best horse breeds for riding

The Best Horse Breeds For Riding

If you’re trying to figure out how to choose a horse breed, you’ve come to the right place. I have looked at popular breeds in the USA for this article. For the horse breeds which are more popular in the UK look here

The most important aspect of choosing a breed of horse is knowing what the horse is for. Different horse breeds will suit different purposes so knowing whether you want to race, ride, or compete in dressage will make a big difference.

This guide will help you learn about the best horse breeds to own for riding. Keep reading to discover the perfect horses for beginners and the characteristics to look out for when choosing your horse.

Horse Categories

Nobody expects you to become a horse expert overnight. But if you’re interested in riding, it can help to get a bit of background information.

This will help you find the best breeds for learning how to ride. It’ll also help if you graduate from wanting to learn how to ride a horse to buying a horse.

To quote the famous talking horse, Mr Ed, “A horse is a horse, of course, of course”. However, a horse isn’t just a horse, there are hundreds of different breeds. To take you through them all would take us ages so let’s start off by looking at the different horse categories.


Draught horses are historically working horses. This is because they’re among the largest horse breeds.

The size and strength of draught horses make them ideal for pulling heavy carts or carriages.

As well as being used on farms and in transport, draught horses were also popular war horses.

The Clydesdale is probably the most famous and popular draught horse breed.

Riding a Clydesdale


Light horse breeds are smaller than draught breeds and larger than ponies. They’re the ideal horse for riding and were popular among cowboys that had to have responsive horses that could be controlled.

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are some of the most popular light horse breeds.


Sporting horses are athletic and trainable breeds that are bred specifically for high-level equestrian events.


Gaited horse breeds are graceful and suited to travelling long distances. Their high levels of endurance make them ideally suited to this.


Ponies are universally adored and coveted by children growing up with an interest in horses. This is because they’re smaller than horses – after all, who wouldn’t want their cat to stay like a kitten or dog to stay like a puppy?

Ponies are defined by their size and stand 14.2 hands or under, anything above this would be classified as a horse.

However, there is confusion about the exact definition of a Pony that we won’t get into here. You can read more about this loveable category in our “What is a Pony?” guide.


Another great way to separate horse breeds and determine their suitability for different activities is through their temperament.

It’s worth noting at this point that every horse will have their own personality. Over time, riders learn and get used to individual horses’ foibles. But taking the time to understand the general temperament of a breed will help you find the most suitable horse for riding.

The following terms help to define the temperament of the horse. However, these terms also bleed (pun intended) into general horse classifications and types.

We know it can all get a bit confusing with some terms overlapping, but over time you will get to understand the terminologies and how they reflect upon the breeds.

In this case, horses are split into three different categories:

  • Coldbloods
  • Hotbloods
  • Warmbloods

This takes into account their origins, use, and temperaments. While it’s not an exact science, it does help to categorise horse breeds and make it easier to select the best options for a certain purpose.


Coldblood horses are typically placid breeds but are known to be stubborn on occasion. They are large, heavy breeds that are a bit slower than hotbloods and warmbloods.

Belgian Draft horse

Despite being occasionally stubborn and relatively slow to train, they can be good for all riders because they’re so easygoing.

They typically originate from colder climates and are large and hairy. They’re still used as workhorses due to their strength, but can also be used for leisure.

They’re a good option for hacking for those that want to gently plod along on an agreeable horse.

Well-trained coldblood breeds can also compete in jumping events or dressage. This goes to show that despite the reputation of being slow and placid as well as stubborn and hard to train, each horse is different.


Hotblood horses may conjure up the idea of angry and uncontrollable horses, but this is not the case. They’re typically fast learners and very intelligent.

As with any intelligent animal, they may have an independent streak that borders on arrogance.

They originate from the Middle East and Arabia so have lighter, fine hair. They’re also known for their great speed and stamina. This makes them a great option for racing.

They’re typically smaller, leaner breeds and were once crossed with British breeds to create thoroughbreds.

Race horse


Warmblood horses often display traits from both hot and coldblood horses. They’re typically adaptable breeds that can be equally at home as working horses or in showjumping and dressage.

Warmbloods are usually middleweight horses that are calmer than hotbloods but more lively than coldbloods. They often excel in sports and combine speed and agility with quiet temperaments and robust physiques.

Swedish Warmblood

Considerations When Choosing A Horse

Many considerations will go into owning a horse. The finances of purchasing, stabling, food, and care will be at the top of most lists.

But when it comes to the horse itself, the following must be taken into account:


The size of a horse will be a key consideration. This horse’s height will be measured in hands which equates to 4″ per hand.

The ideal height of a horse will depend on your personal preference. Ponies will typically be under 14.2 hands in height, this can be good for younger or inexperienced riders that might see larger horses as daunting. Draught horses will be much larger, usually between 16 and 19 hands in height.

The height of a horse will determine how easy it is to mount and dismount, and it’s also a big factor if you fall off.

The weight of the horse is more important. Horses shouldn’t be forced to carry loads that exceed between 15% and 20% of their body weight.

If a horse is forced to carry too heavy a load it can show signs of distress or fatigue. This can be dangerous for both the rider and the horse.

It’s important to remember that not only do horses come in different shapes and sizes, people do too.

Calculating the total weight of the rider and equipment to ensure this does not exceed suggested guidelines will help when choosing a horse.

It’s also worth noting that the guidelines of 15% to 20% are for healthy horses in the prime of life. Younger and older horses should not be exposed to these weights.


The personality of the horse will be different in every case. The breed will give you a general idea of how the horse may behave, but you must also spend time with and ask questions about the horse.

If you’re visiting a stable or riding club, the staff will be horse enthusiasts and have a relationship with the animals. They will be in the best position to match you up to a horse that suits your personality.

If you’re buying a horse you should take the time to get to know the horse or request a trial period.

It will take a bit of time to form a bond with a new horse. Perseverance and commitment are needed to forge strong ties with these majestic animals.


The horse you choose should match your experience. Beginners should be paired with experienced and schooled horses so it’s easier for them to get the basics.

Clearly stating your level of experience when choosing a horse is essential.

Riding Goals

What are your riding goals? This is an important question when choosing a horse. If you have aspirations of competing, the horse you choose should mirror these.

If you’re looking for a horse for trail riding, it won’t have to be built for competition. Instead, a sensible, well-behaved horse with good endurance will be perfect for long rides.


The horse’s medical history and requirements will be a big concern for new horse owners. Not only will it affect performance, but it can also increase the cost of caring for the horse significantly.

Ensuring the horse’s teeth and feet are in good condition and that it’s vaccinated is very important.


Finding the right breed for you is one of the most important aspects of choosing a horse.

Take a look below to discover the best horse breeds for riding.

Best Horse Breeds For Riding

Now that you know a bit more about different horse types, let’s look at some specific breeds – in particular the most popular horse breeds for riding.

Best Overall – American Quarter Horse

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • Height: 14.3 – 16 hands
  • Temperament: Docile, calm, intelligent
Quarter horse chestnut

If you’re looking for a versatile breed of horse with a good level of intelligence, American Quarter Horses could be perfect for you.

Their calm and docile temperament is perfect for beginners and they’re becoming relatively common in the UK. In fact, the American Quarter Horse boasts the world’s largest breed registry.

The popularity of American Quarter Horses across the world is down to their great performance across a range of disciplines. Their solid, compact frames are complemented well by their strong hindquarters. This results in a speedy horse that is equally as adept at racing, show jumping, cross-country riding, and dressage.

It would be easy to fall down the trap of thinking a powerful and athletic horse will be difficult to control. In reality, Quarter Horses are calm and gentle. This makes them the ideal choice for beginners.

Their impressive athletic prowess also makes them suitable for intermediate and expert riders.

Their solid build and feet mean they aren’t particularly injury prone. This is great for those worried about rising vet bills.

You might have heard the old adage to never work with kids or animals in show businesses. This holds some truth, but the reliability and temperament of Quarter Horses make them a popular choice for filming. This can often include novice riders that need a well-controlled horse.

Their endurance and strength are well suited to trail riding and rough terrain.

All things considered, the American Quarter Horse ticks a lot of boxes. They’re a manageable size for mounting and dismounting as well as being good-natured.

They’re equally at home working on farms or with recreational riding.

This is a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable horse that is highly capable.

Best for Families – Morgan Horse

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • Height: 14.1 – 15.2 hands
  • Temperament: Gentle and calm
Dark chestnut morgan

The Morgan horse is another all-American beauty that shares many qualities with the American Quarter horse.

They’re known for being well-muscled with graceful arched necks and proud carriages.

The reason Morgan horses are great for families is because they’re a gentle, calm breed. They are also sociable and have a desire to please owners.

Another excellent feature of the Morgan horse is its patience. This makes it great for beginners and young riders. They’re also a responsive breed that makes them ideal for more experienced riders.

They aren’t the tallest horses you will come across, which is great for family members being able to mount and dismount easily.

They’re also not known to suffer from health issues. Like the Quarter Horse, this is ideal for those that want a happy, healthy horse and minimal vet bills.

Morgans have a high-stepping trot which suits saddle seat riding and they’re also renowned for being great driving horses.

This breed is another box ticker. Its patient temperament and demeanour make it an excellent option for all ages and riding levels. They’re also quick and eager learners that are compatible with a variety of riding disciplines.

Best for Smooth Riding – Tennessee Walking Horse

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • Height: 15 – 16 hands
  • Temperament: Docile and willing
Tennesse walking horse

Tennessee Walking Horses were originally bred to provide riders on American plantations with a smooth and comfortable ride.

The unique gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse makes it possible for the horse to travel long distances and minimises the risk of saddle soreness.

The graceful gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse allows riders to enjoy speeds of up to 20 mph comfortably.

This horse is also friendly and docile and is eager to please the rider. This is a relatively tall breed of horse that might suit taller riders better.

Best for Training – Friesian Horse

  • Country of Origin: Netherlands
  • Height: 15 – 17 hands
  • Temperament: Intelligent, energetic, calm
Fresian Horse

Friesian horses are friendly and playful, as well as being easy to train. They’re also known for offering riders a calm ride.

This beautiful horse breed originates from the Netherlands and has an interesting history which dates back to medieval times.

The powerful breed is slightly smaller and more agile than most draught horses, which made it ideal for use as a war or workhorse.

Their floating trot and high-leg action make them the perfect option for dressage.

While they are known for being playful, they also learn well because of their intelligence. This can be great for inexperienced riders that require a well-behaved horse to master the basics.

Plus, they’re known for being versatile and adapting to different equestrian disciplines easily.

Their incredible, unique appearance is one of the major factors behind their popularity.

Heavy tails, manes, and feet feathering make it one of the most beautiful breeds. It does require a fair bit of grooming though so you must be a dedicated owner to have one.

Their loyalty and the fact they don’t spook easily also makes them a great choice for riders.

They have a strong, proportional build and move very gracefully. Their eye-catching trot and canter make them perfectly suited to performing.

While their appearance and performance are both impressive, it’s their ability to work with humans that make this a great breed.

Best for Older Riders – Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • Height: Over 14.2 hands
  • Temperament: Gentle, determined, calm

Image from Wikimedia

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses are the ideal solution for long rides across uneven terrains. The gaited breed uses a four-beat hoof movement to ensure comfort for riders. This makes it a great choice for riders that suffer from back issues or older riders.

As the name suggests, this breed hails from Kentucky and was bred for travelling mountain trails. The almost motionless canter is just one of the benefits riders can enjoy.

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is an easy-going and friendly breed. They’re easy to handle and train and are a suitable choice for beginners and kids.

This breed is an average-sized trail horse with compact, muscled builds. The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is also a good choice for UK owners as it can withstand the cold.

Best for Kids – Icelandic Horse

  • Country of Origin: Iceland
  • Height: 12.2 – 13.2 hands
  • Temperament: Easy-going, friendly, stubborn
Icelandic horses

The Icelandic horse breed is a wonderful option for kids and novice riders that are put off by larger breeds.

The diminutive breeds typically reach between 13 and 14 hands in height. This makes it easier for people to mount and dismount and gives new riders a bit more confidence than starting off on a tall horse.

As well as being a great size, Icelandic horses have a wonderful disposition. They’re a friendly and easy-going breed. Although, they can be a bit stubborn on occasion.

Another feature of Icelandic horses is their versatile range of gaits. these include the ability to:

  • Walk
  • Canter
  • Trot
  • Gallop
  • Pace
  • Tölt

Tölt is the breed’s four-beat lateral gait that sees the hind legs move beneath the body, allowing the front of the horse to rise. This can be beneficial on uneven terrain.

The sturdy frame and sure-footedness breed confidence in the rider and make them well-equipped for long rides on challenging terrain.

Their thick double coats provide insulation when temperatures drop and they’re known for living to an impressive age of up to 40.

Icelandic horses have curious and social personalities which makes them good riding partners for all ages, especially kids.

Best for Beginners – American Paint Horse

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A.
  • Height: 14 – 16 hands
  • Temperament: Friendly, easy-going, intelligent
American paint horse

The beautiful and unique appearance of the American Paint Horse makes it instantly recognisable.

This social breed is great for beginners because of its intelligence and easy-going nature. American Paint Horses build strong bonds with their riders and are also simple to train.

They’re a strong, quick, and agile breed. They’re also known for their stamina and were originally bred for work and transportation.

Their versatility is evident in their appearance in most equine sports and disciplines.

American Paint Horses are well known for being relaxed and friendly. This is perfect for beginners that might feel nervous and need to know their horse won’t put them in danger.

They’re also a suitable breed for more advanced riders. This is because the horse is eager to please and responsive.

Owners won’t need to worry about huge food or vet bills either, this is yet another benefit to consider.

If you’re a beginner, check out our top tips for learning how to ride a horse.

Best Pony – Welsh Cob

  • Country of Origin: Wales
  • Height: 13.2 hands and above
  • Temperament: Friendly, intelligent, spirited
Native british horse breeds

The Welsh Cob pony is a great option for those looking for a sturdy and intelligent breed.

Their natural strength makes them great work and warhorses, while their friendliness makes them a good choice for beginner riders.

They’re larger and stockier ponies than traditional Welsh ponies and have adapted to living outdoors in the UK climate.

They possess a powerful trot, agility, and speed. They also have great stamina to carry out longer rides.

Their trustworthy nature and loyalty make them perfect for kids and beginners. The smaller stature compared to most horses makes it easier to mount and dismount too.

This is a very versatile breed that’s perfect for those looking for a strong and capable option.

Best Large Riding Horse – Clydesdale

  • Country of Origin: Scotland
  • Height: 17 – 19 hands
  • Temperament: Calm, docile, gentle
Strathorn Farm. King Edward. Wins Blair

Clydesdale horses may be big, but they aren’t known as gentle giants for nothing. Their friendly and calm nature quickly puts riders at ease.

Their docile temperament is often put to use in therapy sessions, much like friendly dogs.

They originate in Scotland and can be traced back to the 18th century. Clydesdales were bred to work and their impressive pulling power comes as no surprise to anyone that has stood next to these massive creatures.

They’re generally quiet and patient horses. Couple this with a natural calmness and you have a perfect riding horse.

One drawback is the size; not everyone will be comfortable sitting at such a height. It can also prove to be challenging getting on and off.

This is a great option for a gentle, leisurely ride with a majestic horse that, let’s face it, looks magnificent!

You can learn more about this incredible breed by checking out our Clydesdale FAQ.

Best For A Confident Ride – Shire Horse

  • Country of Origin: England
  • Height: 16 – 17 hands
  • Temperament: Patient, easy-going, calm
Shire horse, one of the tallest breeds

Shire Horses are another massive horse breed that rivals the Clydesdale. They share many characteristics including their easygoing nature and patience.

What makes the Shire Horse the ideal option for anyone looking for a confident ride is their size, stature, and the fact that this breed won’t spook easily.

Their easygoing demeanour makes them the ideal choice for all levels of rider, as long as people are comfortable with such a high riding position.

They were initially bred as workhorses and are known for pulling carts and towing barges.

Their massive hooves ensure they are sure-footed on most surfaces and their physical appearance is boosted by the eye-catching feathering on their legs.


What is a gaited horse?

A gaited horse is able to move its legs independently. This allows it to keep a foot on the ground constantly and preserve energy.

Gaited horses are known for their endurance and stamina. This makes them the perfect choice for travel.

Are Clydesdale horses the strongest breed of horse?

The strongest breed of horse is the Belgian Draught Horse. Want to learn more about the strongest breeds? Take a look at our blog exploring the strongest horse breeds in the world.

What horses are best for trail rides?

The best breed for trail rides is the American Quarter Horse. Other great options that you will find on this list include the Icelandic Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the Friesian.

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