Horse Care Tips

5 Hardy Horse Breeds with the Longest Lifespans

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Written by Susie W.

Wondering which horse breeds live the longest?

Many factors can impact a horse’s lifespan including breed, diet, genetics, and workload. Similar to dogs, smaller equine breeds tend to live longer than larger ones. Better veterinary care and nutrition have contributed to increasing the average life expectancy of a horse.

Typically, today’s domesticated horse lives an average of 25-30 years. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the longest-living horse breeds, including:

  • Arabians
  • Appaloosas
  • Icelandic Horses
  • Quarter Horses
  • Haflingers

Disclaimer: The breed attributes discussed in this article are generalizations. Some individual horses within these breeds may live longer or shorter than average.

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Arabians

Arabian horses typically live 25-30 years. While this is similar to the general horse population, there are documented instances of Arabian horses living well into their 40’s. The oldest living Arabian is a 46-year-old Polish Arabian mare named Magic.

The Arabian horse is one of the oldest breeds in the world, dating back 4,500 years. They can be found across the globe and are one of the top 10 most popular breeds in the world. These horses are known for their versatility and endurance. Arabians are typically quick to learn and high-spirited yet willing equine partners.

Arabians range from 14.1-15.1 hands high (hh) and have a dished face, short back, and high-set tail. Some Arabian horses have a different skeletal structure than your average horse—for example, Arabians may only have five lumbar vertebrae instead of the typical six, or 17 sets of ribs instead of 18.

You might like the Arabian if you:

  • Want a high-spirited horse: Arabians were used for raiding and war—as a result, they are alert, intelligent and high-spirited animals. While they are classified as hot-blooded horses, they have a more willing temperament than other breeds in this category.
  • Want a horse with stamina: Arabian horses are top competitors in endurance competitions.
  • Want a smaller, more compact horse: Arabians are known for being on the smaller side, but have good bone density and are strong for their size.

Hold Your Horses: Six genetic disorders exist in the Arabian horse. Two of these disorders are fatal (Severe combined immunodeficiency and Lavender Foal Syndrome), but with genetic testing and careful breeding, these disorders can be avoided.

Eager to Learn More? Visit https://www.arabianhorses.org/

Appaloosas

Appaloosa horses live for approximately 30 years.Appaloosas

are an American breed known for their distinctive, spotted coat pattern. They originated from the Nez Perce people, a tribe known for strict breeding practices. Originally called “Palouse Horses,” the name eventually morphed into “Appaloosa.”

Did you know the Appaloosa is the state horse of Idaho? Classified as a stock horse, the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) allows for cross-breeding with Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Arabians. A versatile breed, Appaloosas are successful in a variety of disciplines.

You might like the Appaloosa if you:

  • Want a gentle, loyal horse: The Appaloosa is known for being intelligent and respectful when they have a good relationship with their rider. Some sources mentioned an independent streak as well!
  • Want a horse with stamina: The Appaloosa, sometimes abbreviated Appy, can also excel at endurance races as they are known for their stamina and sturdiness.
  • Want a loud-colored horse* that will grab your attention: The most notable physical characteristic of this breed are their spots. That said, there are several different coat patterns that can be observed within the breed. These include: leopard, blanket, snowflake, varnish roan, and mottled.

*Solid-colored horses can also be registered with the ApHC but are considered breeding stock.

Hold Your Horses: Appaloosas are eight times more likely to contract Equine Recurrent Uveitis, a disease that causes moon blindness. Fortunately, ERU is treatable. Horses homozygous for the leopard-complex gene may develop Congenital Stationary Night Blindness. If crossed with certain Quarter Horse bloodlines, Appaloosas may have Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP). Testing for HYPP was mandatory for registration of foals as of 2007.

Eager to Learn More? Visit https://www.appaloosa.com/aphc-facts

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic horses typically live 25-30 years, but some have been documented to live to over 40.

The Icelandic horse is from (you guessed it!) Iceland. Brought over by the Vikings, these horses served as the sole means of transportation until the auto was invented. Iceland is a volcanic island that doesn’t offer an easy life. Because of this, natural selection played a big role in the breed’s development.

When the plague hit Europe, Iceland quarantined itself, resulting in a horse that hasn’t been crossed with other breeds. This means these horses are a close link to the first domesticated horses. Iceland still follows a strict quarantine protocol with livestock. Once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, they may never return.

You might like the Icelandic horse if you:

  • Want a cheerful, sensible horse: The Icelandic horse was bred to be energetic, forgiving, patient, and willing—traits which make them great for both beginners and experienced riders.
  • Want a versatile horse: Skilled at jumping, driving, and dressage, Icelandic horses excel in many disciplines.
  • Want a horse with five gaits: Icelandic horses walk, trot, and canter like a “normal” horse. However, they also tölt, which is a four-beat running walk. It’s comfortable to sit and effortless for the horse. Many Icelandic horses also pace; this is a two-beat racing gait that can reach 30 mph!

Hold Your Horses: Because Icelandic horses have been isolated for so long, they are more susceptible to disease than your average horse. If traveling to Iceland, you must disinfect any clothes you bring, or even better, buy new when you get there. No horses have been allowed into Iceland for over 1,000 years.

Eager to Learn More? Visit https://icelandichorses.com/about-the-icelandic-horse/

Quarter Horses

Quarter horses can live 25-35 years; some even longer.

The American Quarter Horse got its name because it can run a quarter mile faster than any other horse. A versatile horse that can excel in about any discipline you can think of, the Quarter Horse is the most popular horse in the United States today.

The life expectancy of your Quarter Horse depends on genetics, nutrition, and workload. My very first horse was a Quarter Horse—he lived to 36 years old and was still active in our barn’s lesson program.

Photo Credit: Erin Brown

In 2018, Zips Iron Tiger, “Rebel,” made horse show headlines at the Novice Championship East show as the oldest horse competing with the youngest rider. At 25 years old, Rebel placed in three different events. In 2014, a horse named Storm Commander “Ralph” came out of retirement to earn 22 AQHA points at a horse show in Wisconsin at 29 years old.

You might like the Quarter Horse if you:

  • Want a loyal, laid back horse: Quarter horses are known for having a gentle nature, good work ethic, and are easily trainable.
  • Want an extremely versatile horse: Not many horses can seamlessly transition from the hunter ring to a ranch riding pattern. As a breed, quarter horses excel in many disciplines, from western working cow events, to dressage, to jumping. In many cases, however, the same horse can excel in a variety of (very different!) events! This makes for a really fun equine companion as you never run out of new things to try with your horse.
  • Aren’t sure what you want: Quarter horses truly come in all shapes and sizes. Working cow horses can be quite small—think 14-15 hh. This stature allows them maximum speed and agility. Appendix Quarter horses (the result of a quarter horse crossed with a thoroughbred) can have an almost warmblood appearance—the true “hunter types” can reach close to 18hh.

Hold Your Horses: Quarter horses are subject to genetic diseases—some can be managed, others may be fatal. A few to read up on include:

  • HYPP (discussed above; also affects Appaloosas). Genetic testing is widely available and is helping to reduce the frequency of this disease within the breed.
  • Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) affects more than 10% of quarter horses, but can be managed with diet.
  • Glycogen branching enzyme deficiency (GBED) affects the use and storage of glycogen. Unfortunately, this one is always fatal.

Eager to Learn More? Visithttps://www.aqha.com/

Haflingers

Haflingers live 25-30 years, with some remaining healthy and active into their late 30’s.

Considered a draft breed, Haflingers stand between 13 and 15hh. Despite their smaller stature, they are not considered to be ponies. The breed originated in Austria and northern Italy and is also known as the Avelignese. These horses were bred to be kind and quiet. The breed is managed by the World Haflinger Federation (WHF), which implements a strict inspection system to ensure quality stock is produced.

Originally developed as a mountain packhorse, Haflingers are now used for draft work, dressage, driving, endurance events, jumping, therapeutic work, and vaulting.

You might like the Haflinger if you:

  • Want a great family horse: Strong enough to carry a large adult, but gentle enough for a child, Haflingers make great family horses. They have a cheerful, playful personality.
  • Want a versatile horse: Haflingers are competitive in a variety of events, making them a willing partner for their rider.
  • Want a specific color: Haflinger horses are always palomino–chestnut in color with a white or flaxen mane and tail. They generally have feathering on their legs.

Hold Your Horses: Haflinger horses may be more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, a form of eye cancer. Similar to Quarter horses, Haflingers are also prone to PSSM.

Eager to Learn More? Visit https://www.haflinger-world.com/EN

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average lifespan of a horse?

The average equine lifespan is 20-30 years, depending on factor such as breed, size, nutrition, genetics, and workload.

What was the longest living horse?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest horse was Old Billy, a stallion of unknown bloodlines born in 1762. Old Billy lived in England and worked as a barge horse. He lived to 62 years old.

What is the average lifespan of a quarter horse?

Quarter horses generally live between 25 and 35 years old.

Parting Thoughts

Life expectancy is the result of many different factors. While genetics may not be in your immediate control, ensuring your horse receives adequate nutrition, exercise, and vet care can help them to live a longer, healthier life.

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About the author

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Susie W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!