5 Major Types of Horses Defined

Different types of horses were bred for different types of jobs. Hot blood, draft horse, pony or mule…. they all have something special to offer. 

Ever wonder about hot bloods, cold bloods and warm bloods? These are rather generic terms used to describe a horse’s temperament, breed characteristics and bloodline history. You'll see how these terms fit in with different groups of horses.

So many horses, but only 5 types!

There are more than 300 breeds of horses and ponies in the world and all of them can be boiled down into these 5 major categories:

  • Draft horses
  • Warmbloods
  • Light horses
  • Gaited horses
  • Ponies

and of course...

  • Non-horse Equines
A pampered Clydesdale draft horse from the Anheuser Busch Brewery.

Draft Types of Horses

Draft horses were bred to carry and pull heavy loads. They are tall, strong and heavy. The average draft weighs over 1600 lbs, stands over 16 hands tall and can pull over twice their weight for short distances.

Before the age of machines, these big boys were ‘it’ for hundreds of years. They did everything from freight hauling to carrying armored soldiers. They were the trucking industry, the tractors and the heavy haulers of the pre-modern era.

A ‘Hand’ is a term used to measure horse height.

1 hand = 4 inches

They are known for their calm even temperament and level headed attitude. The term used to describe this quality is ‘cold blood’.

All draft horses are Cold Bloods.

Examples of draft types of horses are the Percheron, Suffolk, Belgian, Shire and of course the Clydesdales made famous by Budweiser Anheuser Busch.

Light Types of Horses 

Light breeds are bred for riding.

Light horses are the opposite of their draft horse counterparts. Light horses were bred for speed, agility, endurance and of course riding.

If it’s not a daft horse, draft cross, pony or a donkey.…it’s a light type horse. Light horses are used for nearly every form of riding from pleasure riding to racing and ranch work.

A variety of horse breeds fall into the light horse type category. They can vary greatly in height, weight, build and color. They all have one thing in common. They were bred to be used under saddle.

Thoroughbred horses are hot blood type horses

Examples of light type horses are the American Quarter horse, Rocky Mountain horse, Paints, Pintos, Polo Ponies and Morgans.

Some light horses are also considered to be a ‘hot blood’ as well. Unlike a cold blood, the term hot blood describes a horse that is high energy, easily excitable and fleet footed.

Arabians, Andalusians and Thoroughbreds are all Hot Bloods.

  Gated Types of Horses

Gated horses are also a light horse bred for riding, but they are best known for their exceptionally smooth ride. Horses have three gates; walk, trot and gallop.

With gated horses you get all that and more…. the pace, the stepping pace, the running walk, the fox trot, the rack and the slow gate.

Historically gated horses were considered a ‘gentleman’s horse’. They were used for Generals, officers, plantation owners and men of wealth. Today they are prized for their show ring flair and smooth pleasure riding on the trail.

Warm blood Types of Horses

Warm bloods are just as their name implies. They are a middle weight horse created by the cross of a cold blood draft horse and a hot blood light horse. Generations of this refined breeding has resulted in the best of both worlds.

You get a tall, strong, athletic horse with a sensible attitude and plenty of get-up-an-go. They dominate the dressage, jumping, harness and equestrian Olympic sports.

Warmblood examples are the Dutch Warmblood, Hanoverian, Selle Francaise, Trakehner and the Holstiener.

Pony Types of Horses

A cart pulling pony on parade!

The definition of a pony is a horse that measures less than 14.2 hands (14 hands in Australia). There are over a hundred breeds of ponies. Ponies are incredibly versatile little horses.

Historically they have been bred to do virtually everything imaginable. They are used for pulling, packing, harness, riding, jumping, plowing and even ranch work.

Ponies are prized for their intelligence, strength and hardiness in rugged conditions. 

Examples of ponies are the Welsh Mountain Pony, Icelandic Pony, Shetland Pony and the Hackney Pony.

Adorable donkeys!

Non-horse Types of Equines

Non-horse equines are closely related to horses and can interbreed with horses, but are not horses themselves. They are donkeys, zebras and mules.

The wild ass is the untamed version of the domesticated donkey. Pound for pound donkeys are much stronger than a horse. The donkey is the original beast of burden. They are sturdy, sure footed and easy to keep.

This baby draft mule will grow to be a big stout boy!

A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey. The result is a very strong agile animal. Mules make excellent pack animals. Draft mules were used to pull freight in the old west. Today they are growing in popularity as riding animals.

Zebras are a non-horse equine

Zebras are a wild non domesticated equine. It is possible but very difficult to train a zebra for riding under saddle. A zebra/horse cross is called a zorse and is more trainable than a zebra. Like the mule a zorse is also sterile.


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