Horse racing is one of the oldest and longest-surviving forms of human recreation. Though this sport varies greatly across the world, the basic idea is always the same; be the first to cross the finish line by having the fastest horse.
The sport of horse racing is a big business. Famous horses and races have even had entire blockbuster films dedicated to them, such as Seabiscuit, Secretariat, or Hidalgo. These races can be short, intense, and incredibly fast, or they can be long, drawn-out endurance races that span hundreds of miles. No matter what type of racing gets your blood pumping, there’s a horse breed that’s perfectly suited for it. On this list, you’ll find 20 of the most popular horse breeds used across all types of races. Some are quite rare, others very common, but all of them have one thing in common: speed.
Types of Horse Racing
Horse racing is an incredibly broad category of sport. Many different types of racing take place all over the world. Some regions have their own specialty races. The following list is not exhaustive, though it does cover the most popular types of horse racing.
As the name suggests, flat racing takes place on a flat, level surface. This is the most common type of horse racing and is wildly popular. You’ve certainly heard of the biggest flat racing events, such as the Kentucky Derby, but any horse race on a flat surface with no hurdles or obstacles is considered a flat race.
Jump racing involves obstacles that the horse must jump over while completing the race. Outside of the US, jump racing is referred to as National Hunt. Common obstacles include ditches, fences, and more.
In endurance racing, speed isn’t the most important characteristic, though horses are still competing to make it through the finish line first. These races are very long and take quite a while to complete. The longest endurance race that’s currently held is the Mongol Derby, stretching an incredible 1,000 kilometers.
Harness racing isn’t nearly as popular as the three main types of racing we just covered. It’s a very specialized type of race where the horses aren’t competing for speed. Instead, they’re traveling at a specific trot or pace and must complete the race without breaking stride while pulling the rider behind them in a sulky, which is a small two-wheeled seat that the rider straps into.
Quarter Horse Racing
This type of racing is all about speed. It’s performed on short tracks of a quarter-mile or even less. They’re short races but can be quite exciting thanks to the extreme speed the horses exhibit.
A maiden is any horse that hasn’t won a race yet. Horses that are new to racing will compete in maiden races against other horses who haven’t managed a win yet. Once a maiden wins a race, they’re no longer considered a maiden and are able to compete in more serious events.
Stakes racing is only done with proven horses. The top jockeys and horses compete in these races. They’re usually flat races, and the top races such as the Kentucky Derby are all stakes racing. Stakes races have high stakes, which means there are serious prizes on the line. Graded stakes racing is racing where only horses of a particular grade may participate.
Related Read: Furlong In Horse Racing: What Is It, And Why Is It Used?
The 20 Most Popular Racehorse Breeds
As you can see, there are many different types of races for a horse to compete in. We’ve only covered the most common races, but more do exist. For a horse to compete in any race, they have to display certain talents, including strength, speed, and/or endurance. The following 20 breeds display the traits necessary to excel in racing of one type or another.
1. Akhal Teke Horse
Also known as “Golden Horses,” the Akhal Teke is an incredibly rare breed from Turkmenistan. In their home country, they’re the national emblem, and it’s easy to see why. Not only are these majestic creatures incredibly fast with excellent endurance, but they’re also a sight to behold as one of the most beautiful of all horse breeds.
2. Andalusian Horse
Incredibly strong horses, Andalusians are pure Spanish horses that are covered in muscle. They’re known for their intelligence and docile nature. Because they’re so calm, they’re often used in riding schools, though they also perform well in many racing events, as well as hunting, dressage, and various working tasks.
3. Appaloosa Horse
Appaloosas are instantly recognizable by the distinct spots that cover their bodies. They’re a gray color with white spots and faces. These horses are medium-sized and are quite popular in many events, including barrel racing, fox hunting, show jumping, reining, and roping.
4. Arabian Horse
Arabian horses are the top of the line when it comes to endurance races. Almost every horse that wins a major endurance race is Arabian or an Arabian mix. They’re rather compact horses that rarely stand over 15 hands in height, but their endurance is legendary.
5. Black Forest Horse
Gentle and smart, Black Forest Horses were first bred to use as draft horses. They’re rather small, sturdy horses with expansive gaits and muscled bodies. Today, they’re most commonly used for racing where they’re popular betting favorites.
6. French Trotter
Massive horses that can weigh more than 1,400 pounds, French Trotters were made by breeding Thoroughbreds with Norman Horses in the late 1800s. These horses are well-balanced and have a smooth gate. They’re most commonly used for racing, though they also do well in hunts and other equestrian sports.
7. Friesian Horse
Friesians are stunning horses with all black coats that shine in the sun. They have athletic bodies to match their elegance and they’re regularly used in sport, shows, competitions, and races.
Hackneys are a smaller breed that’s known for their high-stepping gait. They also have great stamina and speed thanks to their sleek bodies. They’re mostly used for harness racing, though they also make appearances in endurance events. But when it comes to pulling a carriage, this breed is considered one of the best.
Haflingers have a very distinct gait that sets them apart from other breeds. They’re pretty small horses, though that hasn’t stopped them from breaking into many different equestrian disciplines. While they’re great at draft work, they’re also suitable for endurance and harness racing.
Hanoverians are a warm-blooded horse breed that was first developed in 1735 A.D. They’re the most prominent warm-blooded breed in the world and are used for a variety of purposes including riding, pulling, and agriculture. In Germany, they’re also very popular for racing and competition.
11. American Miniature Horse
When you think of racing, miniature horses probably don’t come to mind. While a full-sized adult might not use such a horse for racing, they’re one of the most common breeds used for children’s racing, preparing kids to become jockeys when they get older. Additionally, American Miniature Horses are used in many competitions and horse shows, such as trial classes, showmanship, halter, and jumper to name just a few.
Developed in the United States by Justin Morgan, the Morgan horse was one of the first breeds created in the new world. In the American Civil War, Morgan horses were heavily employed by both sides. Today, they’re often used in both Western and English forms of racing, as well as endurance races.
13. Paint Horse
Often associated with Native Americans, Paint horses are striking creatures that excel in a variety of competitions. Paint horses are an official breed, though they’re also a color breed. As such, they are often confused with Pintos because they have the same coloration. However, a true Paint horse must be either a Thoroughbred or a Quarter Horse.
14. Paso Fino
Athletic horses with exceptional stamina and endurance, Paso Fino horses are growing in popularity very quickly. They have a smooth gait and are considered to be very trainable due to their above-average intelligence. While they’re not the fastest breed around, they’re quite quick and their stamina makes them exceptional at endurance racing.
15. Quarter Horse
Muscular horses commonly used for jumping and racing, Quarter Horses are the most popular breed in North America. They’re used most often as trail horses and recreational riders, but they’re incredibly fast, which is why they’re also popular racehorses, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.
16. Shetland Pony
Ponies are far smaller than horses. Shetland Ponies stand less than 10 hands in height. They’re considered to be one of the smartest breeds used for horse racing. Shetland Pony racing is a very popular sport that’s used to introduce kids to horse racing. These ponies can only be ridden by riders that are 16 years old and younger. Aside from racing, they’re mostly kept as pets.
When it comes to harness racing, Standardbred horses are the top choice. They’re also called Trotter Pacers and are commonly used in horse shows. They’re not the largest horses, weighing in at 800-1,000 pounds, though they’re quite muscular. More than just harness racers, Standardbreds are also used for hunting, shows, and jumping.
18. Tennessee Walker
Tennessee Walkers are gaited horses that are known for their impressive movement. Created in the United States, these horses were first bred to work on plantations and farms. They have such smooth gaits that they started to be used in races and various competitions. It’s also common to see them on the trail or in the winner’s circle of an equestrian show.
When most people think of a racehorse, at least in North America, a Thoroughbred is probably what they picture. These are tall, muscular horses that stand 15-17 hands tall and can weigh up to 1,400 pounds. They’re the most popular racing horse breed and excel in all sorts of racing events.
Horses are unique creatures. Some breeds are hot-blooded and others are cold-blooded. When you cross them together, you get the Warmblood horse, which was first built for draft work. They’re incredibly strong horses with excellent stamina, so they’re great for pulling wagons and carriages, though they’re also popular for use in many different races and horse events.
Horse racing is an incredibly popular pastime that has been around for thousands of years. Big races like the Kentucky Derby are known across the world. This event alone regularly brings in more than 100 million dollars in bets. But there are so many different types of horse races to compete in, including endurance racing, harness racing, barrel racing, and more. No breed is perfect for every type of race, though all 20 breeds on this list have what it takes to excel at one or more.
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