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The Equine Need for Speed: Fastest Horses Revealed

racehorses gallop along a dirt track
Written by Michelle Greene

What are the speediest steeds?

Horses are built for speed and endurance, but how fast can they really go? That depends on the individual horse, of course. Like people, some are more athletic and naturally quicker than others. But broadly speaking, there are some breeds that are speedier than others.

From thoroughbreds racing around a track to wild mustangs galloping across the plains, horses’ natural ability to run spans every breed and discipline.

Horse Running Facts

  • The fastest horse race in the world is the annual Kentucky Derby, which covers a distance of 1.25 miles and is completed in just over two minutes. The winning horse is awarded the prestigious “Garland of Roses,” which gave the race the nickname “Run for the Roses”
  • A thoroughbred can cover up to 20ft in one stride
  • Horses can’t breathe through their mouths
  • When a horse gallops, at one point all four feet are off the ground
paint horse galloping across pasture

Source: Canva

Horse Gaits and Their Speeds

To truly understand how fast a horse can go, you should have a basic knowledge of their gaits and average speeds.

The slowest gait. This is a four-beat gait, where each hoof hits the ground separately

The walk can reach speeds up to 4.3 mph


  • This is a two-beat gait, where diagonal leg pairs strike at the same time.
  • A slow trot is called a jog in the western world

The average speed is 8.3mph, but racing trotters have been clocked at 30mph!


  • This is a three-beat gait, which you can distinctly hear.
  • This is the most common ‘sound’ you hear in films
  • A slow canter is called a lope in the Western world

The average speed at the canter is 10-17mph

polo pony galloping on field

Source: Canva


  • This gait is similar to the canter but faster
  • In a gallop, the pair of legs that normally hits the ground as a diagonal pair now hit separately, creating a four-beat gait
  • Similar to the canter, the gallop also has right and left leads
  • At one point in a gallop, all four legs are not touching the ground
  • The gallop is the classic gait of the racehorse

The average speed of the gallop is 25-30mph

Horse Racing Types

Much like there are many breeds of horses, there are also many types of horse racing. From these different disciplines, selective breeding has created unique athletes suited for each sport.

Endurance Racing

These are distance races over trails that span anywhere from 50-150 miles. The terrain can be anything from flat land to mountains and streams. This is a very challenging style of racing that often takes place over 1-3 days.

Endurance racing may occur at the local level or as an international competition controlled by the FEI.


This can also be called a “chase” and is a track race with jump obstacles. This would be the type of racing you see in classic movies like National Velvet. Steeplechases are between 2.5-4 miles and may occur on turf (grass) or dirt. Jumps are made from brush.

Harness Racing

This type of race is specifically for trotting or pacing horses. It generally occurs on a dirt track. Horses pull a two-wheeled vehicle, called a sulky, which contains a driver.

two standardbred horses race pulling drivers on dirt track

Source: Canva

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a western event popular in rodeos where a rider and horse team race a clover-leaf pattern around barrels for the fastest time.

western rider galloping in arena

Source: Canva

Track Racing

The standard when it comes to horse racing. Horses gallop around a track for specific lengths. This type of racing owns the nickname “Sport of Kings.” Race distances can vary, from as short as a quarter mile (for Quarter Horses) to 1-2 mile races for Thoroughbreds on dirt tracks.

The longest race of the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes, at 1.5 miles.

thoroughbred horse racing on dirt at gallop

Source: Canva

Horse Racing Breeds


Breed Description: This breed was specifically developed for racing. Originating from England, the Thoroughbred was created by combining both English and Arabian stock. This breed is considered “hot-blooded.”

Though they are typically spirited, have a strong work ethic, and are very smart.

Type of Racing: Primarily bred for track racing, you can find Thoroughbreds in a variety of racing disciplines today. They are used for endurance racing, barrel racing, and steeplechasing.

Speeds: Average race speeds are 35-40 mph!


Breed Description: These uniquely American horses have a gait called a “Pace” which is similar to the trot, but with legs moving in a lateral pair instead of diagonally.

Standardbreds are people-oriented and usually easy to train.

Type of Racing: Harness

Speeds: 10-30mph

Quarter Horse

Breed Description: Another uniquely American horse, the Quarter Horse got its name from its ability to out run other breeds in races that are a quarter-mile distance or less.

Quarter horses are a mix of Arabian horses, Thoroughbreds, and Mustangs.

Type of Racing: Track, Barrel, Endurance

Speeds: Up to 55 mph in short bursts


Breed Description: Originating from the Arabian peninsula, this breed has distinguished features and tails with high carriage. Arabians actually have skeletal differences from other breeds of horses!

They have one less vertebrae and one fewer set of ribs, creating a shorter-backed appearance.

Arabians are particularly well-suited for Endurance racing.

arabian horse galloping over sand

Source: Canva

Type of Racing: Track, Barrel, Endurance

Speeds: Up to 40mph at a gallop

The Fastest Horses in the World

Horses have set many different types of world records! Here are just a few that relate to the racing world:

  • Fastest Horse: Winning Brew, a filly clocked at 43.7mph in a quarter mile
  • Fastest Horse in a Race: Secretariat, who set track records for the Preakness, Kentucky Derby, and Belmont Stakes when he won the Triple Crown in 1973
  • Fastest Endurance Horse: Jayhal Shazal completed at 100 mile race in 5 hours, 45 minutes and 44 seconds
  • Fastest Horse Over Fences: Mr. Frisk completed the Grand National in 8 minutes and 47.8 seconds
Famous Fast Horses Horse, Year
Fastest Horse in the World Winning Brew, May 2008
Fastest Horse in the Kentucky Derby Secretariat, 1973
Fastest Horse (Top Speed) A Long Goodbye, 2005
Fastest Endurance Horse Jayhal Shazal, 2010
Fastest Trotting Horse Homicide Hunter, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is the Mustang the fastest horse?

No, the Quarter Horse is the fastest horse in a timed race, with clocked speeds of 55 mph. However, this record is not recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, hence Winning Brew technically holds the title of fastest horse.

Mustangs are considered the fastest of free-roaming horses.

band of wild mustangs in arid mountainous terrain

Source: Canva

Q: Which is the fastest horse in the world?

Winning Brew holds the world record for the fastest horse in the world. She shattered Secretariats previous record by running 43.7 mph in a quarter mile.

Secretariat still holds the track records, however, for the total time to complete the three races of the Triple Crown.

Q: What are the fastest horses?

Some of the fastest horses include:

  • Secretariat
  • Man O’ War
  • Winning Brew
  • Citation
  • War Horse
  • American Pharaoh
Q: What is the fastest top-speed horse?

The fastest top speed was a Quarter Horse named A Long Goodbye, which was clocked at 55 mph for a short distance in 2005.

Q: What is the fastest horse breed mph?

Thoroughbreds are consistently the fastest horses over longer distances, as they average 35-40 mph.

Quarter horses are the fastest sprinting horses, reaching 50-55 mph over a quarter mile.

Q: Was Secretariat the fastest horse ever?

No, Secretariat was not the fastest horse ever, but he is considered the greatest racehorse of all time due to his numerous wins and remarkable speed.

Parting Thoughts

Now that you know more about the different types of racing and racing breeds, are you ready to go watch a race?

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About the author


I'm Michelle, an enthusiast who embarked on my equestrian journey at the age of 5 through Pony Club, weaving through training until high school. After a hiatus for school and family, I’ve joyfully rekindled my passion, now navigating the equestrian world through hunter/jumper riding.