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Friendly & Fun: 4 Best Horse Breeds for Beginners

best beginner horse breeds
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Written by Cathy H.

When it comes to picking the best horse breeds for new owners and riders, do your homework first.

Ready to take your love of horses to the next level? Owning a horse can be a ton of fun, but you need to choose a breed that will be safe and enjoyable whether your riding instructor is on-hand to help or not.

You also will make more progress with a horse who is willing to work hard, instead of trying to find ways to avoid putting in any effort. Horses that are ready to be a true partner build your confidence and skills, and they make excellent horses for beginners. In fact, some breeds were designed to have exactly this kind of hard-working, dependable, willing nature.

We’ll discuss four of the best horse breeds for beginners, including:

Disclaimer

: The breed attributes discussed in this article are generalizations. Some individual horses may not have the temperament suited for beginners. Look for a well-trained, calm, and experienced horse for a beginner, even if it’s not one of the breeds on our list.

Click to see this illustrated breed guide at Amazon

Thanks to Emily Harris for our feature photo!

New to horses? Learn how to ride step by step in our article about How to Ride Horses for Beginners.

Key Considerations

Beginner riders need reliable, predictable horses in order to gain confidence in the saddle. It takes time to develop balance, and a good beginner horse will go at a steady pace and focus on the job at hand.

They know they need to take care of their riders, and are understanding teachers when their riders make mistakes. They also respond willingly to aids, even if those aids are still a bit… sloppy.

If you’re a novice rider, do NOT try to train a horse on your own. You need a horse to teach you, not the other way around.

Horses that already have experience doing what you want to do – like experience teaching beginners – are excellent choices.

New to riding? Check out our 6 best horse bits for beginners.

Best Horse Breeds for Beginners

American Quarter Horse

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Quarter Horses are arguably the most popular breed for beginners.

The American Quarter Horse gets its name from being able to quickly sprint a quarter of a mile. These horses have accompanied Americans throughout the country’s history.

When you think of a cowboy’s trusty partner, you’re thinking of a Quarter Horse. They are athletic with a can-do attitude.

Stocky and muscular, Quarter Horses are a perfect size for both kids and adults. They are gentle and confident, known for taking care of their riders. It’s no wonder the Quarter Horse is one of the most popular horse breeds in the United States.

Photo Credit: Erin Brown

You might like riding a Quarter Horse if you:

  • Want to do it all. Versatility is the Quarter Horse’s middle name. They have the instincts for working cows and the athleticism to jump and do dressage. Want to try barrel racing? They can do that too.
  • Like unique colors. Quarter Horses have a diverse range of coat colors, from buckskin or palomino to sorrel or jet black.
  • Would enjoy being involved in a club. The American Quarter Horse Association has plenty of showing opportunities to network and earn points and prizes.
  • Like a hardy horse. Quarter Horses are typically “easy keepers,” which means you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg feeding them to keep them at a healthy weight.

Hold Your Horses: If you really have your heart set on a certain discipline, especially ranch riding or showmanship, be sure to look for a Quarter Horse bred for this type of activity. Not all Quarter horses have the appropriate instinct, conformation, etc. to be successful in every discipline.

Eager to Learn More? Visit the American Quarter Horse Association.

 

See which breeds also made our list of the 11 Best Breeds for First Time Horse Owners.

Paint Horse

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Paint Horses are notoriously athletic and calm.

Paints are smart, talented and athletic. The breed’s development was influenced by horses of Spanish descent, as well as Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds.

Paints have a stocky, short-legged body type and are traditionally used as working ranch horses.

That said, the willingness of Paints to please their riders, combined with their athleticism, makes them suitable for virtually any discipline.

You might like riding a Paint if you:

  • Like something different. There will never be two Paint horses who look exactly alike, and this definitely comes in handy when you want to stand out in the show ring.
  • Want a partner willing to try anything. Paint horses have the confidence and physical ability to try virtually any discipline. (They even race!) Whether you want to try working cattle or just go for trail rides, a Paint is ready for the adventure.
  • Need a horse you can trust. Paints tend to be quiet, dependable horses that you can trust to behave whether out on the open trail or in the show ring.
  • Want to find camaraderie. The American Paint Horse Association is the second-most popular breed association in America, second only to Quarter Horses. There are plenty of local APHA clubs to get involved in.

Hold Your Horses: Not all “painted” horses belong to the Paint breed. When other breeds are crossed with Paints to produce colorful varieties, they are known as Pintos. Pinto Arabians and Pinto Thoroughbreds are some examples of cross-breeding.

Also, the white areas on a Paint’s body are prone to sunburn. You’ll need to be sure to provide them with protection during the summer, or turn them out at night and bring them into the barn during the day.

Eager to Learn More? Visit the American Paint Horse Association.

Morgan

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Morgans are great horses for beginners because of their willing and sweet demeanor.

With its foundation stallion Figure born in the late 1700s in Massachusetts, the Morgan is described as America’s first breed.

These muscular yet refined horses gained popularity due to their courage, kindness, and calm attitude.

Morgans enjoy attention and are typically people-pleasers. As such, they make good beginner horses because they try to understand what their rider is asking, even if their rider isn’t a great communicator yet.

You might like riding a Morgan if you:

  • Want to try driving or Saddle Seat. Although versatile in their own right, the other horses on this list aren’t designed for driving and Saddle Seat arenas. A Morgan has the high-trotting action for Saddle Seat, as well as the disposition for driving. You’ll also see them in the hunter ring, dressage arena, in western pleasure classes, and even at gaming events.
  • Love luxurious manes and tails. Morgans can grow some incredibly long, drag-the-ground tails, and their manes can easily pass their shoulders. Although Morgans are frequently solid-colored horses, their high head carriage, perky ears, bright eyes, and long manes and tails make them strikingly eye-catching in their own right.
  • Want to form a bond with your horse. With enough time and effort, you can bond with almost any horse. But Morgans make it easy – they love to bond with the people who spend time with them and take care of them. If you want to walk into the barn and be greeted with a whinny, you’ll love a Morgan.

Hold Your Horses: If you want to show or focus on a particular discipline, don’t buy just any Morgan. Saddleseat Morgans need to have a forward and high-stepping action, while Morgans who show in reining should be able to move a little lower and slower. Look for a Morgan who has the natural talent or specific training you’re looking for.

Eager to Learn More? Visit the American Morgan Horse Association.

See which breeds also made our list of the 11 Best Breeds for First Time Horse Owners.

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Missouri Fox Trotter

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Missouri Fox Trotters can be a smooth and safe option for beginners.

Imagine it’s the mid-1800s, and you’re moving your family out west. You need a horse that can help you plow fields, work cattle, take the kids into town, and handle rocky terrain with sure-footedness. And ideally, all of this happens on a smooth horse whose gaits won’t leave you sore after hours in the saddle.

That’s exactly what people wanted during America’s period of westward expansion, and they found it all in the Missouri Fox Trotter.

This family-friendly and smooth horse has a can-do attitude and an easy-going disposition.

You might like riding a Missouri Fox Trotter if you:

  • Don’t want to bounce around. Trotting can be bouncy and takes an effort to ride, even on a slow horse. A Missouri Fox Trotter, on the other hand, does not have a traditional trotting gait. Their “Fox Trot” is much smoother to ride and feels like gliding.
  • Want to spend more time on the trail than in the arena. Although Missouri Fox Trotters can certainly be shown, they truly excel spending long hours on the trail.
  • Need a horse that friends and family can ride. Their kind and calm dispositions and sure-footed gaits make Missouri Fox Trotters ideal for all ages and skill levels.

Hold Your Horses: Missouri Fox Trotters are gaited, which means that if you hope to enter competitions where traditional trotting is required (such as hunter under saddle or dressage), you will have to enter special gaited classes, if available.

Eager to Learn More? Visit the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association.

Horse Breeds for Beginners Infographic

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Feel free to share on Pinterest, as well by hovering over it and clicking the Pinterest icon. #knowledgeishorsepower

Best Horse Breeds for Beginners

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What horse breeds are best for beginners?

Breeds developed for spending long hours on the trail, ranch, or field tend to have steady personalities. That’s why the Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, Morgan Horse, and Missouri Fox Trotter get our votes as great breeds for beginners.

Q: What breed of horse has the smoothest ride?

Gaited horses move a little differently than non-gaited horses, and this makes them very smooth even while going fast. Breeds such as the Spotted Saddle Horse, American Saddlebred, and Tennessee Walking Horse are gaited.

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Q: What is the best horse breed for a kid?

Although breed is a factor, when it comes to finding a kid-friendly horse, the horse’s individual temperament is far more important. Look for patient and forgiving older horses from the breeds on our list above.

Q: Where can I find a horse temperament scale?

In sales ads, 0 indicates that a horse is not likely to startle at anything (“bombproof” is another term for this). On the other hand, a 10 refers to a horse who likely quakes in his hooves when he sees his own shadow. Beginners should look for horses who rank 2 or below.

You can learn more about horse temperament scales here.

Q: What are the best riding horse breeds?

This depends a lot on the type of riding you want to do. If you just want to enjoy the countryside without putting too much effort into your ride, a gaited horse like a Tennessee Walking Horse is perfect. If you want to learn how to jump or do dressage, consider a Thoroughbred.

If you want to try ranch riding, a Quarter Horse is one of the best horse breeds for beginners.

Q: What is the friendliest horse breed?

Some breeds are known for being very nosy and inquisitive, like Appaloosas. Others, like Quarter Horses and Paints, are known for their calm demeanors. Learn more about the calmest horse breeds here.

Q: What is the calmest horse breeds?

Whether looking to purchase a horse, researching lease options, or choosing a lesson horse, many people wonder what the calmest horse breeds are. Check out Keep Calm & Ride On: Meet the 3 Calmest Horse Breeds.

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Q: What is the easiest horse to ride?

Some breeds are broadly known for their friendliness and suitability for beginners, such as the Quarter Horse mentioned in this spotlight. However, breeding alone isn’t a guarantee of ride-ability, and each horse is an individual. 

Your best bet is to speak with the horse’s owner, a trusted trainer, or find a barn with trusty lesson horses. 

Breed aside, all horses become easier to ride as you gain more knowledge and experience. Luckily, you’re never too old to learn!

Q: What is the best breed of horse for first-time owners?

Remember, no two horses are the same. Even within a breed, there can be significant variety in personality, training, physique, and health. As you begin your search for your first horse, engage an experienced trainer, rider, or vet to help ensure you ask the right questions and find the best match for you.

Read Say Yes to the Horse: 11 Best Breeds for First Time Horse Owners to learn more.

Q: What is the best horse breed in the world?

The one that you love, of course!

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About the author

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Cathy H.

The only thing I love more than blogging about horses is hanging out with my Appoloosa gelding Chacos. (I also have a soft spot in my heart for OTTBs, thanks to my first childhood horse!) Chacos and I enjoy training across multiple English and Western disciplines. #varietyisthespiceoflife