How Many Horse Breeds Are There?

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How Many Horse Breeds Are ThereJust how many horse breeds are there?! So many! There are several horse breeds in existence, and only a relatively few are well-known. In this article, we’ll discuss horse breeds, the origins, the breed types, and some of the famous ones, amongst other details. Know other fun facts or details about horse breeds? Share in the comment section below.

Origin Of Domesticated Horses

According to some studies, the modern domestic horse ancestor most likely originated about 160,000 years ago. The scientists also believe that they were domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes around 6,000 years ago.

In another recent study, modern horses were found to have originated from two different horse lines; the Turkoman horse (now extinct) and the Arabian Horse. Through trade, warfare, gifting, and even theft, they later spread around the world. And soon, they were selectively bred for specific desirable characteristics required to meet the demands of work and leisure. These characteristics include speed, stamina, strength, and appearance.

Main Types Of Horse Breeds

There are four main horse types; light horses, heavy horses, ponies, and wild horses. The wild horses are also known as the feral horses.

Heavy horses

Heavy horses, just like the name suggests, are heavy/thick in size, structure/build. Their backs are generally broader than most, and they are also physically strong. Because of their build (physical strength and short thick legs), they are commonly used for pulling carts, plowing fields, and other heavy labor.

Their choppy movement and short steps are additional features that endear them to many horse lovers. And while they may be very suitable for work, they can also be shown at horse shows.

Light horses

Like their name implies, light horses are lightweight and thus better suited for riding. These types of horses have longer legs, more linear and angular bodies, unlike heavy horses.

Their movement is also effortless due to the longer torsos. Their knees also hardly ever bend when they walk. Compared to the heavy horse, the saddles sit on this horse type easily, making the rides more comfortable.

The horse also has “true” and “false” ribs; another reason saddles fit perfectly on them. The first eight ribs, known as the “true ribs,” allow the saddles rest right behind the trapezius muscle on the neck. The last ten, referred to as the “false ribs,” are somewhat rounded instead of flat.


Ponies are easily recognized by their small structure. It is also not uncommon for others to confuse them with Miniature horse breeds – a heavy horse breed or believe that they are foals/baby horses.

Compared to the other types, ponies have thicker tails and coats. Their necks are also shorter and stockier. And even when fully grown, they look small, hence their popularity among children horse lovers. However, adults can also ride ponies as, despite their small build, they can carry the weight on their back.

Ponies are also popular for their characteristic stubborn but friendly and intelligent nature, and this is another reason they are considered some of the best horse types for young riders.

Feral horses

Aka, wild horses, feral horses live in the wild. Unlike the other types above, they are not domesticated. However, they are also not savage, and just like the other horse types, are lovable and even friendly. Even though these horses live in the wild, they have been domesticated in the past. They were either released by their owners, strayed into the wild, or escaped. Over time, these horses reproduced and survived in the wild and are referred to as a herd or a mob.

Number Of Horse Breeds

Now, to the main question; how many total horse breeds are there? There is no agreement on the total number of horses, and no one can accurately tell you that.  According to an Oklahoma State University’s The Breeds of Livestock Project, there are 217 horse breeds in the world. On Wikipedia, the total number of horse breeds is placed at 358, with ponies being around 81.

The Encyclopedia of the Horse by Elwyn Hartley Jones lists over 150 different types of horse breeds. The reason for the variation in total figures may not be unconnected with the fact that new breeds are regularly added to registries and because of differences/confusion in regional names and pronunciation.

Most Famous Horse Breeds

While we do not know the exact number of horse breeds existing today, there are several famous horse breeds loved and commonly used by equestrians. We’ll list some of the popular horses that exist today here. They range from ponies, ferals, heavyweights, and lightweights

  • Lipizzaner
  • Thoroughbred
  • Andalusian
  • Clydesdale
  • Miniature horse
  • Cleveland bays
  • Hackney horses
  • Belgian
  • Percheron
  • American Standardbred
  • Arabian Horse
  • Shetland pony
  • Welsh pony

How To Determine A Horse Breed

If you are unsure of your horse’s origin/parentage, there are specific ways to determine it. However, keep in mind that some of these methods are educated guesses. You also have to be already familiar with the body types to be sure or at least close to the actual origins.

Saddle horses

Horses in this category include the American Saddlebred and the Morgan. These types often carry their necks, head, and tails in an upright position giving them a particularly alert and animated appearance.

The American Saddlebred, on the other hand, is usually more fine-boned and larger than the Morgan. They are also gaited. Saddlebreds usually will perform the rack and slow gait in addition to the walk, trot, and canter.

Draft horses

These horse types are easy to identify due to their large size/bulk. For better riding experience and sports, they are crossed with lighter breeds for the strong bones of the working horse and the swift, athletic abilities of the lighter breed/hunter horse. One common sign that a horse has draft blood is the massive feathering on the legs.

Gaited horses

As the name suggests, these horses may easily be identified by their movement. Instead of trotting like most other types, they perform a smooth, running walk. Other breeds in this category may pace, tolt, or any other gait particular to a specific breed.

Tattoos and brands

One of the easiest ways to identify a horse is by checking for tattoos and freezebrand. The tattoo is usually on the upper lip, while the freezebrand is located on the neck or other “brandable” parts of the body.

You may notice a lip tattoo on thoroughbreds with racing histories. This tattoo usually consists of a letter and five numbers. On racing quarterhorses, you may notice similar tattoos. Freezebrand consisting of a mix of letters and numbers may also be found on thoroughbreds born after 1995.

It must be added here that the absence of a tattoo does not imply that the horse isn’t thoroughbred. Not all thoroughbreds make it to the race tracks/simply weren’t bred for racing.

DNA Testing

DNA testing will provide you with vital information about your horse and ensure that the horse really has the parentage claimed. It is also helpful for determining if the particular horse might be prone to some hereditary health issues.

What Is The Most Famous Horse Breed?

Many equine enthusiasts and experts agree that the American Quarter Horse is the most famous horse breed. The horse can be used by all levels of riders thanks to their athleticism and agility. They are also commonly used in competitions due to their appearance.


The exact number of horse breeds may never be truly known. What we do know however is that modern horses likely originated from two breed types and have since been selectively-bred multiple times for some of their best features.  Here, we discussed some of the common horse breeds and some ways to determine the breed of the horse and, of course, the origin of the modern-day domestic horses. We hope you found this article helpful. If you did, share with others who may also find it as beneficial as you did.