Riding Tips

11 Best Horse Breeds for Jumping Big and Clear

bay horse jumping
Written by Shelby Dennis

Natural ability goes a long way

Jumping is an exciting and fun equestrian sport with numerous fence heights, course difficulties, and different disciplines. Riders of all levels can show their horses over fences, be it at local schooling shows or international FEI competitions.

The variety also allows for equestrians to choose whether they want to participate in events judged on speed, accuracy and time, or ones that focus more on flow of the course and correct technique.

Jumping sports demand athleticism and accuracy from both horse and rider, with difficulty rising with the fence height and course complexity. There are a number of horse breeds that are especially well suited to this sport. 

In this article, I discuss 11 of the best horse breeds for jumping: 

  • Thoroughbred
  • Trakehner
  • Hanoverian
  • Irish Sport Horse
  • Anglo-Arabian
  • Dutch Warmblood
  • Connemara
  • Oldenburg
  • Quarter Horse
  • Morgan
  • Draft Crosses

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the rider and what they are looking for in terms of competition goals, temperament, and budget. There are numerous online options for searching for horses via Facebook groups, business pages or horse sales websites. Many horses also are advertised via word of mouth so consulting with your trainer is also an excellent way to find the right horse for you.

New to the sport? Check out our 26-Page Horse Rookie’s Guide to Jumping.

What Makes a Good Jumping Horse in General?

Show jumping is a sport of accuracy and speed, requiring horses with the physical output to be able to jump several obstacles without knocking down any rails. In a “jump off,” horses must be especially maneuverable in tight turns and be able to adjust pace to clear fences with the least number of faults (i.e. errors).

Show jumping horses must be athletic and brave, adapting to new environments, such as horse shows, and willingly jumping what may be new and spooky looking fences. In jumping disciplines, unlike most western disciplines, a taller horse is typically preferred. Jumpers are most frequently around 16 hands high, however, this is not to say that smaller horses are not equally capable of being an excellent mount in the jumper ring.

Specifically, jumping horses should exhibit:

  • Agility: Jumpers must be able to adjust their pace quickly and avoid taking rails. This requires a horse who is light on its feet and careful to take extra care to jump clean, even when jumping out of bad distances, or towards scary looking fences.
  • Bravery: Jumpers see new courses every time they go to a show. You never know what to expect when it comes to jump wing standards or fillers under the fences. Courses may be built with the intent to trick the eye or spook the horse, causing them to stop. Successful jumpers must adapt to new situations well and bravely approach jumps even if they haven’t jumped anything like it before.
  • Good Form: A good jumper should have a solid jump form with a tidy, tucked front end that help them avoid hitting rails.
  • Surefootedness: A good jumper needs to be adjustable and well balanced in order to safely take tight turns or jump out of tight distances. They must be focused on their job and always ready for the next fence in order to avoid tripping or getting a poor approach to a fence.

Types of Jumping Horses

Show Jumpers

Show jumping is an extremely well known equestrian sport, attracting viewers even outside of the horse world. This is likely, in part, due to show jumping being one of the few equestrian events featured in the Olympics.

Show jumping is all about speed and accuracy.

Horse and rider pairs follow a typical format of jumping their first round, a full course of 10-12 fences, where they must go clear (no rails) without any time faults (going over the set time allowed) in order to participate in the exciting second round: the jump off.

bay show jumper

Source: Canva

A jump off is a speedier round than the first due to the time playing an essential role in securing your spot on the leaderboard. This round is where you will see quick thinking, tight turns, and teams walking the line between accuracy, without any jump faults, and speed needed to beat other teams.

Desirable Qualities:

  • Large, adjustable stride
  • Uphill build and movement
  • Ability to easily transfer weight and power onto the hind end

3-Day Eventers

Eventers must be versatile, as they compete in dressage, cross country, and show jumping–all within the same competition.

3-Day Eventers are arguably one of the bravest types of equestrians.

Dressage is about precision and harmony, and requires horses to have refined training skills to put together a beautiful test. Cross country is a test of bravery and fitness, featuring solid fences and long stretches where the horse gallops, and is judged via “optimum time.” This means that riders seek to get as close to the time as possible.

bay eventing horse

Source: Canva

Show jumping highlights a horse’s adjustability and accuracy to avoid taking down fences that easily collapse. What makes it more challenging, though is that the horses have already competed the first two events, meaning they must have the staying power to put in clear rounds even following strenuous exercise.

Desirable Qualities:

  • Bravery
  • Endurance
  • Speed

Hunter Jumpers

The hunter jumpers test horses and riders on their ability to put in rhythmic, elegant rounds. To be competitive in these classes, horses must have impeccable jumping form, beautiful movement, and a steady rhythm, while remaining careful and ensuring to leave fences up.

The horses must be mannerly and consistent throughout the course.

grey hunter jumper horse

Source: Canva

Desirable Qualities:

  • Square, snappy knees over fences.
  • Flat kneed movement, ground covering stride with suspension.
  • A natural cadence of gait and visually pleasing appearance.

New to the sport? Check out our 26-Page Horse Rookie’s Guide to Jumping.

Best Horse Breeds for Show Jumping

Thoroughbred

We will start off with one of the oldest and most reliable jumping mounts: the Thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds have more than earned their place as athletic, willing horses for sport horse disciplines.

These horses are extremely willing with a natural athleticism and typically have large, ground covering strides that lend themselves well to jumping. No wonder they have played a major role in the development of modern warmblood breeds. 

What you should know:

  • Highly sensitive horses, very in-tune to their environment, who prefer sensitive, quiet, and kind riders. Their sensitivity may have people label them as “hot,” but Thoroughbreds can be suited for any riding level provided the specific horse has been trained in accordance with the rider’s needs.
  • Many Thoroughbreds are retired racehorses who find new careers as jumpers, they are experienced with loud noises, and typically are not super spooky. They do require some retraining to be adjustable on the flat and to learn to jump. Plus they generally pick these things up quite fast.
  • Thoroughbreds are typically of a more slight build and finer boned due to being bred as runners. These features lend themselves well to the agility required for jumping, but may not be the preference of riders who prefer horses with more substance.

Learn more: The Jockey Club

Trakehner

Trakehners make up the oldest Warmblood registries and have stricter registry requirements that do not allow for as much variation in type and pedigree as some of the other registries. They are typically a lighter built Warmblood type, similar to Thoroughbreds due to the high amounts of Thoroughbred blood in their pedigrees.

They are brave, athletic, and careful jumpers who tend to have very pleasant and willing attitudes.

What you should know:

  • Since they have a lot of Thoroughbred blood, they will be lighter in type and bone than some of the other Warmblood breeds and are likely to be more sensitive.
  • They may be harder to find due to the breed losing many breeding stock during World War I, retaining only around 100 Trakehners. The registry was redeveloped in 1947 and there have been efforts to continue preserving this breed.

Learn more: American Trakehner Association

Hanoverian

Hanoverian is one of the oldest and largest breed registries for warmblood sport horses. These horses are a commonly seen breed in upper level show jumping up to the Olympic level. Like many other Warmblood registries, horses in this registry go through an inspection process to judge quality and allow the breed to continuously improve.

These horses are carefully bred for sport, and their price point generally reflects this intention.

What you should know:

  • Plan to spend more money if searching for this breed, due to the high costs and dedication of time associated with breeding, registering, and then training a show prospect, these horses are typically at a higher price point than other breeds who don’t undergo the same inspection process.
  • There are many Hanoverians available worldwide due to the sheer size of the registry, so it should not be a difficult breed to source and find.
  • Hanoverians are bred to be more sturdy with more bone than some other warmblood breeds.

Learn more: American Hanoverian Society

Best Horse Breeds for Cross Country

Irish Sport Horse

Irish Sport Horses are specially bred for sport and typically retain a lot of Thoroughbred blood close up in their pedigree due to being bred from Irish Draughts and Thoroughbreds.

They are fast and agile with good stamina, making them a good candidate for strenuous sports that require endurance and a large gallop stride.

What you should know:

  • A lot of people import these horses from Europe, so if you are in North America, you may need to be prepared with the high costs of importing horses or purchasing horses who have already been imported. There are breeders in North America, as well, though.
  • They are typically sensitive and more Thoroughbred-like in build and temperament.
  • These horses are versatile and typically very successful in a number of jumping disciplines, but are a very popular choice for eventing.

Learn more: Sport Horse Ireland

Thoroughbred (Again!)

Thoroughbreds are excellent choices for cross country due to their large gallop strides, speed, and ability to maintain endurance throughout long stretches of cantering or galloping. They also are very successful jumpers, so it is no surprise to see them as a viable option in a number of jumping disciplines.

The athleticism of the Thoroughbred is also a major influence in the breeding and development of all of the aforementioned Warmblood breeds.

What you should know:

  • For people who have riding or training experience to take on green horses, Thoroughbreds can be sourced very affordably directly off the racetrack so are a great choice for people with smaller budgets.
  • Even following training, Thoroughbreds typically fetch a lower price point than Warmblood breeds.

Learn more: The Jockey Club

Anglo-Arabian

This is an under-appreciated cross of the Arabian horse and the Thoroughbred. This breed is an excellent choice for cross country due to their natural endurance and athleticism. They are not as commonly seen as Thoroughbreds or Warmblood breeds, but still deserve a mention due to their versatility and innate talent for sport.

What you should know:

  • Highly sensitive horses who are typically naturally inquisitive
  • Both Arabians and Thoroughbreds are some of the oldest breeds, and majorly contribute to the creation of a lot of the horse breeds we know today.
  • Best suited to soft and patient riders due to being a hot blooded breed.

Learn more: AngloArabians.com

New to the sport? Check out our 26-Page Horse Rookie’s Guide to Jumping.

Best Horse Breeds for Hunter Jumpers

Dutch Warmblood

Another one of the larger registries for Warmblood sport horses, the Dutch Warmblood is frequently seen in the show rings for show jumping, dressage, and hunter/jumpers. They have more than proven their ability and natural style over fences, and for this reason are a popular choice for riders looking for a talented jumper.

What you should know:

  • Due to being specially bred and having higher costs associated with breeding fees and registration, they are more likely to fetch a higher price.
  • If you’re just looking to have fun at lower level shows, you absolutely don’t need to feel like you need to spend lots of money on a papered Warmblood breed, there are many suitable breeds out there that are still well suited to jumping disciplines.

Learn more: Royal Dutch Sport Horse

Connemara

The Connemara is a large pony breed that originated in Ireland. They are extremely athletic and brave with great temperaments. They are popular for show jumping, hunter/jumpers (particularly the pony classes) and have also frequently been crossed with large breeds such as the Thoroughbred for those looking for more size while retaining some of the fantastic qualities of the Connemara.

What you should know:

  • They are typically pony sized, meaning they are 14.2hh or under, so most suitable for juniors or smaller adults.
  • If you’re looking for something larger than a pony, you’re better off getting a Connemara cross so that you’re more likely to have increased height.
  • Connemaras are typically hardy horses with great feet.

Learn more: American Connemara Pony Society

Oldenburg

The Oldenburg is a type of Warmblood breed. Most Warmblood registries are fairly open ended, meaning that horses can be registered with several different registries. That’ why so many Warmblood breeds are closely related with high amounts of Thoroughbred blood due to Thoroughbred mares and stallions being allowed to have progeny added to the registry once approved.

They are selectively bred for mostly jumping and dressage disciplines, and are said to have very willing demeanours and high levels of athleticism.

What you should know:

  • Oldenburgs will likely be priced on the higher end of the market so are not suitable for all budgets due to the costs associated with the breeding of them (breeders must charge more to make money).
  • There may be a fair amount of variation in horses even within the registry due to some having more Thoroughbred blood than others along with parents approved by/registered with other Warmblood registries.
  • Specially bred Warmblood breeds have an innate understanding of the disciplines they were bred for and typically learn exceptionally quickly to do their jobs very well.

Learn more: Oldenburg Registry of North America

Best Jumping Horses for Beginners

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is the jack of all trades and truly one of the most versatile breeds. They are successful in a number of different disciplines, jumping being one of them and typically have excellent temperaments. Quarter Horses are bred in abundance in North America so are easy to find.

Appendix Quarter Horses (Thoroughbred crossed with QH) also are another good option if you’re looking for a larger horse with more sensitivity due to the influence of hot blood from the Thoroughbred.

What you should know:

  • Many Quarter Horses are bred for western disciplines and are conformationally bum high or “downhill” as this is useful in certain disciplines, but not in jumping, so try to find one that is built in a manner suited to jumping.
  • Contrary to the belief of some, many quarter horses possess the jumping talent to be piloted around some pretty sizable courses, so don’t write them off as a breed for jumping.
  • There are a great variety of breed crosses with the Quarter Horse that also make fantastic jumpers and are worth looking into.

Learn more: AQHA Registry

Morgan

Morgans are a highly intelligent and hardy breed that are extremely versatile. They typically have incredible temperaments, are brave and naturally athletic.

While they’re not as popularly seen in the jumping rings as some other breeds, these horses are talented enough to continue moving up the levels of jumping and a good choice for new riders due to their trainability and positive demeanor.

What you should know:

  • There are a number of breed crosses with Morgans that make phenomenal jumpers.
  • Morgans are a hardier horse with excellent hooves and conformation that lends itself well to remaining sound and healthy in a variety of different sports.
  • Morgans tend to be a bit on the smaller side, ranging from 14hh-15.2hh.

Learn more: American Morgan Horse Association

Draft Crosses

Some popular crosses seen in the jumper ring are often Thoroughbreds mixed with Clydesdales, Percherons, or Irish Draughts. This adds substance to the build of the horse and typically results in a calmer demeanour than that of a purebred Thoroughbred due to the influence of the “coldblood” draft breeds.

What you should know:

  • Many of these horses have a similar look to some Warmblood breeds, but are typically priced lower.
  • Draft crosses will tend to be larger ranging from 16 hands and above depending on which traits they retain from this type of cross.
  • Typically quite athletic over fences, but may have less stamina for galloping distance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Arabian horses make good jumpers?

Arabian horses are arguably the most versatile breed out there, doing everything from reining to saddleseat to endurance to jumping. They are the oldest horse breed and have been seen in just about every show ring out there. Due to their agility, stamina, and athleticism, they can make great jumpers.


Arabians are quite sensitive horses and may tend to be spookier than warmblood breeds, so there is a need to ensure they’re correctly introduced to jumping to avoid any spookiness or stopping at fences, but there are many successful Arabian jumpers, and even jumper classes within the Arabian breed circuit at the national level.

Can Mustang horses jump?

Mustangs as a breed have a fair amount of variety in type due to being feral horses. They are hardy horses who tend to be brave and athletic once gentled. Many mustangs go on to be successful jumpers, Elisa Wallace, an upper level event rider has shown this with many of the mustangs that she has worked with, and is a good example to watch for to assess the talent and potential of these horses.

Are some horses born to jump?

All horses are born with the innate ability to jump. Barring blindness or injury, all horses can learn how to jump, but not all horses will like jumping.

Over many years of careful breeding, some horses are bred specifically to become jumpers. Many will showcase this natural talent young, and often enjoy free jumping (jumping over a fence without a rider). Horses with the right athletic ability and disposition often become exceptional jumpers.

Regardless, sometimes a horse that is bred for jumping doesn’t like it or may lose interest as fence heights get higher. In this case, cross country (or another discipline entirely) may suit the horse better.

What is the difference between hunter and jumper horses?

Hunters and Jumpers are similar events with different requirements. In Hunters, a horse and rider team is judged on form and accuracy.

In Jumpers, it’s all about speed and minimizing faults. Jumpers typically end with jump-offs, with the winner having the fastest time (time penalties are added for faults).

Hunter horses are typically a bit larger and more elegant. They have lofty, slow canters, and a steady stride. Jumper horses can run the gamut in terms of size and confirmation as long as they are fast, accurate, and good at jumping tall jumps and mastering tricky combinations.


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Parting Thoughts

There are many breeds well suited to jumping disciplines that may not have been mentioned here, along with crosses of these aforementioned breeds being well suited to the sport as well. At the end of the day, what is most important to factor in is the actual ability and willingness of the horse along with their conformation and how well suited to jumping it is, in order to avoid any potential soundness issues.

Many people push the idea that Warmbloods are the must have horse for jumping, but they are not in a realistic budget for many riders. There are equally as talented breeds that don’t get highlighted as much in competition, such as the Thoroughbred.

Factor in your goals as a rider as well as your overall ability and confidence when searching for a horse and try to be open minded enough to consider a number of different breeds so you don’t potentially miss out on some great horses.

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Sources/References:

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About the author

Shelby Dennis

Shelby Dennis is a well known YouTube equestrian vlogger and horse trainer. She has over 17 years of experience with horses. From the Arabian circuit to hunter/jumper and exercising race horses, Shelby’s experience with different kinds of horses makes her a well-rounded horsewoman. Shelby attributes her history with horses to shaping the hardworking, patient and driven individual she is today.

Learn more at milestoneequestrian.com.