At this point in time, there are more than two hundred breeds of horses, which are categorized into four groups: ponies, warmbloods, hotbloods, and drafts. Contrary to popular belief, ponies are not “baby” horses, which are called foals, but are actually just small horses that stand no more than 14.2 hands high (each hand measures four inches in length). For example, if a Quarter Horse stands 14.1 hands high at full development, then the horse is considered a ‘Quarter Pony’ because it has not met the height requirement for the breed. Heigh is determined by the length of space from the ground to the withers, which is the small bump at the base of the neck. They are not measured to the top of their heads or the tips of their ears.
Unlike other animals, such as dogs, horses often look alike to the untrained eye. A laymen might look at a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred and see no difference; therefore, the characterizations of different breeds remain largely in very obscure details that must be examined closely.
I have listed most of the most popular breeds, divided into their specific categories.
As I said before, ponies never reachheights exceeding 14.2hh (57 inches), and are not “baby” horses, meaning that they are small their entire lives. Some ponies have been bred for their characteristics, such as the Hackney, while others are found naturally, like the Chincoteague.
Carpathian Pony – Standing no more than 54″ (13.5 hh), the Carpathian Pony is native to the Carpathian Mountains in Europe. It is unknown whether they originated in Poland or Romania, but they are certainly central to that region. Their coats are typically thick and course, with a broad chest and a “boxy” body shape. Historically, they have been used to pull carriages and sleds as well as pack animals for mountain people.
Chincoteague Pony – The animals that inspired the book Misty of Chincoteague, these ponies are some of the hardiest and strongest of all horses. How they arrived on the island of Assateague is not known, but they have run wild there for several centuries, and have remained populous despite the annual “pony penning” contest of that area. The breed is not pure because their lines have not been kept in tact in the wild. Some resemble the Mustang, while others bare the characteristics of Arabians or Welsh Cobbs. With long coats designed to weather harsh winters, they have a “cuddly” appearance and are some of the largest of all ponies.
Chincoteague Pony Association
Connmera Pony – Native to Western Ireland, the Connmera Pony is not physically proportionate, with short, stubby legs and a full, round barrel. They have amazing endurance, as they were acclimated to the craggy mountains of Ireland, and they make excellent jumping horses. They are typically “good eaters,” meaning that they do not require a special or even large diet to stay healthy.
Connmera Pony Association
Hackney Pony – Known for its lanky body and delicate legs, the Hackney Pony is famous for driving and saddleseat competition. They originated in Great Britain and are a breed created by man, breeding the famous Darley Arabian to a high-stepping Thoroughbred. They are known for finicky behavior and exaggerated movement, which makes them very flashy. They are the counterpart to the taller Hackney Horse.
Welsh Pony – The Welsh Pony was first found in the grassy valleys of Wales, and has since become one of the most popular breeds in the Americas. They are very small – not to exceed 12hh – and have stocky bodies with tiny heads. With wideset eyes and a bushy tail, they make great children’s ponies.
Welsh Pony & Cob Association of America
Shetland Pony – By far the cutest of the ponies, the Shetland is also the smallest, never reaching taller than 11hh, and often under 8hh. They make great children’s pets, and are also used as pack horses and carriage pullers. They are characterized by bushy tails, wild manes, and very distinct markings.
Shetland Pony Studbook Society
Full-size horses are categorized by both size and temperament. Warmbloods are at least 14.3hh, and have docile, gentle personalities, with a smaller riding challenge.
American Quarter Horse – Named aptly for their speed in the quarter-mile race, American Quarter Horses have become one of the most popular breeds in the world. They originated in North America, and were bred for their strength, power, and stocky bodies. They come in all colors, though most typically bay, black, and chestnut, and have sweet personalities. They typically range from 15hh to 16hh.
American Quarter Horse Association
American Mustang – Originally a wild breed found in Spain, the Mustang has been domesticated over several decades by hard-handed wranglers and cowboys. They are not skittish by nature, but difficult to tame because of an iron will that is singular to their breed. Typically in roan, bay, or dark brown colors, they stand just 15hh – 15.2hh and are extremely strong for their size. They have been used successfully in jumping, dressage, reining, and cutting.
American Mustang and Burro Association
American Saddlebred – These beautiful, delicate, high-stepping horses were brought to North America from the British Isles in the mid-1600’s. They are immediate descendants of the famed Galloway and Hobbie horses in Great Britain, and are extremely flashy movers. They are used today for driving and saddleseat competitions, which were designed for this specific breed. They are warmbloods, but some are flighty and even skittish, and they stand anywhere from 15hh to 17 hh.
American Saddlebred Horse Association
Andalusian – Originating in old Spain, the andalusian is a predominantly grey breed with beautiful heads and long, intricately defined legs. They are known for diversity and flexibility, and are used in all aspects of equine sporting events. Prominent characteristics include a long, flowing mane, an unusually long forelock (the whisps of hair that descend the forehead from between the ears) and a short back. They rarely reach heights exceeding 16.3 hands, and are quiet, unobtrusive animals.
International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association
Appaloosa – These horses are often mistaken for a color rather than a breed, but they were originally instated as the flashy alternative to the American Quarter Horse. Known for quiet but often mean-spririted personalities, Appaloosas are characterized by their unusual colors, which involve a base white coat with splotches of color all over the body. Some, like blanket appaloosas, only have the splotches on their hindquarters, while leopard appaloosas have them all over the coat.
International Colored Appaloosa Association
Azteca – One of the most beautiful horses to ever grace North America, the Azteca is native to Mexico, and was bread for durability and speed. These horses can go long distances without water and are usually taller than 16hh. They are one of the youngest breeds – developed in 1972 – but are fast becoming a very popular addition to American sport horses. They are usually black, grey, or bay, and have long legs with powerful hindquarters.
Azteca Horse Association
Dutch Warmblood – A modern breed, the Dutch Warmblood is one of the “sport horses,” as it was developed to participate in jumping, dressage, three-day eventing, and sometimes driving. They are very large – often 17hh to 18hh – and have thick bodies with powerful legs and haunches. They are known for sweet temperaments and laziness, for they are very difficult to “get going” at the beginning of a workout. Most Dutch Warmbloods are very selectively bred, and almost all are purebloods with traceable lineage.
Dutch Warmblood Studbook in America
Hanoverian – Originating in Germany, the Hanoverian is another sport horse bred for jumping and dressage, They are large with enormous capacities for endurance training and are almost always bay or chestnut. They are used in America for competition and pleasure, and are considered one of the more “refined” breeds of horse. In the 19th century, proper ladies kept them to show off to suitors.
American Hanoverian Society
Irish Draught – Despite its name, this horse is not a member of the draft family, and is not as feathered or large as it sounds. Typically standing between 15.2 and 16hh, the Irish Draught has its major history in war. Ancient literature and artifacts suggest that it is one of the oldest breeds of modern horse, and was bred for its endurance and stamina. Today, it is used primarily for jumping, and is typically either black or grey.
Lipizzan – Arguably one of the flashiest horses in existance, the Lipizzan has its origin in Spain, and was developed as a show horse for the royal family. They are extremely flexible, able to perform “airs above the ground” and other fancy dressage moves. It was derived from the beautiful Andalusian for Archduke Charles in the 1500s, and are used today for any number of purposes. They are always grey, born black at birth, and have very finely shaped heads with long, powerful legs.
Lipizzan Association of North America
Standardbred – Originating in the late 1700’s, Standardbreds were developed for the purpose of harness racing by the English. They have broad faces, long legs, and long backs perfect for pulling carts and carriages. It resembles the Thoroughbred, its hotblood counterpart, but is not as tall and has less fire.
US Trotting Association On-line
Arabians – Known for tempers, quick movements, and hot-headedness, Arabians were originally bred as endurance horses. They are small and slight – usually 14.2hh-15.2hh and less than a thousand pounds – but they are very strong. It is an ancient breed, tracing back before the Thorougbred, and characterized by high head carriage and lean bodies. They are found in all colors.
Arabian Horse Association
Thoroughbreds – This is one of the most popular breeds in the United States, and was bred for speed and agility. They are usually tall – always more than 16hh in height – and are wonderful jumpers and dressage horses. Their ancestry can be traced back to three famous sires – the Godolphin Arabian, the the Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk. Breeding is very selective, and most often based on famous race horses.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association
Also called “coldbloods,” draft horses are characterized not by their height, but by their breadth. They can be between 15hh and 19hh, and weigh in excess of 200 Ibs. Physical characteristics include “feathering” around the feet, thick manes and tails, and enormous hooves.
Clydesdale – Bred for weight and pulling capacity, the Clydesdale is a beautiful animal with a very gentle personality. They are usually creme-colored or bay, with heights of 16hh – 18hh.
Clydesdale Breeders’ Association
Percheron – Usually grey or black, the origins of the Percheron are not known. They have been used throughout history as harness and driving horses, with an unrivaled endurance and surprising speed for their size. They are shorter than the Clydesdale – 15hh – 16hh – and are characterized by muscular hindquarters and dish-shaped hooves.
Percheron Horse Association of America