What is the Calmest Horse Breed?
Whether you’re a beginner rider or an experienced equestrian, there are many reasons you may be on the lookout for a calm and friendly horse. And while any breed can produce a horse that fits this description, there are some breeds that tend toward these traits more naturally than others.
What are ten of the calmest and most friendly horse breeds? If you’re looking for a gentle, easy-going mount, you’d be wise to look at the following horses that have been bred through generations for their calm, docile temperaments:
- American Quarter Horse
- Norwegian Fjord
- Connemara Pony
- Tennessee Walking Horse
- Icelandic Horses
- Any Draft Breed
Some of these horses may be quite popular in your region, while others you may never have heard of, but all of them have unique traits that make them excellent horses for just about any rider.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #1: American Quarter Horse
The beauty of Quarter Horses is that they can do it all. Are you just learning how to ride and need a level-headed and forgiving horse? Advancing in your Western sport and needing a mount who has the speed and agility your discipline requires? Need an all-around dependable horse for your ranching operation? Looking for a classy horse for hunter classes or a brave horse for lower-level eventing? These are all very different situations, and yet a Quarter Horse can handle them all.
The Quarter Horse earned its name due to its uncanny ability to out-pace other horse breeds in the quarter-mile races. This is why they are used heavily in highly athletic Western sports like barrel racing and reining. And yet it would be a challenge to find a horse more easy-going than this one. Quarter Horses are heavily represented in lesson barns and on the trails because of their docile temperaments – they are easy-going, forgiving, calm, and aren’t generally spooky. Some of my favorite horses have been Quarter Horses because they’re happy to take a lazy ride when that’s what you are looking for but can muster up a serious burst of energy when it’s needed. This temperament is what has earned them the title of the most popular horse breed in the world.
Besides being calm and friendly, you can also buy quarter horses at very reasonable rates. To learn about the cheapest horse breeds in America, visit my article Cheap Horses: 10 Cheap Breeds & Where to Find Them.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #2: Gypsy Vanner
Gypsy Vanners are small draft horses with profuse manes and tails and feathering at the feet. They often have pinto markings and are known for their beauty. While there is no arguing their striking appearance, what I love most about them is their generally friendly and calm temperaments. Gypsy Vanners were bred by the Romani people to pull their caravans. These caravans were the Romani homes, and the horses lived in close proximity to their families. This reality led to the development of an exceptionally easy-going (and beautiful) horse that was not given to spooking or reactive behaviors, even with children running underfoot. The temperament of these horses has fortunately been preserved through generations, with the result being a breed that is known for its friendly and docile personality.
In the United States, Gypsy Vanners are high in demand but low in supply; this can cause them to be quite expensive. However; in other parts of the world, these horses are relatively affordable, also going by the name Gypsy Cob. These horses tend to be on the lazier side, which makes them an ideal mount for beginners. You can also consider Gypsy Vanners to be small draft horses, as they are built stocky and can be used for driving.
Gypsy Vanners aren’t the only horses with long manes and feathered feet! To get a list of the most popular feathered horse breeds, visit my article Top 10 Horse Breeds With Long Hair & Feathered Feet.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #3: Morgan
Morgans were one of the first breeds developed in the United States, and they have been working closely with humans from the beginning. Morgans are a versatile and strong breed, used for everything from ranch work to dressage. They are well-known for their willingness to work and high level of adaptability. Morgans are great horses for beginner, intermediate, and experienced riders alike. They can happily serve as therapy horses or as lesson horses or can just as easily spend all day on the range. Morgans are the epitome of a versatile horse and are friendly and eager to please.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #4: Appaloosa
Though some Appaloosas can be stubborn and impatient with beginners, the majority of them are friendly, loyal, and willing to go in whatever direction is asked of them. They are also strong horses with significant stamina, allowing them to excel in a variety of disciplines – particularly in Endurance and English eventing. Not every novice equestrian wants to poke around on a horse that has “more whoa than go,” and the Appaloosa can be a great fit for a rider who isn’t afraid to be challenged and yet still has a lot to learn.
Appaloosas also come in many shapes and sizes. Some Appaloosas are built more athletic and narrow like a Thoroughbred, while others are built stockier and thicker like a Quarter Horse. I also personally believe that Appaloosas are some of the smartest horses out there! They are highly intelligent and adaptable, which makes them a great riding partner!
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #5: Norwegian Fjord
The Norwegian Fjord is not as commonly found as the previous three horse breeds on this list, but if you can find one, you’ve likely got yourself a friendly, calm, and intelligent mount. Norwegian Fjords are known to be excellent beginner horses – they are very forgiving, very calm, and known for their gentle natures. Another benefit of the Fjord is their shorter stature – they generally mature to 13-14 hh but have a heavier build. This allows them to carry an average-sized adult without having the intimidating height of a taller horse.
Like the Gypsy Vanner, the Norwegian Fjord isn’t found as frequently in the United States, which causes their prices to be somewhat higher than your normal riding horse. One thing to note about Norwegian Fjords, and any smaller draft breed, is that these horses are known for being pushy on the ground. While with groundwork, this is easily corrected, if you plan on getting one of these breeds, you’ll want to have a firm foundation on how to set your boundaries with your horse.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #6: Connemara Pony
The Connemara Pony is another strong horse that only reaches between 13.2 and 15 hh. They were developed by Irish farmers who, rather than keeping multiple different breeds of horse for different tasks, wanted to develop a horse that could do it all on the farm. They succeeded in the Connemara. These “ponies” are friendly, intelligent, and hardy. They really can do it all – they are both agile and able to pull heavy loads. They are still used extensively on homesteads for plowing, ranching, and all-around riding.
Above all, Connemaras are great jumpers! If you want a horse that can take you safely and calmly around a jump course, then this is the horse for you!
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #7: Tennessee Walking Horse
You can often guess the temperament of a horse by noticing the disciplines in which they tend to dominate. The Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) is the top choice of many trail riders, and this is because of its dependable, calm, and docile nature. These horses are known to be friendly and obedient; they will follow your lead and will be happy doing so. They are also exceptionally smooth to ride and are overall a pleasure to work with.
This is the first gaited horse breed on my list. Gaited horses keep one foot on the ground at all times, making them extremely comfortable to ride. Another great thing about Tennessee Walkers is that they are popular throughout the United States and tend to be rather inexpensive to purchase and low maintenance to keep.
Tennessee Walkers can be found with many different colors and markings, even golden colors like palomino or champagne. To learn more about golden horse breeds, visit my article Golden Horse Breeds: 10 Horse Breeds With Gold Coats.
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #8: Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic Horse has the purest bloodlines in the world, and the country of Iceland is determined to keep it that way. The Icelandic Horse is the only breed of horse allowed in the country of Iceland, and when one of their horses is exported out, it is banned from returning. These extreme measures have succeeded in maintaining the purity of the breed and the traits that the horses are known for. Icelandic Horses are incredibly friendly and outgoing. These are the horses that will walk right up to the pasture gate to greet you. You can easily catch them, and they are happy to do what is asked of them. If you can find an Icelandic Horse, you will have found a gem of a horse.
These horses due tend to be on the smaller side but are strong enough to carry an adult male rider. While there aren’t many Icelandic Horses in the United States, they are becoming more popular and are relatively easy to ship over from Iceland. These are unique horses in that they have a gait known as the tölt, which is a smooth ground-covering four-beat gait.
On a trip to Iceland, I had the pleasure of riding my first Icelandic Horse. I immediately fell in love with the breed as we traipsed across the Icelandic landscape. It has become a dream of mine to one day import a horse from Iceland!
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #9: Haflinger
Haflingers, known for their flaxen manes and tails, are lovely horses suitable for beginners, children, and families. They are gentle and easy-going and aren’t easily spooked. Halfingers tend to be easy-going and forgiving and are eager to please. In fact, temperament is just as important as conformation with Haflinger breeders, and therefore horses who are particularly challenging are typically not bred. Similar in size to the Connemara Pony, they reach only 13.2-15 hh at maturity but have a stocky build, allowing them to comfortably carry an adult rider without the added difficulty of mounting and dismounting.
I had a Haflinger growing up, and I have always loved this breed. Depending on where you look, the Haflinger is probably the most reasonably-priced small draft breed you will find. When I was a kid, we got my Haflinger from a horse auction for $125. Mind you, he was underweight, sick, and unbroke, but once he was healthy, he ended up being easy to train and fun to ride!
Calm & Friendly Horse Breed #10: Draft Horse
Draft Horse breeds include the Belgian, the Clydesdale, the Shire, the Percheron, and others. Draft breeds are large, heavy horses, but they more than makeup for their intimidating size with their docile temperament. Draft horses are truly gentle giants; they aren’t generally moody, are easy-going, willing to work, and are very calm. You won’t have a lot of success on the racetrack with a draft horse, but while lacking in speed, you will be rewarded with a loyal, dependable, and gentle horse.
If you desire the temperament of a draft but need a horse that is a bit more athletic, many have had success crossing a draft with another breed of horse to develop a mount that is both agile and calm.
Any Horse Can Be Calm And Friendly
Just ask any experienced equestrian – exceptions abound when talking about horse breeds and their temperaments. You can find a calm and docile sport horse or a highly-spirited ranch horse. You may find a moody Shire or a lazy Thoroughbred. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a calm and friendly horse, the breeds on this list will be a great place for you to begin your search. Most of them have been around for hundreds of years, and all of them are known for their docile and outgoing temperaments.
Horses and humans have worked together for thousands of years; in fact, if it weren’t for horses, humans may not be where they are today! To learn about some famous horses in history, visit my article Horses in History: 15 Most Famous Horses.