Riding Tips

10 Best Horse Breeds for Trail Riding in Tranquility

best horse breeds for trail riding
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Written by Sanne Westera

Exploring Wide Open Spaces by Horseback

When picking out a trail riding horse, whether you’re starting your own trail riding company or want to buy your own trail riding horse, it’s very important for them to have a few key characteristics. Depending on what kind of riding you would like to do, these characteristics will have different degrees of importance.

Keep in mind whether you would like to go for very long steady rides on flat terrain, do you want to gallop often, or would you like to climb mountainous terrain with your horse.

The most important qualities in a trail horse are: level headedness, stamina, comfortable gaits, steady on their hooves, balance, speed, and strength.

Here are my top 10 horse breeds best suited for trail riding:

  • Haflingers
  • Criollo
  • Arabians
  • Irish cob
  • Thoroughbred
  • Friesian
  • Quarter horses
  • Icelandic horses
  • Boerperd
  • Mules
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Click to learn about more breeds at Amazon

Haflingers

Haflingers are draft horses that are perfect for many types of sports, like carriage driving, dressage, showjumping and, of course, trail riding. They are very level-headed and often bomb proof, but still have lots of energy which makes them fast and fun horses to ride.

This breed is strong and reliable, and perfect for both beginners and experienced riders.

There are different types of this breed. There is the old type of haflinger, built and bred to be a pack horse on the mountain, and there is the new/sport type which is built less heavy and perfect for dressage, but also for going a little faster on your trail rides.

hafflinger

Source: Canva

Criollo

The Criollo horse is a spirited and nice horse, they are fast and reliable and fairly level-headed. They are incredibly eager to work and love to go out and explore different types of terrain.

They are suitable for both beginners and experienced riders for trail rides, but also for different disciplines as they are a very versatile breed.

I rode a beautiful Criollo mare through very mountainous terrain in Switzerland, and she did it as if it were a piece of cake. They do have a lot of energy, but still are very easy to ride.

trail horse switzerland

Criollo mare: Chicca, in Switzerland.
Horse riding in Switzerland – Hooves Around the World

Arabians

These popular and beautiful horses have a reputation for being very hot and difficult to handle, while in reality they are very willing to work and have incredible endurance, stamina, and speed. Arabians are very smart and alert, but they are definitely not all spooky!

They pay close attention to their rider and environment.

For the adventurous trail rider that’s looking to cover lots of ground on rides, this is the perfect buddy as they are balanced, fast, and very powerful. If you are a beginning trail rider, however, these horses are not highly recommended due to their lively personalities. If you want to combine trail riding with other disciplines, Arabians are a good fit for you.

arabian horse

Source: Canva

Irish Cob

Irish Cobs are extremely relaxed and level-headed, and therefore they are absolutely for a beginning trail rider.

With their great strength, they are able to carry quite an amount of weight despite their small size.

There are different types of Cob horses, and some are also very suitable for other disciplines such as dressage and show jumping. They are very balanced on their feet and definitely bomb-proof, but they do often lack a little bit in the speed department though.

trail horse poland

Riding an Irish Cob through a fairytale forest in Poland.
Horse riding in Poland on Tinkers – Hooves Around the World

Thoroughbred

Ex-racehorses are actually ideal for trails, and not surprisingly, very fast. When a Thoroughbred off the track is properly re-trained by a professional, it will be the perfect trail horse, even for a beginner.

They are strong and reliable horses that are often bomb-proof after having trained and raced on the tracks.

This breed is very fast, but despite their desire to run, they are very level-headed, balanced and are willing to work with their rider!

trail horse zebra

Off the track thoroughbred: Ancounting. Not batting an eye while zebras run around her.

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Friesian

These super chill horses are quite often bomb-proof, reliable riding horses. They are also suited for dressage now that they are often crossed with other, lighter breeds such as Arabians.

Their gaits are comfortable, but for a beginner, their high and bouncy trots might be something to get used to.

They are perfect for trail rides on flat terrain, as they were bred and built for use in the Netherlands. They are usually not very fast and lack endurance, but due to their calm nature are perfect for a beginner.

fresian horse

Source: Canva

Quarter Horse

These horses are very popular in the United States, and are now also becoming more popular in Europe. This is because Quarter Horses are very fast, strong, and can perform in many different disciplines.

They are also very easy to ride due to their calm personality, and they are very level-headed.

This breed is absolutely perfect for a beginner trail rider, but also for someone more experienced or for a rider looking to combine trail riding with western or jumping!

quarter horse

Source: Canva

Icelandic Horse

Icelandic horses are a very special, unique breed, as they have not been crossed or bred with any other horses. The entirety of Iceland only has Icelandic horses and no other breeds are allowed on the island. They have lots of energy and are very balanced, and even though they are small, they are very strong.

The most important and special quality of this breed, however, is the ultimate comfort of their gaits.

An Icelandic horse has 5, instead of 3, gaits: walk, tolt, trot, (flying) pace, and canter. The flying pace is incredibly fast and there are many Icelandic horses that partake in races for flying pace. The tolt is very comfortable and therefore perfect for long distances.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you buy a horse out of Iceland, that horse is never allowed to return to the island.

icelandic horse

Source: Canva

Boerperd

My personal favorite horse breed for trail riding in the entire world is the Boerperd.

This breed was used in the war in South Africa and is one of the strongest and most balanced breeds there is.

They are often compared to mountain goats for the way they are able to climb up mountains and jump from rock to rock. They are a great fit for someone looking to explore mountainous terrain. They are fast, have lots of endurance, and are very energetic horses.

trail horse

My favourite boerperd: Shadow, riding through the wilds of Lesotho.
Horseriding in the Drakensberg – Hooves Around the World

Mules

Mules are often called the ultimate 4×4 as they can cross almost any type of terrain.

It’s absolutely insane what these animals can do.

They have incredible balance, are sure steady on their feet, and have lots of power. They are, however, a little bit stubborn and slightly harder to train than a horse, but once you do win over a mule, they are super willing to work.

Mules are not recommended for beginners due to their stubbornness, but are perfect for experienced riders looking for adventurous trail rides over all types of terrain.

mule

Source: Canva

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Happy Trails!

All in all, there is not one perfect horse breed for trail riding, as all breeds have their own special qualities and unique characteristics.

Different breeds are suitable for different types of riding, terrain, and riders.

trail riding book

Click to learn more about trail riding at Amazon

It’s important to find a horse that suits you best, and that can be any breed in the world. These 10 are the most popular and well-suited breeds in general, and crosses with these breeds also often result in great trail riding horses.

trail horse black

Have fun hitting the trails!

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About the author

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Sanne Westera

I'm a 22 year old travel fanatic, nature lover, and overall horse enthusiast. I’ve been riding ever since I was a kid and quickly became an avid dressage rider and went up all the national levels in the Netherlands with my previous horse Zappy. In 2015, I made a major switch, and have since been a horse trails guide in several countries in Europe and Africa. Read all about horse travel, working, and volunteering with horses on my website www.hoovesaroundtheworld.com.

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