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The Beginner’s Breed Breakdown: 5 Types of Horses

horse and pony eating hay in snow
Written by Natalie Gasper

Equine Evolution, Horse Types, and Today’s Breeds

With hundreds of different horse breeds around today, it can be overwhelming to try and understand them all. Fortunately, horses can be broken down into five main types, or classes, which all breeds fall under. Each of these types has distinct physical traits and uses, so it can be a great way to narrow your search for the perfect horse.

The modern horse’s ancestor can be traced back 55 million years, though humans didn’t start domesticating and breeding equines until about 6,000 years ago. All horse breeds can be divided into five types: Draft Horses, Light Horses, Gaited, Warmbloods, and Ponies. Each type has distinguishing physical markers and disciplines they are best suited for.

These types have led to some of the most popular horse breeds today, including American Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Clydesdales.

stamp with ancient horse image

Source: Canva

The Origin of Horses

The earliest known ancestor of today’s modern horse is Eohippus angustidens or the dawn horse. It lived about 55 million years ago and was the size of a fox. Over millions of years, it grew larger and adapted to grasslands.

Horses, or Equus, as we know them today came about around 5 million years ago. Humans started to domesticate and breed horses for specific purposes about 6,000 years ago.

Horse Uses: Past and Present

Horses have been a steadfast part of civilization for thousands of years. They’ve been used for travel, pulling carts, hunting, farming fields, in the military, and for sport.

Nowadays, horses are used mainly for pleasure as well as for competition and racing.

Five Types of Horses

Let’s take a closer look at the five types of horses and which breeds fall into each type.

Draft Horses

Draft horses are one of the easiest for both equestrians and non-horse people alike to spot, thanks to their tall and thick builds.

Description of Physical Traits

Draft horses are tall, usually ranging from 16 hands to 19 hands tall (over five feet tall at the withers). They’re also heavy (weighing between 1,400 and 2,000 pounds) and have thick, stocky builds.

Many draft breeds also have thick manes and feathers around their fetlocks.


Draft horses were bred for hard work like pulling heavy loads, working farms, or carrying heavily armored soldiers. They typically have calm temperaments and are level-headed.

3 Examples of Breeds

  1. Shire
  2. Percheron
  3. Clydesdale
draft horse pulling wagon

Draft horse. Source: Canva

Light Types

Light types have more diversity than draft horses. They can vary more widely in height, build, and even color.

Regardless, all light horses were bred for riding, endurance, agility, and speed.

Description of Physical Traits

Light horses are known for being angular and lean, perfect for athleticism and elegance. They have slight builds, long legs, and beautiful necks. Light horses can range in height from 15 to 17 hands.


Light horses were bred to be ridden, usually with speed. Because they are known for being high-energy, quick-footed, and easily excitable, they’re often used for things like racing.

3 Examples of Breeds

  1. Thoroughbred
  2. Arabian
  3. Andalusian
bay arabian horse

Arabian horse. Source: Canva

Gaited Types

Gaited horses are similar to light horses but were bred to have a much smoother riding gait.

Description of Physical Traits

Gaited horses have the same lean, slender build as light horses, but are capable of different gaits. They have higher-set heads, long necks, and sleek faces.


Where most horses walk, trot, and canter, gaited types can also do the running walk and foxtrot, among others. Each leg moves independently, which allows for a butter-like riding experience.

3 Examples of Breeds

  1. Paso Fino
  2. Tennessee Walking Horse
  3. American Saddlebred
bay saddlebred horse

American Saddlebred. Source: Canva

Warmblood Types

Warmblood types are often confused with light horses by non-equestrians. They’re a middleweight type (somewhere between the build of a light horse and a draft horse).

The name warmblood comes from these horses having a combination of cold blood (draft) and hot blood (light) traits.

Description of Physical Traits

Warmbloods are strong, tall, and athletic. Typically, they range from 16 to 18 hands and weigh between 1,200 and 1,600 pounds. They come in a range of colors and have elegant, flowy movements.


Warmblood types are bred to have high energy but sensible brains, making them well-suited for athletic pursuits like dressage, cross country, and jumping.

3 Examples of Breeds

  1. Oldenburg
  2. Hanoverian
  3. Holsteiner
bay warmblood horse

Warmblood. Source: Canva

Pony Types

The biggest difference between pony types and the other types is height: ponies are typically shorter than 14.2 hands.

Description of Physical Traits

Ponies are easily recognized by their diminished statures (short legs, stocky necks, and pudgy bellies). They come in a range of sizes, from miniatures (34 inches tall) to ponies (up to 14.1 hands).


Despite their small sizes, ponies were bred to work. They can be used for just about anything, from pulling carts to harness sports to being ridden (by children), and used as pack horses.

3 Examples of Breeds

  1. Shetland
  2. Connemara
  3. Dartmoor
bay pony

Pony. Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the 5 categories of horses?

The word “categories” can be interchangeable with “types.” The five categories of horses are draft horses, light horses, warmblood horses, gaited horses, and ponies.

Q: What are the top 5 most popular horse breeds?

Five of the most popular horse breeds include the American Quarter Horse, the Arabian, the Thoroughbred, the Friesian, and the Clydesdale.

Q: What are the major types of horses?

Types can be interchangeable with categories. The main types of horses include draft horses, light horses, warmblood horses, gaited horses, and ponies.

Q: What are horse breeds that start with “A”?

There are 39 horse breeds that start with “A.” Some are commonly known, like the American Belgian Draft, the American Paint Horse, the American Quarter Horse, the American Warmblood, and the Appaloosa.

Others, including the Abaco Barb, the Akhal-Teke, the Austrian Warmblood, and the Azteca horse, are a bit more exotic.

Q: What are the top 10 most common breeds of horses?

Ten of the most common breeds of horses include Thoroughbreds, American Quarter Horses, Warmbloods, Appaloosas, Clydesdales, Morgans, Arabians, Mustangs, Tennessee Walkers, and Paint horses.

bay dartmoor pony

Dartmoor pony. Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Each type of horse offers something different, whether it’s their height, build, temperament, or preferred discipline. Knowing more about the different types of horses will help you choose your next partner more wisely.

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5 Different Types of Horses

Origin of domestic horses uncovered in central Asia | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)

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About the author


Natalie Gasper

Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!