How To Tell What Breed Your Horse Is (Step-By-Step Guide)

What Breed Is Your Horse?

While most horses in the United States are of mixed breeds, it is natural to be curious about the specific breed(s) that your horse originated from. Knowing the breed of your horse will not only satisfy your curiosity, but will also enable you to research the personality, history, and even health issues that may face that particular breed. So how can you tell what breed your horse is?

How do you tell what breed your horse is? Your horse will give you several clues as to their bloodline – including their coloring and markings, their build, size, and even their gait. You can use these clues to make an educated guess about the breed of your horse. You can also pay to have a genetic test performed on your horse, which will give you a quick and more scientific answer to your question.

Understanding what to look for in your horse’s conformation, markings, and unique traits can make it easy to guess what breed your horse is. To learn more, keep reading!

How To Determine Your Horse’s Breed

Read on to learn more information about different characteristics that may help you determine what breed your horse belongs to. You can narrow your findings down further by researching your suspected breed’s organization online for more specific information on these characteristics.

Horse’s Coloring And Markings

Most breeds will have horses that vary among the color spectrum – for example from cremello to chestnut, to grey, to black. But some horse breeds have specific colorings and markings that differentiate them from other breeds. For example, both the American Paint Horse and the Appaloosa have distinct color patterns that will separate them from other horses. Most horse colors are found in a variety of breeds, so aside from a few distinct exceptions, looking at a horse’s colorings and markings will not always give you an accurate depiction of what their breed is.

One common coat coloring that many horse breeds have is the color bay. To learn more about this coloring, check out my article What Is a Bay Horse? Pictures & Fun Facts.

Horse’s Size And Body Shape

Another clue as to what breed your horse might be is your horse’s size and body conformation. A horse that is 14.2 hands or smaller, for example, will be among the pony breeds. A large, heavy horse is likely among one of the draft breeds. Aside from size, there are also differences in body shapes. Some breeds such as the American Quarter Horse will have a shorter, more compact body – this helps them to easily and quickly maneuver on the ranch and in the show ring. Racing breeds, such as the Thoroughbred and Standardbred, will be taller and leggier, allowing for the long strides they need on the racetrack. 

Horse’s Gait

The way a horse rides will depend largely on its training. Riders train their horses to be collected and to ride with modified or exaggerated gaits. However, there are unique gaits among some breeds as well. The Thoroughbred tends to have a low gait – meaning they do not lift their feet any higher than necessary. The American Saddle Horse, on the other hand, has a higher gait, which is mainly used for show. Some horses are also known as gaited horses, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse. This means they are able to move their legs individually, keeping one foot on the ground at all times. 

There are gaited horse breeds where each member of the breed will move in this certain manner. Watching how your horse moves will help you limit down whether your horse comes from a gaited or no-gaited breed. To learn more about gaited horses, check out my article What Is a Gaited Horse? Everything You Need to Know.

Other Unique Horse Characteristics

There are a number of other physical characteristics that will give you an idea of what breed of horse you have. For example, if your horse has feathering (or long hair) around the fetlocks (above the feet) you can safely assume he has some draft horse in him. Another characteristic is the way some breeds carry themselves. For example, if your horse regularly carries her tail high, she may have some Arabian in her.

Genetic Testing To Determine Your Horse’s Breed

Another option for determining what breed your horse could be is professional genetic testing. Some organizations, such as Texas A&M University, offer DNA testing for horses. For around $50, you can send in a sample of 30 – 50 strands of your horse’s hair to the university. The university will then run your horse’s sample against the genetic sequence of the 50 most popular horse breeds in the United States. Texas A&M will then tell you your horse’s breed with a high degree of accuracy, or if your horse is a combination of breeds, they will give you the top three breeds that your horse likely came from. 

Some breeds are unable to be tested for – for example, Texas A&M University will not test for the American Paint Horse and the Appaloosa – these registries are open and allow for cross-breeding. In addition, the Mustang is not tested for because of the complexity of the breed. 

Speaking of genetic testing – there is also genetic testing for various disease panels in horses and could be a good investment, especially if you know you have a breed that is more prone to specific diseases. Genetic testing is a simple, scientifically-based way of finding out where your horse originated from. Genetic testing can be relatively inexpensive as well.

Five Classes Of Horses

There are generally five recognized classes of horses: the draft horse, the light horse, the gaited horse, the warm-blooded horse, and the pony. If you can determine which class your horse belongs to, it will be easier to narrow down a specific breed (or breeds). Below is more information on each classification.

Draft Horse Breeds

Draft horses are strong and very large. They were bred to work on the farm and can pull loads of up to two times their weight (which is impressive, considering they are typically over 1,600 pounds). Draft horses tend to have a gentle, calm disposition. Examples of draft horse breeds include the Belgian, Percheron, Shire, and the infamous Clydesdale. There are also pony draft breeds, like the Norwegian Fjord and the Haflinger.

One popular draft breed is the Percheron. To learn more about Percherons and whether or not your horse may be one, check out my article What Is a Percheron Horse? Pictures & Fun Facts.

Light Horse Breeds

Light horses are horses that have been bred for speed, endurance, and riding. Light horses are smaller than drafts but otherwise vary in size. They tend to be high energy and are used to working under a saddle. Within the light horse classification, there are three sub-types – the stock type, the hunter type, and the saddle type. Stock-type light horse breeds tend to be stockier and are well suited to ranch work, such as the American Quarter Horse. Hunter-type light horses tend to be leaner and have longer legs, and saddle-type light horses often have higher knees and higher-tying necks.

Gaited Horse Breeds

Gaited horses were bred for a smooth ride and include the Missouri Foxtrotter, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the Icelandic Horse. In America, many of these breeds originated to provide farmers and ranchers with a comfortable ride all day. Gaited horses are a good choice for endurance riding because of their smooth gait – a rider can be in the saddle all day without feeling the soreness that comes with riding other breeds for a long period of time. 

Warm-Blooded Horse Breeds

Warm-blooded horses are typically tall, strong, and athletic. They are high-energy and graceful, allowing them to excel in sports such as jumping and dressage. They are calmer and gentler than their hot-blooded counterparts but are livelier and more energetic than the cold-blooded horses. Warm-blooded breeds include the Hanoverian and Holsteiner.

Pony Breeds

Ponies are smaller than other horses, measuring at 14.2 hands or shorter. Ponies are popular for pulling, riding, lessons, and various other recreational activities – particularly for children because of their smaller stature. Popular pony breeds include the Shetland Pony, Pony of the Americas, and the Welsh Pony. Many smaller adults prefer ponies due to their less intimidating size…I know I sure do!

How Likely Is It That You Have A Purebred Horse?

Determining what breed your horse is can become more complicated when you take into account the fact that your horse’s genetics may be made up of several different breeds. In the United States, it is estimated that only around 8% of the country’s horses are purebred. The rest are a mix of two or more horse breeds.

Popular Horse Breeds In The United States

The most popular horse breed in the United States is the American Quarter Horse. American Quarter Horses became popular on ranches due to their innate “cow sense”, the ability to work among the cattle. Coupled with their compact bodies and sprinting speed, they have become the number one choice for Western sports such as rodeos and barrel racing. The Quarter Horse also has a calm temperament and is eager to please, making it an excellent choice for beginners and pleasure riding.

Besides the American Quarter Horse, there are several other very popular horse breeds in the United States, including the Thoroughbred, American Paint Horse, Arabian, Belgian, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Missouri Fox Trotter. 

Want to learn about the history of horses in America? Check out my article Are Horses Native to North America? What the Evidence Says.

How Many Horse Breeds Are There?

There are at least 300 recognized horse breeds, but estimates reflect there may be as many as 600 recognized breeds around the world. Some breeds are more common in certain countries than in others, so one suggestion when attempting to determine your horse’s breed is to narrow down the most popular horse breeds in your area or region and go from there.

Breed Is Not Everything

It is fun and interesting to find out what breed your horse belongs to. But if you are unable to determine your horse’s breed, know that the breed of your horse is not the defining factor of who your horse is. Each horse is unique in his or her own personality, and when it comes to desirable traits in a horse, personality is number one! 


To learn about the most popular horse breeds in America, check out my article 15 Most Popular Horse Breeds In the US.

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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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