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The 10 Best Horse Breeds for Beginners

Discover which horse breeds have the temperament, size, and trainability to be ideal mounts for novice riders and first-time owners.
A woman in a cowboy hat and plaid shirt smiles and pets her bay horse
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Do you dream of meandering down trails or sailing over fences? Regardless of your riding discipline, the key to a safe and enjoyable introduction to horse ownership is having the right horse. And some breeds are simply better suited for novice equestrians than others. Use this list of best horse breeds for beginners to choose the perfect type of horse for your skill level.

1. The Reliable Quarter Horse

One of the most popular breeds in America, the Quarter Horse is easy to handle and train and has a calm temperament. Its muscular build makes it an excellent option for both Western and English riding disciplines. Additionally, Quarter Horses are versatile, making them suitable for activities ranging from trail riding, barrel racing, and ranch work to English pleasure, fox-hunting, and show jumping.

Choose a Quarter Horse if: You want a medium-sized yet powerful horse that’s safe and can tackle whatever riding adventures you desire.

2. The Sturdy Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic Horse is a breed that’s on the smaller side but is incredibly strong and can carry riders of all sizes. They have unique gaits, including the tölt and flying pace. The tölt is a smooth, four-beat gait that offers a comfortable ride over long distances. These horses are known for their ability to navigate challenging terrain, making them one of the best horse breeds for beginners interested in trail riding. Icelandic horses also have great dispositions.

Choose an Icelandic Horse if: You want a small but hardy horse for leisure and trail riding that’s intelligent and easy to handle.

3. The Calm Haflinger

A beautiful haflinger horse running in a field with mane blowing in the wind

Haflingers are smaller mounts, making them perfect for beginners who feel unsure about riding large horses. These hard workers are easy to work with and have sweet personalities. They’re typically calm and patient enough to tolerate novice mistakes. Haflingers excel in a variety of disciplines, including dressage, trail riding, and carriage driving. As an added bonus, Haflingers—with flaxen manes and tails contrasting their chestnut bodies—are strikingly beautiful.

Choose a Haflinger if: You want an eye-catching breed that’s low-maintenance, not overly reactive, and between 13.2 and 15 hands tall.

4. The Versatile Morgan

The Morgan horse is an all-purpose breed suitable for riders of all levels. They have a calm temperament and are eager to please. Morgans are renowned for their versatility. They can excel in a variety of disciplines, from both English and Western pleasure riding to dressage. Their stamina and endurance also make them well-suited to trail riding. You’ll find Morgans to be quite beautiful, as well, with their compact, muscular build, expressive face, and proud carriage.

Choose a Morgan if: You want an attractive, medium-sized horse that’s easy to maintain and can perform a variety of jobs.

5. The Eye-Catching Paint

The American Paint Horse, with its strikingly colorful coat, is versatile and well-suited for both Western and English disciplines. Paints are typically calm and easy to handle, making them perfect choices for novice riders. They’re a comfortable size, generally between 14.2 and 16 hands. The breed’s willing nature makes them a pleasure to ride. Paints also boast good strength and endurance.

Choose a Paint if: You’re captivated by colorful horses and want a good-natured breed that can take you in any direction.

6. The Unique Appaloosa

A spotted appaloosa horse looks over a gate

The Appaloosa is another distinctive breed characterized by its spotted coat and striped hooves. These horses are medium-sized and highly durable. They are generally easy to train and have a calm and gentle disposition, making them suitable for riders of all skill levels. Known to be hard-working, Appaloosas often excel in trail riding and Western and English disciplines such as ranch work and jumping.

Choose an Appaloosa if: You want a unique-looking all-around or family horse that’s easy to care for and level-headed.

7. The Smooth Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walking Horse is known for its comfortable gaits, particularly the “running walk” that is unique to this breed. As such, they make good trail and endurance horses, allowing riders to cover ground smoothly and easily. Tennessee Walking Horses are strong and hardy animals capable of handling various types of terrain. They are incredibly intelligent yet calm and easy to handle.

Choose a Tennessee Walking Horse if: You want a horse that’s comfortable to ride, low-maintenance, and good-looking.

8. The Adorable Welsh Pony

This strong and hard-working pony breed is perfect for children and small adults. Welsh ponies are friendly, intelligent, and easy to handle, making them one of the best horse breeds for beginners. You can find these ponies excelling in nearly every discipline, including hunters, dressage, driving, and English and Western pleasure.

Choose a Welsh Pony if: You’re looking for a versatile and charming family mount that’s easy to take care of and can tackle a variety of riding activities.

9. The Dependable Missouri Fox Trotter

This breed is known for its unique “fox trot.” The smooth, four-beat gait makes a ride exceptionally comfortable, particularly over long distances. Missouri Fox Trotters perform a variety of disciplines, including trail riding, endurance riding, ranch work, and competitive events like pole bending. They’re also popular as pleasure riding horses due to their flowing gaits and calm demeanor.

Choose a Missouri Fox Trotter if: You want to enjoy a silky smooth ride on a versatile, medium-sized horse with an easygoing temperament.

10. The Pint-Sized Shetland Pony

Shetland ponies are perfect for children and novice riders due to their small yet sturdy size and their friendly, obedient nature. Typically standing between 7 and 11.2 hands tall, they’re less intimidating for beginners to handle. They’re also easy to maintain. Despite their small stature, Shetland Ponies are incredibly versatile. They can be ridden, driven, and shown in hand.

Choose a Shetland if: You want to ease into horse ownership without riding or you’re looking for a breed that is great with kids.

Take-Home Message

Choosing the right horse breed is an essential step at the onset of your horseback riding hobby. Our top picks for the best horse breeds for beginners are all horses that have calm demeanors, are easy to handle, and demonstrate a willingness to work with their riders. That being said, novice riders can safely enjoy nearly any breed with patience and proper training. Do your research, and work with a trainer to find a horse that matches your personality, skills, and riding goals.

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