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What Is the Fastest Horse in the World?

Learn about the speediest racehorse breeds, the fastest horses in history, and what factors make a horse fast.
A bay racehorse gallops down the stretch at churchill downs
Jeff Kubina via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever stood at the pasture fence just watching horses run? There’s something truly exhilarating about a horse in full gallop, with those ground-gobbling strides, thunderous hoofbeats, and flowing mane and tail. Within the equine world, some horses stand out more than others for their exceptional speed. In this article, we’ll reveal the fastest horse in the world and explore breeds renowned for their quickness.

Thoroughbreds: The Giants of Horse Racing

When it comes to speed, the Thoroughbred reigns supreme in the equine world. Originating from England in the 17th and 18th centuries, this breed is renowned for its speed, agility, and spirit. Thoroughbreds are typically bred for horse racing, a testament to their inherent speed, which can reach more than 37 to 40 mph.

In terms of individual records, the fastest horse ever is widely recognized as Secretariat, a Thoroughbred that became a legend in the racing world. In the 1973 Belmont Stakes race, Secretariat not only clinched the Triple Crown but also set an unbeaten world record for 1.5 miles with a time of 2 minutes and 24 seconds and a top speed of 37.82 mph.

Dr. Fager holds the record for racing 1 mile, which he ran in 1 minute and 32.2 seconds back in 1968. Spectacular Bid set the record for a mile and a quarter, with a time of 1 minute and 57.8 seconds, in 1980.

A mare called Winning Brew is the current world record holder for the fastest horse. She clocked an incredible 43.97 mph during a race in 2008, breaking Guinness Louts’ previous record of 43.5 mph.

Quarter Horses: Speed Kings of the Short Distance

three chestnut quarter horse racehorses sprint down the stretch
Quarter Horses have explosive speed and power over short distances. | Mark Bonica via Flickr CC

Quarter Horses are known for their exceptional speed over short distances. The name itself is a nod to their racing prowess, as they can outsprint other breeds in races of a quarter mile or less.

The history of the Quarter Horse dates back to the 17th century, when American colonists crossed English Thoroughbreds with horses of Spanish descent. The result was a versatile and hardy breed with a compact body, muscular build, and ability to sprint at high speeds.

While Thoroughbreds have long ruled the world of distance racing, the Quarter Horse has carved out its niche in the realm of sprint racing. Due to their explosive power, these horses excel in events that require short, rapid bursts of speed. In fact, over distances of a quarter mile or less, a Quarter Horse can outpace even the swiftest Thoroughbreds. The fastest American Quarter Horse in history, A Long Goodbye, reached 55 mph in 2005.

What Makes a Horse Fast?

Many factors contribute to a horse’s speed, including genetics, age, health, fitness, and training. A horse’s size, muscling, and conformation also play a vital role in determining its speed. One of the most influential factors, however, is stride.

A horse’s stride refers to the sequence and rhythm of its footfalls when moving. In a gallop, which is the fastest gait, the horse propels itself forward through a series of strides. The length and frequency of strides play a pivotal role in determining the horse’s speed.

A gray Arabian horse gallops across a field
Both the length and frequency of a horse’s stride determine its speed. | Getty Images

Stride length is the distance a horse covers in one stride, from the point a particular hoof hits the ground to when it hits the ground again. A longer stride means the horse can cover more ground as he gallops. While the average stride length of a galloping racehorse is 20 feet, Man o’ War, for instance, had a 28-foot stride. A long stride alone isn’t enough to guarantee speed, though.

Stride frequency, or the number of strides a horse takes per minute, is equally important. A horse with a high stride frequency can take more strides in a given period. This potentially allows it to move faster than a horse with a longer but slower stride.

The fastest horses tend to have both a long stride and a high stride frequency. This combination allows them to cover more ground in less time, leading to greater speed. Achieving this balance requires not only good genetics but also proper conditioning to strengthen the muscles that propel the horse forward, training regimens designed to enhance the horse’s coordination, and well-balanced conformation—the horse’s bone structure, muscle composition, and overall body shape.

Take-Home Message

Whether it’s a Thoroughbred, a Quarter Horse, or any other equine breed, horses have remarkable speed and agility. While Winning Brew is the current world record holder for the fastest horse, Secretariat holds the record for the fastest 1.5-mile run. Quarter Horse A Long Goodbye has reached the highest top speed. Use these facts and info to stump your barn mates and trivia friends!

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