If you love all things horse, you might have found yourself wondering just how many horse breeds there are in the world.
Well, you’re not alone, because I had the same question.
I’ve done some digging, and I’ve got the answers right here in my guide to the number of horse breeds in the world. There’s no one simple answer, so I’ll break things down into categories, types, and breeds you might find under each.
Let’s get counting!
We have breeds of all shapes and sizes at Strathorn
What is a horse breed?
To count the amount of horse breeds in the world, first we have to define what a horse breed is. As I try to do that for you, you’ll realise why “how many horse breeds are there?” is such a difficult question to answer.
The first thing we have to realise is that “breed” is an entirely human construct. Horses don’t care too much which other horses they breed with, as evidenced by some of the surprises we have seen pop out of a mare we didn’t even know was pregnant over the years.
Breeds came about becasue of the domestication of the horse for use as a work animal by humans. Humans chose desirable chracteristics from certain horses and selectively bred them to enhance those features. Need a horse for ploughing? Breed your biggest mare with your biggest stallion. Looking for a fast horse you can ride to market? pick a taller slimmer finer boned pair and let them get it on till the early morn. Need little strong horses that don’t eat much to pull your longboat up on to the beach next time you are off conquering the neighbours? Why not get the two little sturdy ponies a room for the night and put on some romantic music?
So that makes sense. Breeds came about from the necessity to have horses for different jobs. So how do we work out how many breeds there are?
Well, we could look at the breed registries and societies. These are self appointed offical bodies that regulate the pedigrees of certain breeds. Why do they exist? A horse’s family tree is very important to know when you start narrowing down the gene pool that it can breed within. You want to avoid inbreeding and that’s where the studbook comes is. A quick look through that and you can quickly decide if your chosen pair should breed or if there is a danger of inbreeding.
The USA has 71 breed societies
The UK has 51 breed societies
The Netherlands has 35 breed societies
Looking through these lists leads to some confusion though. We can’t just count them up, as there is a lot of overlap. Each country has a Clydesdale horse society. But are these Clydesdales still considered the same breed? Looking at an American Clydesdale Vs a Scottish one, you can see they are related, but they are distinctly different, with the Americans taller and “all legs” as George Skinner would say, and the Scottish Clydesdales less tall but much fuller bodied.
Trotters are another breed where the lines get blurred. A quick look through the list of EU breed societies and you can find Belgian Trotters, Croatian Trotters, Holstein Trotters, Estonian Trotters, French Trotters, Irish Stanardbred Trotters, Racing Trotters, Norwegian coldblooded Trotters, Slovak Trotters, Swedish coldblood trotters, Swedish Warmblood trotters and even a Foxtrotter if you want to let them into the trotter family, although I’d assume they are dancing horses rather than racing horses.
Trotters. Many different types, but are they seperate breeds?
Add to that that some breeds actually disappear, like the flemish horse, and new breeds are constantly being developed
It turns out it’s not a straightforward question to answer. Estimates vary between 150-600 horse breeds in the world, depending on who you ask. While it would be great to kick back and talk about each one, I’d be here for about a year. So instead, I’m going to start with the different horse categories to get you up to speed on how most horse breeds are categorised:
Draught horses: These are some of the biggest horse breeds in the world. One of the most popular is the Clydesdale. These horse breeds are known for their amazing size and strength which make them popular for pulling heavy loads. Historically, draught horses (or draft horses in the US) were used on farms, as well as in battle.
Light horses: These horse breeds tend to be on the smaller side, but are not small enough to be classified as ponies. Light horses make fantastic riding partners and were often used by cowboys in the wild west. Some popular horse breeds in this category include Thoroughbred Horses, Quarter Horses, and Appaloosas.
Ponies: These mini horse breeds are categorised by their height. Anything under 14.2 hands (well, mostly) is considered a pony. These breeds are perfect for children’s rides and support animals. Two of the smallest horse breeds include the Shetland Pony and Welsh section A Pony.
Sporting horses: Also known as warmbloods (more on this shortly), sporting horse breeds are specifically for Olympic-level equestrian events. They are a mix of draught breeds with energetic breeds like Thoroughbreds, creating the perfect balance of trainable yet athletic.
Gaited horses: These breeds are popular for their smooth long-distance travelling. They move more gracefully than sporting and draught breeds, while also having high endurance levels. Two popular gaited horse breeds include the Icelandic, American Saddlebred and Peruvian Paso.
Based on this, it’s easy to see how distinguishing the number and types of horses in the world can get complicated. The varying characteristics and breed standards make categorising a breed challenging.
Icelandic horses have a special gait called a Tölt. Some even have a fifth gait called Flying pace
The Number of Horse Breeds in the World
It’s impossible to know just how many horse breeds there are in the world becasue the lines are blurred between what a distinct breed is, and some breeds have disappeard, and people keep breeding new ones. On the lower end, it’s about 150, while some believe there could be as many as 600 different horse breeds.
If we had to narrow it down, and we took out distinctions between very similar “breeds” of horse, we’d say there are between 250-350 horse breeds in the world, depending on the classification.
One of the simplest ways to classify horse breeds is through their temperament; that’s where the terms cold-blood, warm-blood, and hot-blood come from. It’s not about their blood temperature. The terms actually refer to how feisty or docile the horse is.
Starting with the easygoing and calm horse breeds, cold-bloods are generally used for labour and are considered draught horses. Their docile personalities make them very easy to train and more cooperative.
It also helps that many cold-blood horse breeds are larger, which means getting work done around the farm is quick and efficient.
Looking at the types of horses, cold-blood breeds would be considered heavy horses.
Some popular cold-blood breeds include:
Clydesdale: A Scottish breed known for its incredible strength, size, and elegance. The Clydesdale features white markings on the legs and face.
Friesian: Originally from the Netherlands, the Friesian is popular for its long wavy mane, feathering on the legs, and striking black colour. The elegant appearance combined with the horse breed’s athleticism makes for a fantastic dressage partner.
Shire: Shire horses are a British breed considered to be one of the largest in the world. It has incredible strength thanks to its muscular body and has highly distinguishable feathering on the legs.
Haflinger: Originally from Austria, the Haflinger is a gorgeous chestnut colour with a light tail and coat. It is well known for its friendly nature and versatility in equestrian activities. This horse breed is the perfect partner for first-time riders.
Suffolk Punch: A British horse breed known as one of the heaviest and oldest draught horses. Their kind temperament along with the strong build make this breed a great riding partner, but they’re quite rare.
Clydesdales like our big boy King Edward are cold blooded horses, so called because of their calm temprement.
Hot-bloods are categorised by their high speed and endurance. This breed was often used in the West for racing and long-distance trail rides. Looking at the types of horses, hot-bloods are considered light horses.
Officially there are two recognized hot-blood breeds, the Thoroughbred and the Arabian. However, some horses with similar characteristics still fall under the hot-blood category.
The Arabian horse has been around since about 3,000 BC, making them one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Their genetics contribute to many different horse breeds across the globe, providing strength and agility to multiple bloodlines.
One of these is the Thoroughbred, where the Arabian bred with English horses around the 1600s. The Thoroughbred is known for its fantastic athleticism, strength, and competitive nature. It is one of the most popular horse breeds in the world.
Both the Arabian and Thoroughbred are brilliant for horse racing and are known across the globe for their endurance and strength. They are also loyal beyond measure and have a feisty spirit that owners come to love and respect.
The Akhal-Teke is also considered a hot-blood. Originally from Turkmenistan, this horse breed has a gorgeous, almost metallic, coat along with an elegant build. They are also well known for their lively personalities and endurance.
Arab horses are known as hot blooded… for a reason.
Most horse breeds today are considered warmbloods. There are debates about the true definition of what a warmblood horse constitutes, even among the most knowledgeable horse owners.
Simply put warmblood horses are considered a mix of hot and cold-blood horse breeds. They were originally bred to give owners the best of both worlds: a racing horse that could also do heavy agricultural work when needed.
Some of the most popular warmblood horses include:
Oldenburg: Originally from Germany, this breed is known for its powerful movements coupled with elegance, making it fantastic for a variety of events including show jumping and dressage. All this along with its trainable nature, the Oldenburg is the perfect combination.
Trakehner: This is one of the most sought-after horse breeds for its rideability, elegance, and trainable nature. The Trakehner is extremely athletic, and known for its amazing jumping capabilities.
Selle Français: A jumper at heart, the Selle Français originated in France and is now known across the globe for its competitive spirit. This breed offers incredible versatility with power, sophistication, and strength.
Selle Français. Born to jump
Horse Breeds by Colour
Some horse breeds are distinguishable through their unique patterns and colour combinations. Many of them have their own associations and registries that strive to maintain the lineage of these gorgeous horse breeds.
Here are some examples:
Appaloosa: The Appaloosa breed is known for its unique coat patterns including snowflake, leopard pattern and blanket. There is generally a base coat colour with a distinctive opposing colour for the patterns and markings, making the Appaloosa highly sought-after.
Palomino: The palomino horse has a golden coat with a white or flaxen mane and tail. While technically Palomino is a colour, there is the PHBA (Palomino Horse Breeders of America) that registers breeds of this colour.
American paint horse: American paint horses are usually a solid colour (black, chestnut, bay) with splashes of white in various patterns (tovero, overo, and tobiano).
Palimino. Origianlly denoting a colour, now a recognised breed by the PHBA
Rare Horse Breeds
You can’t have an article on how many horse breeds there are without talking about some of the rarer breeds in the world. These breeds are incredibly special and some are a once-in-a-lifetime find:
Sorraia: A rare Portuguese breed, the Sorraia has a strong resemblance to ancient wild horses. It boasts a unique dun coat colour with a dorsal stripe. The Sorraia is known for its adaptability in tough environments and its agility.
Marawari: A rare Indian breed that is highly valued by the Rajput warrior clans, the Marwari is distinguishable by its unique inward-facing ears. This breed is known for its loyalty and hardiness.
Newfoundland Pony: Originating from Newfoundland, the Newfoundland Pony is a critically endangered breed. It is strong and small but looks can be deceiving, these ponies are hard workers and were once used in mining and agriculture.
Hackney Horse: Originating from Norfolk, England, the Hackney horse emerged in the mid-1700s through a selective breeding process that involved cross-breeding Thoroughbreds with the Norfolk Trotter. Presently, Hackney horses are considered rare, with fewer than 3,000 left in the world.
Eriskay Pony: Originating from the Western Isles of Scotland, this pony captivates horse lovers with its stunning grey coat. This magnificent beauty is a rare and extraordinary breed, particularly cherished by those who appreciate horses. Despite their lightweight build, these ponies possess remarkable strength, making them ideal for smaller riders.
Eriskay ponies – the last surviving ponies from the western isles of Scotland
Horse Breed FAQs
What was the first ever recognised horse breed?
It’s difficult to say what the very first breed was, but the first few recorded were the Caspian, Norwegian Fjord, Akhal-Teke, Arabian, and now extinct Turkoman horse, with some dating back more than 5,000 years.
What determines a horse breed?
Breeds are determined by specific traits and characteristics that are seen within a population of horses. These might include temperaments, physical attributes, or abilities. Ultimately, it is up to registries and breed associations to determine breeds.
Are all breeds recognised internationally?
No, this is why classification can get so complicated because certain areas classify specific breeds while others don’t. That’s why it’s so important to find the right association or federation for your specific breed to get the correct classification.
What are the fastest horse breeds?
A Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred are two horse breeds that make the list of the fastest horses in the world. These guys can clock in at around 44 mph in short bursts, compared to around 27 mph for other breeds.