breed has been bred for a purpose, and they aren’t all meant to be fast!
Take the Clydesdale – these giants aren’t fast, but they are strong and powerful, and make excellent ridden horses.