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3 Best Horse Breeds for Reining in the Ribbons

Reining a horse
Written by Natasha D.

Bred for Reining Success

With flashy spins and high-speed sliding stops, reining has increased the popularity of several different horse breeds. While the top breeds in this article dominate the sport, a variety of horse breeds can be successful in the reining pen.

Although there are no limitations on horse breeds within the sport, stock horses such as Quarter Horses, Paint Horses, and Appaloosas are the top breeds in reining competitions. Their small stature and easy-going personalities make them the best possible mixture of athlete and willing partner.

Qualities of a Good Reining Horse

If I were to create a recipe for the perfect reining horse, I would need the following ingredients:

  • Easy-going personality
  • Good conformation
  • Athletic ability
  • Easy to train
  • Quick footed
  • Smaller in stature
  • Strong bodied

What type of conformation is ideal for a reining horse?

Conformation is extremely important in the sport of reining. The more naturally built the horse is, the easier it will be to train and complete the required maneuvers.

The ideal reining horse will have a level topline, a strong muscled hip, straight legs, and lower-set neck.

These attributes allow the horse to travel and move in the desired way of today’s reining competitions.

What equine associations offer reining classes?

The National Reining Horse Association is open to all breeds, however, many breed-specific associations also offer their own reining classes. Below are some of the most popular:

  • American Quarter Horse Association
  • American Paint Horse Association
  • Appaloosa Horse Club
  • National Morgan Reining Horse Association
  • Arabian Horse Association

Do you need a specific breed of horse to compete in reining classes?

The most common breeds seen competing in reining classes are quarter and paint horses. These stock breeds excel in the sport due to their ideal conformation and athletic ability.

Appaloosa horses, Morgans, and Arabians are also sometimes seen competing, albeit in smaller quantities.

Although stock horse breeds may possess certain conformational advantages, reining is open to any and all horses. I’ve even witnessed a few Norwegian Fjords shine in the reining pen!

Top Three Horse Breeds for Reining

As mentioned earlier, the top breeds seen in reining competitions are stock horses. This is driven by their history of both ranch and cattle work, activities that inspired the creation of reining.

American Quarter Horse

Originally bred to race a quarter of a mile, Quarter horses have gained popularity due to their athleticism and level-headed personalities.

  • Typical Coat Colors: Chestnut, Bay, Palomino, Gray, Roan, Dun, Black.
  • Pros: They are incredibly versatile and can be seen in almost every event/discipline.
  • Cons: Breeding has created occasional conformational faults such as small hooves or diseases such as HYPP.
Quater horse

Quarter Horse. Photo Cred: Canva


American Paint Horse

Known for its flashy two-tone coat colors, the American Paint Horse has lineage tracing back to American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds.

  • Typical Coat Colors: Similar to the Quarter horse, except with the addition of white spots in qualifying areas. Paint coat types include Tobiano, Overo, Tovero, and Splashed.
  • Pros: Easy-going personalities and interesting coat patterns.
  • Cons: Sometimes prone to deafness when white markings cover their ears.
Paint horse

Paint Horse. Photo Cred: Canva



The Appaloosa horse is most commonly known as the horse of the Nez Perce Tribe. They have a distinct coat pattern of small spots and are thought to be extremely intelligent.

  • Leopard – white spots all over the body
  • Blanket – white spots extending over their hips and back
  • Frost – a roan pattern of white hairs
  • Typical Coat Colors: Bay, Chestnut, Palomino, Gray, and Black.
  • Pros: Appaloosas are extremely sure-footed and have excellent speed and endurance.
  • Cons: They are sometimes subject to “moon blindness.”
Appaloosa Horse

Appaloosa. Photo Cred: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What breed of horse is best for Western Riding?

Even though Quarter Horses and Paint horses are most commonly seen in the western show pen, any horse can be used for western riding.

Q: What makes a good reining horse?

A good reining horse will be athletic, quick on its feet, level-headed, and willing to learn.

Q: How do you select a reining prospect?

Due to the physicality of the sport, looking at conformation is the most important step when choosing a reining prospect. If the horse has correct conformation, assessing temperament and trainability are follow-up steps.

Parting Thoughts

Due to their natural build and athletic ability, quarter horses and paints are by far the most popular breeds of horses for reining. Their innate ability to learn and level-headed temperament makes them the perfect choice for any level of rider.

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About the author


Natasha D.

Natasha is a Certified equine massage therapist with experience showing in western pleasure, hunter under saddle, horsemanship, showmanship, and trail. She now focuses on reining horses, but dabbles in dressage training when time allows.