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Quarter Horse vs Thoroughbred: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

Oliver Jones

August 2, 2021

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds have long been considered two of the best racing horses, but they are suitable for different racing environments. On the one hand, Quarter Horses are ideal for jumping and short races. On the other hand, Thoroughbreds excel in long distance racing.

Despite their similar uses, Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are very different and appeal to different people. For example, Quarter Horses are very mellow and loving, making them great for beginners or people with children. The same cannot be said for Thoroughbreds, which are high spirited and unruly. Thoroughbreds require experienced trainers who know how to train such a spirited breed.

The personality is not the only difference between these breeds, though. To find out more about Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, keep reading. In this guide, we give you an overview of both breeds and help you determine which one is right for you.

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Visual Differences

quarter vs thoroughbred
Image Credit: Left: Quarter Horse (Source: SusanneEdele, Pixabay) | Right: Thoroughbred Horse (Source: rihaij, Pixabay)

At a Glance

Quarter Horse
  • Average height (adult): 56 – 64 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 1200 pounds
  • Lifespan: 25 – 35 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, kind, eager to please
Thoroughbred
  • Average height (adult): 62 – 68 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 1000 – 1200 pounds
  • Lifespan: 25 – 28 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: No
  • Other pet-friendly: No
  • Trainability: Intelligent, stubborn, often unruly

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Quarter Horse Overview

The Quarter Horse has been a popular American horse breed for short distance racing. Because of this, they are often known for quarter mile races, which is where they get their name. Dating back to the 1600s, the Quarter Horse is a cross between a Spanish horse and an English horse.

It is believed that the English horse used to breed the Quarter Horse was a Thoroughbred, making the two breeds possibly related.

American Quarter horse_Shutterstock_jacotakepics
Image Credit: jacotakepics, Shutterstock

Appearance

In terms of appearance, a Quarter Horse is a medium to large size horse. It is typically 56 to 64 inches tall and weighs 1200 pounds on average. The overall build is muscular, with a short head and broad chest. This muscle allows for Quarter Horses to excel on the race track.

As for their coat, they can come in a variety of hair colors. For example, Quarter Horses are known to have roan, chestnut, black, and brown coats, but there are quite a few more colors they can possibly have. All of the coats will be solid colored, but they will have white marks on their face and knees.

Personality

A Quarter Horse is tough to beat in terms of its personality. Their personalities are typically mellow and calm, and they are open to many new surroundings and owners. Although they may take some time to settle, they are rarely aggressive and are difficult to trigger.

Additionally, they tend to be very loving and affectionate to their owners. This is a great benefit if you are looking to own a horse for more than just racing purposes. You will certainly have a friend in a Quarter Horse.

Training

Because of how mellow Quarter Horses are, they are considered easy to train. In fact, this is a great starting horse if you are a beginner at horse training. Still, this horse is a great choice for experts as well because of their strength, intelligence, and superiority in short distance racing.

Health & Care

Generally speaking, Quarter Horses are a healthy breed, but respiratory issues can be a concern for the breed, especially raced individuals. If you get the proper vaccinations early in their life, as well as exercise them properly, you should be able to avoid most respiratory issues.

Another common issue of Quarter Horses is dental infections. They can also experience dental overgrowth, swelling, fractures, and a variety of other oral issues. Watching your horse’s eating habit can notify you of an oral issue.

American Quarter Horse
Image Credit: evelynbelgium, Wikimedia Commons

Other than some preventative measures, Quarter Horses are known to be easy keepers in terms of health and care. Give them a good pasture or good quality hay, and they should thrive and be happy with minimal maintenance.

History

The Quarter Horse is one of the oldest American breeds. It originated around the 1660s when Spanish horses were crossed with English horses, which arrived in Virginia around 1610. The horse breed became raced frequently by the late 17th century. Today, it is still bred for short distance racing and other professional uses.

Suitable for:

Because of their mellow demeanor yet intelligent trainability, Quarter Horses are suitable for just about any horse owner. Beginners will find this to be a great horse to start out with, but experts can still use Quarter Horses for racing or enjoyment.

This breed is especially great if your home has children. Quarter Horses are rarely aggressive, meaning that they are less likely to bite children than other breeds. All around, this is a great breed that is suitable for just about anyone.

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Thoroughbred Overview

Thoroughbreds are one of the most popular horses used in horse racing. Dating back to 17th century Britain, this horse has long been selectively bred so that it can beautifully demonstrate strength, stamina, and speed. Though this certainly is a beautiful horse, it isn’t suitable for everyone.

thoroughbred
Image Credit: serkan-ankara, Pixabay

Appearance

Thoroughbreds typically range between 60 inches and 68 inches in height, but most are 64 inches, or 16 hands tall. They should weigh between 1,000 pounds and 1,200 pounds. Its body is incredibly athletic, making it perfect for long distance racing.

Much like a Quarter Horse, Thoroughbreds can come in just about every color. The most common include bay, black, brown, chestnut, or gray. Normally, any horse with multiple colors or coat patterns is not considered a Thoroughbred. However, white facial or leg markings are suitable.

Personality

On top of their athletic body, Thoroughbred horses are known to have really feisty personalities. In fact, they are typically considered hot blooded horses, meaning that they are bold, intelligent, and spirited. It takes a knowledgeable and special equestrian trainer to master this breed.

If you want to get along with a Thoroughbred, you need to have confidence and experience to know how to channel its energy and excitement. Otherwise, your horse will likely feel like an overwhelming and impossible burden.

Training

Because of Thoroughbreds’ feisty personality, they can be tough to train. You need a lot of experience and confidence to be able to master this breed. That is not because the horse is unintelligent. On the contrary, Thoroughbred horses are incredibly intelligent. With the right trainer, they can pick up instructions and cues incredibly quickly.

For this fact, you should not try to train a Thoroughbred unless you have the experience and competence to do so. Beginners will be very hard pressed to successfully train a Thoroughbred horse, especially for racing purposes.

Thoroughbred Mare & Foal
Image Credit: Just chaos, Wikimedia Commons

Health & Care

Since Thoroughbreds are typically used for a racing purposes, they experience high rates of health problems. This includes Constipation, bleeding lungs, heart issues, small hooves, and low fertility. This is in addition to respiratory and oral ailments described above.

If you use a Thoroughbred for leisure riding or enjoyment, they typically do not experience these severe health issues, but they can still become overweight or bored. Since these horses are used to high physical demands, you need to exercise them regularly to keep them healthy and in shape.

History

The history of Thoroughbreds can date back to the 3rd century. Through many years of selective breeding, the first General Studbook was created for the breed, known as Royal Mares at the time, under James I and Charles I. Since then, the breed has traveled all around the world, becoming one of the favorite breeds for American horse racing.

Suitable for:

Given this horse’s unruly and wild spirit, Thoroughbreds are suitable for equestrians with experience. Beginners will find this horse incredibly overwhelming and difficult to train. This could be dangerous for both the horse and the rider. Only select a Thoroughbred if you have the proper training.

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Quarter Horse vs Thoroughbred: A Comparison

Now that we’ve looked at each horse individually, let’s compare them to one another to get a better understanding of how the horses differ.

England Thoroughbred horses
Image Credit: PJ-photography, Shutterstock

Appearance

Both the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred are incredibly similar. Amateurs may find it difficult to see the difference between these two breeds simply by looking at them. They both have somewhat compact bodies that are incredibly muscular and single-colored coats. If you are interested in one horse purely because of its appearance, you will likely enjoy the appearance of the other.

Personality

The personality is largely where the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred differ. Thoroughbreds are really feisty and unruly, whereas Quarter Horses are mellow and loving. The personality should largely determine if the Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred is right for you.

If you have no experience with horses or have children, the Quarter Horse is definitely the best option. In comparison, Thoroughbreds are ideal for professionals who want a horse for racing purposes. You can also have a Quarter Horse for professional purposes, with the exception of long distance running.

Training

Interestingly, Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds seem to interpret instructions the same way. As a result, they tend to respond to training in the same manner. Despite the similarity in how they interpret training, Thoroughbreds are more difficult to train simply because of their unruly nature.

Exercising

Another way that Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds differ is in their exercising. Although both horses are very athletic, Thoroughbreds need more exercising and activities than Quarter Horses. Quarter Horses do really well grazing in pastures. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, may need more stimulation and exercise.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

Both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred horse breeds are incredibly gorgeous, athletic, and favorites among the horse community. Still, the horses are fairly different, despite the possibility of a shared lineage and various similarities.

Quarter Horses tend to be very mellow and kind while still being eager to please, hardworking, and athletic. This makes the breed ideal for just about any owner. Someone looking for a short distance racing horse will be just as pleased with the Quarter Horse as someone looking to surprise their children with a pet horse.

Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, are fairly spirited, energetic, and unruly. Although they dominate the industry of horse racing, they are not the ideal horse breed for families, small children, or beginners with minimal experience in horse training.

With that in mind, Quarter Horses are right for just about anyone, except long distance racers. If you want a horse for long distance racing, select a Thoroughbred and make sure to get an educated trainer. For any other needs, the Quarter Horse will likely be the more manageable and enjoyable horse of the two.

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.