What’s the Average Speed of a Horse?
Before there were cars, there were horses. Before there were race cars, there were racehorses! Galloping on a horse can cause just as much of an adrenaline rush as speeding away on a motorcycle. Many people are surprised to learn just how fast horses can travel.
How fast can a horse run? The average horse gallops at a speed of 27 miles per hour, while the average high-level racehorse gallops at approximately 37 miles per hour. While these statistics are impressive on their own, the fastest speed a horse has ever been clocked at was 55 miles per hour.
To learn more about just how fast you can go on a horse, keep reading!
How Fast is the Average Horse?
There is quite a significant difference in speed between the average gallop and the gallop of a Kentucky Derby contender. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the difference in speed between your own sprint, and the sprint of Usain Bolt. Secretariat ran his famous Kentucky Derby race at 38 miles per hour. The average horse gallops at a speed of 27 miles per hour Coincidentally, this is also the record-setting speed of the aforementioned Mr. Bolt.
The average speed of a canter is 10-17 miles per hour. Considering how fast a 17-mph canter can feel in the saddle, a 27-mph gallop is no slow saunter around the arena. A trot, which is the horse’s preferred gait to cover any measurable distance, ranges from 8-12 miles per hour. A horse’s walk is approximately 4 mph, only one mile per hour faster than we humans generally walk.
How Fast is the Gallop of a Racehorse?
There are many kinds of horse races, but the most well-known are the Thoroughbred races. These are the most widely publicized races in the United States and many other countries, and they also bring in the greatest financial earnings when compared to other types of horse racing industries.
The average Thoroughbred racehorse runs 37 miles per hour, which is a whole 10 miles per hour faster than the average horse of another breed. It takes approximately twenty seconds for a Thoroughbred to reach this top speed. While it is widely believed that Secretariat was the fastest racehorse in history, he does not actually have the fastest recorded race time; that record actually belongs to a filly.
According to the Guinness World Records, a Thoroughbred filly named Winning Brew registered the fastest speed of any racehorse, galloping over a quarter-mile distance at 43.97 miles per hour. Her record-setting sprint was accomplished at the Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania in 2008. You likely have not heard her name because, though she had a great day in Grantville in 2008, the rest of her racing career did not amount to much.
Winning Brew’s recorded time of 44 miles per hour was even more impressive when considering that on average, stallions are approximately 30% faster than mares. Winning Brew isn’t the only female horse to have achieved success on the racetrack. Black Caviar, a Thoroughbred mare from Australia, consistently made headlines in the years 2011-2013 for her speed, running the 1,000-meter race in a mere 55.42 seconds.
Black Caviar is particularly newsworthy because of her unbeaten record – she won ALL 25 of her starts. She is now retired from racing and working as a very pampered broodmare.
How Fast Was Secretariat?
The reason that the famous Thoroughbred Secretariat is widely known as the “fastest horse” is because he broke records for speed in all three of the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. He 37.7 miles per hour over the three races in 1973. Even more impressive, all three of these records are still unbroken, 60 years later. While some speed records seem to be a one-off, Secretariat was consistently a record-breaker, which is why many consider him to be the king of speed.
What is the Fastest Horse Speed Ever Recorded?
The previous exceptional record-setters would lead many to believe that the Thoroughbred is the fastest horse breed in the world. The truth is that Thoroughbreds are one of the fastest horse breeds; they completely dominate the racetracks because of their high level of endurance at fast speeds.
There is one breed that can out-sprint a Thoroughbred, and that is the humble Quarter Horse. The breed got its name for its speed; specifically, its ability to outrun any other horse at a quarter-mile race. It is the powerful hindquarters that propel the Quarter Horse forward at near-immediate speeds.
The fastest time ever recorded for a horse was 55 miles per hour. This speed was accomplished in 2005 by a 5-year-old Quarter Horse named A Long Goodbye. The incredible speed was recorded during a 440-yard, or quarter-mile, race at Sunland Park’s MBNA America New Mexico Challenge Championship.
55 miles per hour is a lot faster than Winning Brew’s 44 miles per hour, so why aren’t A Long Goodbye’s statistics in the Guinness Book of World Records? Unfortunately, this horse’s record does not come without controversy. There are some who say that the record is not legitimate due to the 17-mph tailwind that naturally helped the Quarter Horse along. While a tailwind is certainly an advantage, I can’t help but wonder if there’s never been a tailwind at the Kentucky Derby or any of the other big races. But then again, I’m not an expert in racing statistics or meteorology.
History’s Fastest Horses
Winning Brew, Black Caviar, and A Long Goodbye are not the only horses known for their speed. There are countless other record-breakers in the equine world, most of them Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses.
Another Sunland Park racer, Quarter Horse gelding Kendall Jackson set undisputed records in 2002 for both the 400-yard and the 440-yard races. He ran the 440-yard race in 20.733 seconds, which equates to a speed of 43.41 miles per hour – just shy of Winning Brew’s world record. He ran the 400-yard race in 19.073 seconds, a record that was broken in 2004 by a Quarter Horse named Mongoose Jet Eye.
Hawkster was a 3-year-old Thoroughbred who set the world record for a 1.5-mile race on turf in 1989. He ran the race in 2 minutes and 22 seconds, which equates to 38.03 miles per hour. This speed is all the more impressive considering the longer distance. Generally, the further the distance, the lower the average speed. A 1.5-mile race is typically the longest distance a Thoroughbred will race.
How Fast Do Horses Travel in Endurance Races?
While 1.5 miles or shorter is the standard for Thoroughbreds, there are other breeds that thrive in endurance races. There are several 100-mile races around the world, and the fastest time recorded for a race of that distance was 5.88 hours at the Dubai Crown Prince Endurance Cup. It was an 11-year-old Arabian gelding named Jayhal Shazal that ran at an average 17-mph speed over these 100 miles. This is not surprising, as Arabians are known to shine in endurance.
You don’t need to travel to Dubai to attend an endurance race. The Tevis Cup, one of the most well-known 100-mile endurance races, is held in Northern California every year. The fastest time a horse has run the Tevis Cup was 10.75 hours. While this is significantly slower than Jayhal Shazal, the Tevis Cup terrain is vastly different – the 100-mile trail ranges between a low elevation of less than 1,000 to a high of almost 9,000. It includes 17,000 feet of ascent and over 20,000 feet of descent. It would be impossible to maintain a speed of 17 miles per hour over this type of terrain.
Speed: Horses vs. Other Mammals
There is no doubt that horses make the top of the list in terms of speed and endurance when looking at statistics for mammals as a whole. But how do the numbers stack up? When it comes to raw speed, the horse tails only the cheetah and the American antelope. When it comes to endurance, horses rank just a bit lower and actually come in just after humans.
That’s right – we humans are one of the greatest endurance runners on the planet due to our unique ability to cool our bodies while exerting energy by sweating. If horses shared this same ability, I don’t think anything could stop them!
If you’re interested in owning one of the fastest horse breeds in the world, check out my article How Much Does a Thoroughbred Cost? 2023 Pricing Guide.