Light Horses

Most of these breeds are fast, showy, or both; they are used for riding, racing, and driving. The light horse breeds are thought to derive ultimately from the Arabian and Barb bloodlines. Important breeds include:

American Saddle Horse, or Saddlebred,

a breed developed in Kentucky in the 1800's as a riding horse and once known as the Kentucky Saddler. Thoroughbred stock and some Standardbred and Morgan stock contributed to its bloodline. The American Saddle Horse has a small head, long neck, short back, and long, sloping pasterns. It carries itself proudly and has springy, comfortable gaits with high leg action. Chestnut, bay, brown, and black are preferred colors.

American Saddle Horses are bred as show horses, though most are eventually used outside the show ring as pleasure horses. Three-gaited Saddlebreds are shown with a clipped or roached (upright) mane and shortened tail. Five-gaited Saddlebreds are shown with full mane and tail. As fine harness horses, Saddlebreds are shown under harness, at a walk and trot; they are shown with full mane and tail.

Andalusian, or Andalusian Barb,

a breed developed in Spain, largely from Barb stock brought there by the Moors. The Andalusian has a convex or straight face; short, thick, sturdy legs; sloping hindquarters; and a low-set tail. Usual colors are gray, black, and bay. Andalusians have a proud bearing and were noted as parade horses in medieval Europe. They have contributed to the bloodlines of most important European breeds, including the Hackney and Lippizan, and to the bloodlines of the Criollo horses and mustangs of the Americas.


a breed developed by the Nez Percé Indians of the Palouse River basin in Washington and Idaho. Horses bearing the Appaloosa color pattern—white areas with dark spots, over some or all of the body—are depicted in prehistoric European art. The Nez Percés obtained horses with this coloring from Spanish stock about 1730. They bred them for strength and endurance, as well as for color, to create a distinctive horse suited for battle, races, and buffalo hunts. Their stock was scattered after their defeat by the U.S. Army in 1877, but in the 1930's breeders began trying to revive the breed.

Appaloosas have mottled black and white skin and vertically striped hooves. The color pattern is often that of a white spotted “blanket” over loin and hips. The body type usually resembles that of the Quarter Horse. Appaloosas are noted for their good dispositions. They are popular as stock horses, pleasure horses, and parade horses. They are sometimes raced in special Appaloosa races.

Arabian, or Arab,

generally considered the ancestor of most other light horse breeds. This breed was developed by the Bedouins of the Arabian deserts, who needed a fast, strong riding horse that could hold up over long distances, sometimes without food or water. The foundation stock was probably horses the Bedouins got from the Egyptians or Libyans. The breed character was established by the seventh century A.D. Arabians are small horses, usually 14 to 15 hands high, with very short backs. (They usually have one less lumbar [back] vertebra and one or two fewer tail vertebrae than horses of most other breeds.) They have delicate heads, dished (concave) at the forehead. The eyes are prominent and set far apart. Arabians are mainly bay, gray, or chestnut; the skin is always black.

Arabians are known for their beauty, gentleness, and endurance. They are used mainly as riding horses. They excel at long-distance racing and in endurance. Arabians have made great contributions to the bloodlines of modern breeds of light horses and are often used as breeding stock to produce superior horses of mixed breeding.

What Kind of Personality Might an Arabian Horse Have?

Most Arabian horses are loyal animals that strive to please the humans who care for them. Because Arabians were bred and raised in close contact with humans from earliest times, these horses have a great ability to bond with humans. Their affectionate nature makes them a good family horse.

Arabians also make great competitors in horse shows. They are known for their endurance, balance, agility, speed, and grace.

Just like horses of any other breed, each Arabian is different, with its own personality. You will find warm, mischievous, stand-offish, and affectionate Arabians. Some Arabians are easily startled, though others are not. Some have long attention spans, and others have short attention spans.

What Should You Look for When Choosing an Arabian Horse?

If you are buying a family horse, then the horse’s personality and its overall appearance will be important. Do you like the horse’s color, head, and expression? Do you feel an attraction to the horse? Does the horse have any bad habits?

Ask the owner or handler about the horse’s health, and ask an adult to carefully examine the horse. During this exam, that adult should be concerned if any pain, fear, anger, sluggishness, or unusual sleepiness is sensed in the horse.

Ask about the horse’s registration. Even if its registration is not important to you, it may be important to a future buyer should you decide to sell the horse.

Ask about the horse’s training history. See how the horse performs with the owner or handler, then “test ride” the horse yourself.


a hardy breed developed in northwestern Africa, a region once called Barbary. The Barb was imported into Spain in the ninth century, where it influenced development of the Andalusian breed and through it many of the other breeds of Europe and the Americas. The Barb has a long head, flat shoulders, and sloping rump. The tail is set low. Color may be bay, brown, chestnut, black, or gray.

Cleveland Bay,

developed as a strong coach horse, in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire, England. The modern Cleveland Bay is a large horse with a long neck, long body, and short, sturdy legs. It is always solid bay with black legs, mane, and tail. It is used as a riding and work horse.


a group of very similar breeds found in South American countries, developed largely from Andalusian horses brought to Argentina by the Spanish in the 1500's. The Criollo horses are said to be among the hardiest modern breeds. They have short, thick necks; short backs; and strong legs. The Criollo breeds of some areas—for instance, the Galiceño breed of Mexico—are pony-size. Criollos may be almost any color or pattern.


a breed developed in England in the 1700's from native trotters crossed with Thoroughbreds. Hackneys became popular in the United States as carriage horses in the 1890's. They are short-legged and heavy yet stylish, with naturally high leg action. Hackneys are usually chestnut, bay, or brown; some are roan or black. They are used in harness, mainly in horse shows, and are shown with docked (cut-short) tail and thinned mane. Hackneys are also bred in a small size as Hackney ponies, used for the same purposes.

Lippiran, or Uppizaner,

a breed developed from Arabian and Andalusian horses at a royal stud farm in Lippiza (or Lipitsa), near Trieste. The breed was founded in the 16th century by Emperor Maximilian II of Austria. Most Lippizans are black or gray when foaled and turn white when four to six years old or older; some Lippizans are bay, chestnut, or roan. Lippizans mature late but are very long-lived. Many are still active past 20. Lippizans have large heads, strong necks, and compact bodies.

At the Spanish Riding School established by Maximilian in Vienna, Lippizan stallions were trained to execute the complicated maneuvers known as dressage. They became noted throughout Europe as parade horses. The school still exists, and Lippizan stallions have given exhibition performances in many countries. In parts of Europe Lippizans are also used in harness for exhibitions, as saddle horses, and for farm work.


a breed of horses developed in Vermont, descended from the sire Justin Morgan (foaled about 1790). Justin Morgan, whose ancestors probably included Thoroughbreds, was a small dark bay with a short back, thick neck, thin straight legs, and a proud bearing. He was a fast trotter, stylish parade horse, and great sprinter. In addition, he could outpull any horse his weight (and many heavier). Because of their versatility, his descendants were in much demand among settlers of the early West. Morgans are also noted for their easy-going temperament, endurance, and hardiness. They are usually bay, brown, black, or chestnut. Morgans have influenced the bloodlines of such American breeds as the Standardbred, American Saddle Horse, and Tennessee Walking Horse.

Quarter Horse,

a breed developed as a short-distance race horse in colonial Virginia and the Carolinas and later, in the mid-1800's, in Texas. It is the leading breed of horse being bred in the United States. Quarter Horses were named for their speed over a quarter-mile (400-m) distance. The breed's main ancestors were probably Indian ponies and Criollos (descended from Andalusians and Barbs imported by the Spanish) and Thoroughbreds (imported by the English). Quarter Horses were developed in their modern form in the southwestern range country. Cattlemen there wanted a strong, quick-starting, easy-handling horse that could be used to work cattle but could also be raced.

The Quarter Horse has a short head, short back, short legs, and powerfully muscled body. It may be almost any color or pattern except pinto, Appaloosa, or albino. Quarter Horses are the main purebreds used as stock horses (“cow ponies”) and are also used for quarter-mile racing. They are popular pleasure horses.

Spanish Mustang,

a small group of horses considered the most direct descendants of those brought to America by the Spanish. .) Development of the breed began in Wyoming in the 1920's. These short, hardy horses may be of almost any color. They have short backs, with one less vertebra than horses of most other breeds, and a low-set tail.


a breed developed as a roadster (fast, light harness horse) in the eastern United States in the mid-1800's. Its ancestors were Thoroughbreds that were crossed with trotters and pacers descended from Hackneys, Morgans, and other breeds. The name derives from a former registration requirement that horses of this breed meet a performance standard—trotting one mile (1,600 m) in 2 minutes 30 seconds or pacing that distance in 2 minutes 25 seconds. (The world's record for both is less than 2 minutes.)

Standardbreds are smaller and more rugged than Thoroughbreds and have great stamina. They are usually bay, brown, chestnut, or black. They are used in harness races as either trotters or pacers (according to training and inborn inclination). In horse shows they are used as roadsters, meaning that they are driven at a trot only.

Tennessee Walking Horse,

a breed developed in Tennessee in the late 1800's from strains including the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan, and American Saddle Horse. Tennessee Walking Horses were bred for the stamina and easy gaits needed in an everyday riding horse by owners of large plantations. The running walk, a gliding gait in which the hind foot hits ahead of the track of the front foot, is characteristic. The horse's head bobs in rhythm as it walks. These horses are larger and more rugged than American Saddle Horses. They may be almost any color. They are used as show horses or pleasure horses.


a breed developed in England for racing in the late 1600's and early 1700's. Its main bloodlines are those of native mares, of Barb mares imported for the royal stable, and of three imported stallions. The imported stallions were the Byerly Turk, ancestor of Herod; the Darley Arabian, ancestor of Eclipse; and the Godolphin Barb (or Goldolphin Arabian), ancestor of Matchem. Herod, Eclipse, and Matchem are the breed's foundation sires; all Thoroughbreds trace their ancestry to one of these three horses.

Thoroughbreds have long, straight, muscular legs, a small head, and a long, narrow body. They typically have a nervous temperament. Colors are bay, brown, chestnut, black, and sometimes gray. The breed has been used to improve nearly all other modern breeds. Besides being raced, Thoroughbreds (or horses with predominantly Thoroughbred blood) are popular as breeding stock for stock horses, polo ponies, hunters, and jumpers.

Are Light Horses Grouped by Color?

Light horses are sometimes grouped according to color instead of by breed. Such groupings include palominos and albinos.

Breeders in the United States and Mexico developed the palomino line. Palominos have a golden coat and a light blond or silvery mane and tail. Most palominos have white only on the face and on the lower legs. Almost every breed except the thoroughbred has some horses with palomino coloring. A palomino mare and stallion often produce a foal of another color.

A true albino is an animal that, because of heredity, has no color in its eyes, hair, or skin. Its offspring also lack color. Some horse breeders, however, use the word albino to describe any horse with a white or pale-colored coat. But, these albino horses are not true albinos, as they all have some color that their offspring can inherit. One kind of horse called an albino has a pink skin, ivory coat, white mane, and blue eyes. Another kind has pink skin, a white coat, and brown eyes.