10 Best Horse Breeds for First-Time Owners & Riders (With Pictures)

Last Updated: April 7, 2021

You’re on the lookout for your first horse, but you’re not sure what would be the best breed for you.

Everything from the horse’s gait, which can mean the difference between a smooth or bumpy ride, to the horse’s temperament are essential factors to consider when you’re in the market for a horse.

The size is relevant as well – the larger the horse, the more intimidating it can be for a beginner. The average size of a horse falls around 14.2 to 17 hands (4’10” to 5’8” at the horse’s shoulder) – if it’s less than 14.2 hands, it’s usually considered a pony.

In order to help you with your search, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best horse breeds for first-time riders and owners, in alphabetical order:

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1. American Paint

american paint horse
Image Credit: Pixabay

The American Paint Horse arrived on North American shores in 1519, brought over with Spanish explorers. It’s thought they were a mix of Andalusian, Barb, and Arabian breeds, but today’s Paint Horses are a mix of spotted horses with the American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred lines. They are famous for their large patches of two colors – usually white with brown, bay, chestnut, or black.

The American Paint Horse is a relatively low maintenance breed that doesn’t generally need as much exercise as other breeds. They are about mid-size, 14.2 to 15.2 hands, and what makes these horses great for beginners is their good-natured, calm, and friendly natures. Their intelligence and strength make for horses that are easy to train, and they are also strong and fast.


2. American Quarter

american quarter horse
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The American Quarter Horse was also brought to North America by Spanish conquistadors about 500 years ago. They were a combination of Arabian, Barb, and Iberian breeds that were bred with the First Nation’s Cherokee and Chickasaw horses and eventually English Thoroughbreds. These horses come in a wide variety of colors, including brown, palomino, gray, black, roan, bay, sorrel, and buckskin.

The Quarter Horse is thought to be the most popular breed of horse in the United States due in part to their calm and docile temperaments. They come in at 14.3 to 16 hands and are very trainable and gentle horses that are great for beginner riders, including children.


3. Appaloosa

White Appaloosa
Image Credit: Pixabay

This time the Spanish introduced their horses to Mexico, also in the 1500s, which eventually drifted into North America. The famously spotted coats of the Appaloosa were developed by the Nez Percé tribe, who lived along the Palouse River in what is today’s North-Central Idaho. They have a solid color (chestnut, black, gray, buckskin, dun, etc.) with some kind of spotting pattern and come in at 14.2 to 16 hands.

The Appaloosa is a very loyal horse to the family they love and are intelligent, gentle, and playful. The strong bond they make with their owners is part of what makes them suitable for beginners, but, unfortunately, this is not the case for all Appaloosas out there. They are also prone to being high-strung and need frequent exercise.


4. Connemara Pony

Connemara Pony
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

No one truly knows the actual origins of the Connemara Pony. However, the native breeds of Ireland were mixed with the Andalusians when the Spanish Armada in 1588 ran aground in the County Galway, where Connemara is located. The Connemara is a pony, which makes it smaller than most horses, and they come in around 13.2 to 15 hands, which would be easier for a beginner. They can be black, bay, chestnut, brown, palomino but are most commonly dun and gray.

Connemaras are very hardy yet agile and are intelligent, adaptable, gentle, and sensible in nature. They are perfect for the beginner rider, both adult and child.


5. Friesian

Friesian horse
Image Credit: Pixabay

The Friesian Horse has its origins in Friesland, Netherlands over 3,000 years ago. These gorgeous horses are famous for their long flowing manes, and they are sometimes gray and bay in color, but they are known for being solid black and with long feathers (long hair) on the lower parts of their legs. They stand at about 14.2 to 17 hands.

Friesians are very intelligent, sensitive, and gentle horses that would be amazing for beginners. They are calm, friendly, and eager to please in nature, and their show-stopping beautiful appearance will make them the talk of your town.


6. Kentucky Mountain Saddle

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has been around for about 200 years and was developed in America’s southern states, particularly around the Appalachians. They come in almost any solid color (black, brown, dun, white, etc.) and have long, flowing manes and tails. They typically stand at 13.1 to 16 hands.

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is a friendly, calm, and even-tempered breed that can be ridden by children as well as seniors. They are also gaited horses, which means they will provide a smooth ride for any amateur riders.


7. Missouri Fox Trotter

missouri fox trotter
Image Credit: Pixabay

During the 1800s, in the Ozark Mountains, the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse was bred. They are so named because they have a smooth and comfortable gait that has been called “the fox trot.” They are 14 to 16 hands and come in all colors, and typically have white markings on the legs and face.

The Missouri Fox Trotter is a charming and quiet horse that is gentle and makes a wonderful horse for children and adults. Their smooth gait and surefootedness on rough terrain, in addition to their obedience, make them perfect for a beginner.


8. Morgan

morgan horse
Image Credit: Pixabay

The Morgan Horse tops most lists as the best horse for novices. They are one of the first horse breeds developed in the United States, and they have proven to be hard-working and sturdy horses. They stand about 14 to 15.2 hands and come in every color but are most commonly black, bay or chestnut.

The Morgan Horse is a gentle, kind, and well-mannered breed that bonds with its owner. They enjoy spending time with humans and are steadfast and not easily spooked. They are believed to be one of the least expensive horses to take care of, as Morgans tend to eat less than other breeds.


9. Norwegian Fjord

norwegian fjord horse
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The Norwegian Fjord Horse was first domesticated around 2,000 B.C. and is considered one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. The modern Fjord Horse is somewhat smaller at 13.2 to 15 hands and is typically a brown dun color. The mane is usually cut in a manner that allows it to stand erect, so it shows off the black hair in the center of the mane that is surrounded by white hair. This gives the Fjord Horse a rather unique appearance.

The Fjord Horse is a willing and gentle breed that is calm and kind and is used not only for beginners but as a therapeutic horse. These horses are known to take care of their riders, and they aren’t known to be flighty.


10. Tennessee Walking

Quite a number of breeds make up the Tennessee Walking Horse (the Standardbred, American Saddlebred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, Canadian Pacer, to name a few), which originated in the late 1800s. They stand at 15 to 17 hands and come in most colors but more typically in brown, chestnut, bay, black, roan, and gray.

Tennessee Walkers are dependable, gentle, and calm in nature, so they are not likely to be flighty. They are also known to be a gaited horse making for a very smooth ride and are generally easy to train as they are willing learners.

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Costs of Ownership

The costs of owning a horse will depend on various circumstances. For example, whether you live on land that can accommodate a horse or you need to pay for boarding. Also, whether or not you want to use your horse for shows or events or just pleasure riding.

Expenses may include:
  • Boarding
  • Veterinarian bills
  • Feed
  • Tack
  • Farrier
  • Various supplies
  • Activities, shows, and events

Expenses could run upwards of $4,000 or more per year, so be sure to do your research before investing in your first horse.

Learning to Ride

There are several factors that might determine how long it takes to learn to ride a horse. On average, about 10 private lessons might be sufficient, but it depends on the fitness level and the kind of experience the rider has. There are even experienced riders out there that still benefit from taking lessons to help refine their performances.

woman riding a horse
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There’s a number of steps and decisions that you will need to take, such as:

  1. Do you want to ride Western or Englishstyle?
  2. Decide on what you want to learn (pleasure, show, jumping, etc.).
  3. Find a good riding school or instructor that will support your interests.
  4. Do you want to learn in a group or through private instruction?
  5. Finding the proper attire – footwear, clothing, and a riding helmet.

These steps are just the beginning; the rest is up to your instructor, and you.

Temperament

The list we have provided outlines the best breeds for beginner horse owners and riders, but temperament will always be the most important factor. While there are breeds that are not usually appropriate for a novice, such as the Arabian (high energy and headstrong), there will also be horses within the desired breeds that won’t be suitable for beginners because of that individual horse’s temperament.

The qualities that a horse should have for a new rider should include:

  • Already well-trained
  • Mature
  • Even-tempered
  • Well-mannered and gentle
  • Calm and not easily spooked

You won’t find these qualities in every horse breed – even the calmest breeds will have some excitable individual horses in the mix. Just like dogs or people, they are all unique.

woman guiding a tennessee walking horse
Image Credit: Pixabay

Keep in Mind

When you’ve decided you’re ready to purchase your first horse, here are some quick tips to keep in mind while on your search for the right one.

  • Choose your horse based on the above list and what you want to use the horse for (g., don’t take a draft horse home when you’re interested in jumping).
  • Try to gain some experience with horses before making the big purchase – you can engage in riding lessons or take a horse out on loan.
  • A mature horse will be slower and more experienced. If you’re interested in learning dressage but have no experience, invest in an older horse that knows dressage. This way, your horse can actually teach you.
  • Ride the horse before you purchase it and have your vet check it out first.
  • Ask the seller lots of questions and double-check their background.
  • Bring someone along who is experienced with horses.

These points are just a rough guide of some considerations you should make before buying your first horse. First and foremost should always be research, research, research!

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Conclusion

When you’ve decided to take the big step of bringing a horse into your life, remember that it is all about your own needs and the horse’s temperament. Of course, you might have a specific color in mind, but personality is by far the most critical factor. Finding the right horse who will guide you as much as you will guide it will be the perfect horse for you.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay