20 of the Best Horse Breeds for Competitive Riders (by Discipline)

by Michelle Drum February 02, 2022 6 min read

top horse breeds

A pivotal question for all equestrians at the beginning of their competitive journey is what kind of horse to ride. Though precise estimates vary, there are more than 200 different horse breeds in existence worldwide. That’s a lot of different types of horses to choose from! So, what are the best horse breeds for competitive equestrian riders in each English riding discipline? Keep reading to find out.

Things To Look for in a Horse for Competitive Riding

When it comes to choosing a horse for competitive riding, there are four primary things to consider: temperament, experience level, breed, and age and conformation. All five of these characteristics can impact performance and make the horse easier or more challenging to work with.  

Beginner riders are encouraged to seek out an older horse with a calm temperament, as these tend to be either easier to train or well-trained already. More experienced riders, on the other hand, may prefer a younger horse that they can train themselves, and will likely want to choose the breed that’s best suited for their style of English riding. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top horse breeds most suitable for the different styles of English riding based on the rider’s experience level.

Ideal Characteristics by English Riding Discipline

When choosing your horse, here are some of the important characteristics to look for based on your English riding discipline.

Hunter Jumper

Hunters require accuracy, elegance, and a consistent pace, while jumpers require speed, accuracy and cleverness. Hunters are judged on movement, way of going and form over the fences. While jumpers are judged by how quickly they can complete a series of jumps without knocking down any of the rails. Both disciplines demand accuracy and athleticism from the horse and rider, so athleticism is a top quality to look for in a jumper.

Dressage

Dressage is a very advanced form of flat work in horse riding, as the horse and rider move up the levels, the horse is required to respond to very slight movements to perform movements for the rider. It almost looks like a dance, and the direction from the rider is so slight that it’s almost undetectable. Certain breeds may respond more quickly and easily to the cues provided by the rider and thus may be better suited to dressage than others.

Eventing

Eventing combines cross country jumping, show jumping, and dressage. It requires speed, stamina, courage, and physical prowess. Tall, lean, and athletic horses tend to do best in higher levels of eventing.

20 Most Popular Horse Breeds

There are truly so many incredible horse breeds, however, when it comes to English riding some are going to be better than others. We’ll start by listing out all of the breeds then we’ll sort them by English riding discipline and rider skill level.

  1. American Quarter Horse
  2. Lusitano
  3. Welsh 
  4. Friesian
  5. Gypsy Vanner
  6. Appaloosa
  7. Morgan
  8. Thoroughbred
  9. Arabian
  10. Trakehner
  11. Belgian Warmblood
  12. Oldenburg
  13. Hanoverian
  14. Dutch Warmblood
  15. Holsteiner
  16. Selle Francais
  17. Irish Sport Horse
  18. American Paint Horse
  19. Westphalian Warmblood
  20. American Warmblood

Popular Horse Breeds for Beginners

Beginner equestrians benefit from a calm horse that is experienced or takes well to training. The horse’s breed may be a little less important than temperament for beginner equestrians, but breed is still something to consider as you’re developing a bond with your horse that will benefit you in the future. Here are some top horse breeds to consider for beginner equestrians by English riding discipline.

Hunter Jumper

  • ​​Quarter Horse — This popular American bred horse is widely known for its calm temperament and willing attitude. Originally bred for running a ‘Quarter mile’ and ranch work, these horses are now bred for success in a variety of disciplines.  They often does well in lower-level jumping disciplines. 
  • Thoroughbred— This breed sometimes gets a bad reputation for being unpredictable and hot tempered due in part to traits bred for racing . As the American race horse, this can be true, however there are plenty of thoroughbreds that are not bred to race who make wonderful riding horses for the average equestrian. This breed is kind, athletic, typically very smart and easy to train, generally quite sensible in a variety of situations.  
  • Welsh— This breed originates in the United Kingdom where they were originally bred as “pit ponies” used to haul coal out of the mines. It is typically good-natured and easy-going with an athletic build, making them an easy choice for experienced riders and beginners alike. Natural jumpers, these horses tend to be quick learners and have very friendly personalities, making them ideal for children.
  • American Warmblood — The American Warmblood is more of a "type" than a "breed". Like most of the European warmbloods, the American Warmblood has an "open" book. There is more emphasis on producing quality sport horses, rather than the preservation of any particular bloodlines, which allows for much diversity in the bloodlines of American Warmbloods.

Dressage

  • Oldenburg — This German workhorse is a favorite for dressage. Their heritage includes Thoroughbred, Trakehner, and Hanoverian, making them a logical choice.
  • Dutch Warmblood—This breed is the most common dressage competitor and is considered the best breed for this sport. They are known for athleticism and endurance, and they are also Olympic favorites.
  • Appaloosa— This pretty and intelligent spotted horse from the US does well in every discipline. It is typically calm with a kind personality.
  • Lusitano — This is an ideal dressage horse. They have lovely personalities and take to training well.

Eventing

  • Trakehner — A German horse with a pedigree of Thoroughbred and Arabian, this breed has great stamina. They are the lightest of all warm-blooded horses and excel in jumping. Trakehners also do well in eventing.
  • Quarter Horse— Though this US breed is better known for Western riding, they can also excel at eventing with their athletic build and calm temperament. They are a wonderful breed for beginners.
  • Thoroughbred — Known for speed, athleticism, and friendliness, this English breed excels in eventing. They have stamina and slim builds, making them natural contenders for this discipline.
  • Irish Sport Horse — The Irish Sport Horse, or Irish Hunter, is an Irish breed of warmblood sporting horse, used mostly for dressage, eventing and show-jumping. The Irish Sport Horse is a successful competition riding horse, used in dressage, show-jumping and three-day eventing.
  • American Paint Horse— The American Paint Horse shares a common ancestry with the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred. A registered Paint horse should conform to the same "stock horse" body type desired in Quarter Horses: a muscular animal that is heavy but not too tall, with a low center of gravity for maneuverability, and powerful hindquarters suitable for rapid acceleration and sprinting.

Popular Horse Breeds for Competitive Riders

As equestrians advance in their discipline, the horse’s breed becomes a bit more important. You’ll want to select a horse whose breed is well suited for your chosen discipline. Here are some of the top breeds that have proven successful for each of these types of English riding.

Hunter Jumper 

  • Westphalian — The Westphalian (or Westfalen) is a warmblood horse bred in the Westphalia region of western Germany. The Westphalian is closely affiliated with the state-owned stud farm of Warendorf, which it shares with the Rhinelander. Since World War II, the Westphalian horse has been bred to the same standard as the other German warmbloods, and they are particularly famous as Olympic-level show jumpers and dressage horses. Next to the Hanoverian, the Westphalian studbook has the largest breeding population of any warmblood in Germany.
  • Holsteiner — This German powerhouse is known for its great temperament, athleticism, and grace. They are easy to train and are successful at all levels.
  • Belgian Warmblood — A rising competitor in jumping competitions, Belgian warmbloods perform well in show jumping. However, they do need a firm hand and are considered a breed for more advanced riders.

Dressage

  • Oldenburg — This German workhorse is a favorite for dressage. Their heritage includes Thoroughbred, Trakehner, and Hanoverian, making them a logical choice.
  • Hanoverian — A second German dressage contender, this breed is known for fitness, stamina, and a great attitude. They do well in advanced levels of dressage.
  • Dutch Warmblood—This breed is the most common dressage competitor and is considered the best breed for this sport. They are known for athleticism and endurance, and they are also Olympic favorites.

Eventing

  • Trakehner — A German horse with a pedigree of Thoroughbred and Arabian, this breed has great stamina. They are the lightest of all warm-blooded horses and excel in jumping. Trakehners also do well in eventing.
  • Selle Francais —This elegant, graceful, agile, and powerful French breed dominates eventing. They are also very eager to please, making them highly trainable.
  • Irish Sport Horse — Known for its friendly personality, strength, stamina, and agility, this breed has the makings of an incredible eventing horse. 

Which Breed Will You Choose for Competing?

With so many breeds to choose from, and temperament, experience, and age influencing each individual horse, there is no right or wrong choice. Many of the breeds listed above also do well across multiple disciplines. There are plenty of options for competitive riders, but we hope this guide will help you narrow down your options to find the best fit for you. 


Explore our collection of horse tack to keep your horse healthy and well cared for! If you have questions about any of our products, give us a call at 864-457-3557. We’re happy to help!

 

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