How many horse breeds are there?

-There are about 340 breeds of horses in the world today, each with its own distinct physical characteristics, history, and purpose for being. Some have existed for centuries while many have been developed within the past few decades. The development of new breeds is happening all the time as horse-riding becomes ever more popular and we learn better ways to breed horses suited to certain tasks or types of work. Horse breeds can be divided into five major groups: draft horses, ponies and small horses, saddle horses, show horses and miscellaneous categories such as working donkeys and zebras. Read about some interesting mainstays of human civilization by checking out these articles on draft horses, ponies, warmbloods, saddle horses and donkeys. And if you are interested in more about horse breeds, have a look at our articles on gaited horses, hot bloods, cold bloods.

-The exact count of different breeds of all types is somewhat difficult to establish since many countries have their own inventories of the best horses they have. A breed that may be unknown in one country may be considered an important heritage animal in another part of the world. For example, the Caspian horse has been extinct for over 50 years but is being revived by dedicated breeders who value this agile breed’s skills as a potential show jumper. In Iceland, there is a similar almost lost breed called the Fell Pony which has been brought back to life as well. So, breed inventories are constantly changing as horses are re-discovered or horses that were lost to history are resurrected.

Main Types of Horses

-Draft horses, ponies and small horses can be further categorized by their place of origin or purpose for being. Draft breeds come from a variety of different families but were developed first as working animals that could plow fields, haul equipment, and manure out stalls among other tasks.

-These large horses are still bred to do the same jobs today although they have been popularized as parade and show animals as well.

-Some draft breeds such as Clydesdale, Shire and Percheron are some of the biggest horses in the world with mature weights ranging from 2,000 lbs. to almost 3,000 lbs.

-Ponies meanwhile were bred to work on farms but also became children’s mounts because of their smaller size and gentle natures compared to larger horses. Today, ponies come in all shapes and sizes with the Shetland Pony being the world’s smallest breed.

-Saddle horses are developed mainly to be great riding animals although some breeds were also developed for show purposes. Today, the best saddle horses are bred to be agile, have a natural balance that allows them to position themselves correctly along the track during races as well as good manners that make them pleasant rides. Saddle horse breeds include Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Quarter Horses, Arabians and Morgan’s just to name a few of the most popular ones. The amount of knowledge required for developing these types of horses is extensive since breeders need to know which traits make certain horses excel at certain jobs or what type of breeding program will produce the best offspring.

-Show horses tend to fall into several different groups depending on what part of the world they are bred in. Horses used for western style riding shows all fall under one major breed registry called The American Quarter Horse Association which also registers performance events like cutting, reining and calf roping competitions. Other breeds like Morgan’s, Arabians, Saddlebreds, and thoroughbreds are popular for eastern style horse shows that require a more delicate frame, high action and a good deal of training in order to perform in these classes, known as hunters or jumpers in the U.S.

-An interesting group of horses being developed today are miniature donkeys that have been crossbred with Shetland Ponies. Donkey breeds are known for their long-ears and taller stature while pony breeds are smaller with shorter ears. The cross between the breeds has produced an animal that is significantly smaller than either parent but has the same willing natures as well as intelligence that makes both donkey and pony breeds so easy to train.

-There are also several crosses of horses with other animals which produce some unusual looking creatures including horses, zonkeys, leopard appaloosa, burros .

What Kind of Horse Should You Get?

-The answer to this question is going to depend upon your experience level, the amount of money you want to spend and what type of discipline or sport you are most interested in. If you have a lot of horse knowledge and a budget that will allow you to purchase a top-of-the-line animal, then there is no limit as to what kind of breed is best for you. However, if this information has been limited primarily to books and movies then it would be wise to start with an American Quarter Horse due to its versatility in most Western activities from trail riding, roping, cutting, and reining competitions while also being able to perform on some English style hunt seat tracks.

-The only drawback with this type of horse is that it does require more attention than some other breeds so if you feel you don’t have enough time to spend on the care and training of one then it would be best to purchase a breed that requires less upkeep. Ponies are a great choice because they can be very small and require less food, produce fewer hoof-wear problems thanks to their smaller stature and have a natural resistance to disease due to their hardiness.

-There are also some amazing breeds of horses that excel in only one discipline like the Arabian for endurance rides or racing, American Saddlebreds for show classes, Standardbreds for harness races or llamas which make great pack animals although they lack speed over ground. And if you would rather purchase an animal with no riding experience at all there are several donkey breeds on the market today that make wonderful children’s first mounts since they don’t tend to spook as easily as full grown horses do.


As you can see, there are several breeds of horses being bred for several different purposes all over the world which has allowed people to enjoy these animals in many ways. If one no longer wants to be limited by what he or she can do with a particular breed due to its size, temperament or ability then crossbreeding is an option that might provide another type of horse that would broaden your horizons while also meeting your needs and interests.

Lisa Thompson

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