Best Horse Breeds For Riding: Smooth & Beginner Friendly

Best Horse Breeds for a Beginner Rider

How do you know which breed of horse is right for you? Perhaps you are a beginner and are looking for the right horse to learn to ride on. Or perhaps you are looking for a trail horse and would like a smooth ride. Which is the right breed for you?

What are the best horse breeds for riding? There are a number of naturally gaited horses that will give you a smooth riding experience, and there are also a number of breeds that tend to be beginner-friendly. A few of these horse breeds can do both – both the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and the Missouri Fox Trotter are naturally gaited and tend to have gentle dispositions which make them solid choices for a smooth, beginner-friendly ride.

The good news is that any horse has the potential to be a trustworthy ride; however, there are certain breeds that are known for this characteristic Read on to learn more about the breeds best for a smooth ride and breeds that are best for beginners. 

Best Horse Breeds For Beginner Riders

If you’re new to riding or looking to purchase a horse for someone new to riding, it’s important to choose one with the experience and temperament needed to help the rider advance and feel safe. Here are a few popular horse breeds for beginner riders:

American Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse is the most popular horse breed in the United States. What makes them a good choice for beginners is their gentle and calm disposition. Quarter Horses are an easy-going breed, and they are eager to please. Quarter Horses are also good for a number of disciplines, both English and Western, and are versatile and athletic.


Another popular choice for beginners is the Morgan horse. Morgans, another versatile breed, are known to be especially gentle and eager to please. They are attentive and social, and are generally forgiving of new riders. They are also known to be easy to train and tend to follow commands quickly from the more experienced riders. Though the Morgan is not known as a gaited breed, it is estimated that around 20% of Morgan horses are naturally gaited. 

Missouri Fox Trotter

Horse Breeds in the USA

Missouri Fox Trotters are often calm, friendly, and relaxed. These personality traits make them an excellent choice for a beginner rider, in addition to their naturally smooth gait.

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is another horse that has a famously gentle disposition, coupled with a smooth, natural gait.

Norwegian Fjord 

The Norwegian Fjord is known for being particularly relaxed, and not easily spooked. They are attentive to their riders and adjust their “go” to the rider’s energy. Norwegian Fjords are usually pony-sized and stocky, making them great for an adult beginner.

Best Horse Breeds For A Smooth Ride

Below is a list of smooth-riding horse breeds; all of them are naturally gaited. This means that the horse will have at least one foot on the ground at all times. For riders who have suffered from pain or injury or riders who are looking to do long endurance rides, invested in a gaited horse can ensure that your ride is a comfortable one. (To learn more about gaited horses, check out my article What is a Gaited Horse? Everything You Need to Know) Here is a list of the best horse breeds for a smooth ride:

Paso Fino

The Paso Fino famously has one of the smoothest gaits in the equestrian world. It is graceful and athletic, sure-footed and smooth. “Paso Fino” in Spanish literally means “delicate passage”. These horses are often on the smaller size, most of them are ponies under 14.2 hh. 

Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for its four-beat running walk and is another graceful, smooth choice for riding. Coupled with its friendly disposition, this horse is a favorite among those looking for a smooth-riding horse. The Tennessee Walking Horse was bred by farmers looking for a horse to ride for long stretches of time without becoming tired and achy in the saddle.

Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is one of the breeds that is both excellent as a smooth-riding horse and also beginner-friendly. This horse is stable and smooth, making riding almost effortless. It is said that a rider can appear almost completely still while cantering a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.

Missouri Fox Trotter

Another beginner-friendly breed for smooth riding is the Missouri Fox Trotter. This horse was bred for its endurance, its smooth gait, and its friendly easy-going disposition.

American Saddlebred

The American Saddlebred is a horse that is often used in parades because of its flashy, smooth gait. This horse is said to be spirited, but also gentle, which can be the best of both worlds for an intermediate or above rider.

Choosing a Beginner-Friendly Horse

You will find spooky and high-energy horses within the “calmer” breeds, and you will find gentle and easy-going individuals within the “hot” breeds. Horses are individuals, and while they can be bred for specific traits, you still must take into account the individual personality of the horse over its breed. Now that this disclaimer is out of the way, let’s discuss some of the traits that you should look for in a beginner-friendly horse.

A Horse’s Personality

As a beginner, you will not want a horse that is high-strung or easily spooked. You want a horse that is confident, calm, and easy-going. Until you are more experienced, it is natural to tense up in the saddle when faced with uncertainties or new situations. As a rider, you gain confidence as you gain experience. For this reason, it is most important to look for a horse that is forgiving, gentle, and calm. A horse can feel the smallest of movements in your muscles  – your horse will often feel you tense up before you even realize you are nervous. You will need a horse that will be patient when you are uncertain and will give you grace when you give inconsistent cues.

A Horse’s Age

Just as a rider will gain confidence with experience, so will the horse. Inexperienced horses can be insecure, and insecure horses can easily get worked up. As a beginner yourself, you will want a horse that is “seasoned” – has been through a variety of situations and has carried a variety of riders. For this reason, it’s better to look for an older horse. Horses require years of experience before being considered seasoned, and most horses do not even begin under-saddle training until they are around three years of age. A good age to aim for as a beginner is a horse that is in its teenage years.

Of course, this will also come down to the individual horse and what its life has been like as well. If a 1o-year-old horse was not started under saddle until just last year, that horse may not be a good choice. Likewise, you will not want a 15-year-old Mustang that was feral until she was 12. 

A Horse’s Gender

There are many opinions about the personalities of horses by gender. One solid rule, however, is to avoid a stallion if you are a beginner rider. Stallions can be assertive and even aggressive, driven by their need to breed. Many experienced riders recommend geldings (castrated males) for beginner riders, as they are generally more easy-going and gentle. There are plenty of good mares as well, however, they can be a bit ornery, particularly when in heat. 

More Things to Consider About the Best Horse Breeds For Riding

A Note About Paints And Thoroughbreds

American Paint Horses and Thoroughbreds are two other popular horse breeds in the United States. While Paints are easy-going and good for beginner riders, they are also famous for being spooky as well. Thoroughbreds are bred to race, and an off-the-track Thoroughbred is not a good choice for a beginner because they are trained to take off at a trigger warning. However, a Thoroughbred that has never been raced might be a great choice for a beginner. While these horses did not make the list of beginner-friendly horses, there are many wonderfully calm Paints and gentle, easy-going Thoroughbreds.

What About Drafts?

Draft horses are known for being slow, calm, and gentle. This is typical for the draft breeds, and for this reason, they are worth a mention. Draft horses are some of the gentlest breeds out there. However their size can be intimidating for some beginner riders, and their upkeep can be more challenging – for example, in some regions it is difficult to find a farrier willing to work with drafts because of the size and weight of their feet. 

Want to learn more about draft horses? Check out my article Top 8 Biggest Horses & Horse Breeds (With Pictures.)

Individuals Over Breed

While these breed recommendations are generalized, it is always best to look at the individual horse itself. You may just find a spirited, stubborn Morgan or a gentle, relaxed off-the-track Thoroughbred. 


Trail riding is a fun riding pastime for both experienced and novice riders alike. To learn the best horse breeds for trail riding, visit my article Trail Riding Horse Breeds: Top Horse Breeds For Trail Riding.


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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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