Aside from its beauty and strength, a horse’s capacity for speed is one of its most recognized qualities. Thus, many equestrian sports have been developed to embrace the skill and speed of horses around the globe and determine which horses deserve a place on the list of fastest horse breeds. Having said that, what are the fastest horse breeds in the world?
The fastest horse breeds are the Thoroughbred, American Quarter Horse, Arabian, Standardbred, Akhal-Teke, Andalusian, Mustang, Appaloosa, Orlov Trotter, American Paint Horse, Shire, Friesian, Gypsy, Clydesdale, and the American Miniature Horse.
Different horses have been bred for various purposes. There are three main groups which all horses are classified into: heavy horses, light horses, and ponies. The differences between these groups are the horses’ size and what they are bred for. Heavy horses are bred for strength, light horses are bred for riding, racing, performing, and hunting, and ponies are smaller but can be used for their strength or riding.
15 Fastest Horse Breeds In The World
With over 300 horse breeds worldwide today, there are numerous competitive equestrian events and races that allow the unique strengths of different breeds to shine through. However, determining the fastest horse breeds isn’t as simple as looking at which can run faster. Their stamina, agility, strength, size, and the sports they compete in should all be considered.
While speed should not determine a horse’s worth, it is important to recognize the leading breeds of speed and the ones considered to be the best in their respective sports.
The Different Horse Racing Sports
Horse racing has existed for centuries and continues to be one of the most popular sports in the world. There are four primary types of horse racing:
- Flat Racing: This race competes over a course without obstacles. The distance covered in flat races ranges from 5 furlongs – 1½ miles, with speeds reaching 40 mph / 64 kmph and faster.
- Steeplechasing: This race includes jumps over obstacles. The distance covered in steeplechasing races is between 4 – 6 miles, with an average of 7 water jumps and 28 hurdling jumps.
- Harness Racing: This race is performed with horses pulling a cart (‘sulky’). The distance covered in harness racing is 1 mile. The gait of horses in this race is either pacing or trotting.
- Endurance Racing: This race covers extreme distances of 24 – 99 miles / 40 – 160 kilometers without stopping. These races take hours to complete.
Factors That Determine A Horse’s Speed
A horse’s speed is not binary, and its abilities aren’t decided solely by breed, age, health, genetics, or any other factor. A variety of components influences skill and ability. Every horse is different, some are naturally more athletic and healthier, and others are born to run.
A horse’s speed is the result of many elements, from overall fitness and health to their age, breed, size, training, diet, motivation, airflow, weight, and individual characteristics.
Each horse breed was raised with a specific intent in mind, creating various genetic possibilities in areas of running, jumping, and training. Beyond the breed, a horse’s abilities depend on inherited genetics and living conditions.
When it comes to racehorses, breeders are extremely strict about breeding, choosing only the best, healthiest, and fastest horses to get superior offspring. This process is somewhat like natural selection, but in unnatural conditions, supporting the idea of ‘survival of the fittest.
Naturally, a horse’s physical abilities are mainly limited to its anatomy and physical condition. A horse gets its running aptitude from proportionate and highly functioning muscles, muscle fiber structure, and a sturdy skeleton.
Like all animals, horses have both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. However, the muscle fiber composition differs between various breeds, tailoring them for specific activities. Horses with more slow-twitch muscle fibers perform better in long-distance competitions, making them endurance runners. On the other hand, horses with more fast-twitch muscle fibers are sprinters.
Unexpectedly, the height and length of a horse’s legs are not critical in deciding its speed. In fact, horses with long legs often struggle with bringing them forward quickly, making them slower than horses with shorter legs.
A stride is the distance a horse covers in one leap – the space between where the same hoof lands, regardless of pace. The average racehorse’s stride length is 6 meters / 20 feet.
The number of strides a horse accomplishes in a given time is called the stride rate. This is typically 130 – 140 strides per minute, with many champions achieving over 160 strides per minute.
The stride angle is the gap between the front and back of a horse’s foot measured from the rear push-off point. This is vital information for calculating the speed of a horse. Generally, horses with higher stride angles have longer strides; thus, they are faster.
A jockey’s weight and posture can significantly increase or reduce the burden on the horse’s back, directly affecting its top speeds. Jockeys have a weight limit, with their average weight being between 108 – 118 lb / 48 – 54 kg. Furthermore, jockeys often sit in a crouched posture to limit unnecessary movements which disturb the horses’ run.
- Track Surface
Tracks need to be well maintained to optimize a horse’s stride and keep its focus on speed. For example, conditions like a wet track will cause horses to spend more energy on completing astride instead of reaching its top speed.
World Records Horse Speeds
The Guinness World Records recognize a thoroughbred named Winning Brew as the fastest horse of all time, with a top speed of 43.97 mph / 70.76 kmph. However, other breeds have been clocked at greater speeds over shorter distances, making it difficult to determine the fastest horse as each breed carries its strengths in different races.
Moreover, Secretariat (also known as Big Red), Man o’ War, and Seabiscuit are all still widely recognized as some of the greatest racehorses in history; some still hold the fastest speed records for certain races, even decades later.
Average speed: 35 – 44 mph / 56.5 – 71 kmph.
Top speed: 55 mph / 88.5 kmph.
The Origin of Thoroughbred Horses
Thoroughbreds are English horses developed in the late 17th century. The lineage of all modern Thoroughbreds can be traced to the Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian horses. Horse racing was a prevalent sport at the time, allowing the breed to evolve.
Thoroughbreds are a hot-blooded breed, giving them a highly competitive, fiery, and lively nature. They have a tall, slim build, with their muscle composition and strong hind legs contributing significantly to their agility, power, and speed. Further, their height ranges between 15 – 17 hands, weighing between 1,000 – 1,200 lbs.
Events Thoroughbred Horses Compete In
Bred for speed, the Thoroughbred is a favorite on the racetrack and is excellent for all-around sporting. Thoroughbreds excel at races around the length of a mile and can hold their speed over a distance of 6 – 10 furlongs (0.75 – 1.25 miles / 1.2 – 2 kilometers).
Thoroughbreds continue to shine at any speed event and dominate the racing world; as the best-known horse breed for flat racing and excelling at barrel racing, show jumping, and three-day eventing.
2. American Quarter Horse
Average speed: 45 mph / 72.5 kmph.
Top speed: 55 mph / 88.5 kmph.
The Origin of American Quarter Horses
The American Quarter Horse originated during the Colonial period. English Thoroughbreds were brought to North American colonies to breed with local horses. It was initially bred to be a robust workhorse, resulting in this compact, fast, and agile horse.
American Quarter Horse’s strong muscles, dense legs, and heavy chest contribute to their explosive acceleration and unrivaled speed. Their average height is 14 – 16 hands, and their weight ranges between 950 – 1,200 lbs.
Events American Quarter Horses Compete In
As their name suggests, these horses are unparalleled in short-distance races, specifically the quarter-mile. Overall, these horses are considered the fastest over short distances but cannot maintain their speed over longer distances.
Their athletic abilities and calm natures combine to make quarter horses perfect competitors in various events, including flat racing, barrel racing, dressage, showjumping, and even rodeo events.
3. Arabian Horse
Average speed: 34 mph / 55 kmph.
Top speed: 40 mph / 64.5 kmph.
The Origin of Arabian Horses
Arabians are ancient horses and one of the most recognizable breeds in the world. As the oldest purebreds, they originated in the harsh environment of the Arabian Peninsula and were bred for agility, speed, and endurance. Arabians can run 100 miles without tiring.
The solidity and dependence of their breed throughout history led to Arabians being used to improve numerous other breeds. It is believed that most riding horse breeds have Arabian bloodlines in their pedigrees.
The Arabian horse has a compact and narrow body, as well as long necks and strong legs that make them natural racehorses. A unique quality of Arabians is that they have 23 vertebrae, where 24 is the usual number among other breeds. Being a smaller breed, they usually stand at 14 – 16 hands tall, weighing between 800 – 1,000 lbs.
Events Arabian Horses Compete In
Though they don’t have much of a chance against Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses over short distances, Arabians come into their own over long distances and tests of stamina. They are considered to dominate endurance events.
Arabians are in their element in endurance races, able to cover long distances in record time. But their elegance, agility, and speed also make them great at general racing, showjumping, and dressage.
Average speed: 30 – 35 mph / 48.5 – 56.5 kmph.
Top speed: 44 mph / 70.8 kmph.
The Origin of Standardbred Horses
The Standardbred bloodline can be followed back to 18th century England. These horses have a rich lineage, bred from Thoroughbreds, Pacers, and Trotters, among other breeds.
These horses are compact and muscular with a long body, firm legs, and broad shoulders, making them great runners. Known for their quick start and long stride, Standardbreds are used in harness races since they can easily carry the trot weights for long periods. They are usually 14 – 17 hands tall, weighing between 800 – 1,200 lbs.
Events Standardbred Horses Compete In
Looking at their speed, these horses may not be considered one of the most impressive horses on this list until you know that they are the world’s fastest trotters. Standardbreds can trot a mile in 2½ minutes, making them the dominating breed for harness racing events.
Much like Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds have great strength, speed, and stamina. Thus, they are popular in many competitive events including, racing, barrel racing, show jumping, and eventing.
Average speed: 35 mph / 56.5 kmph.
Top speed: 45 mph / 72.5 kmph.
The Origin of Akhal-Teke’s
The Akhal-Teke is easily one of the oldest horse breeds on the planet. Coming from modern-day Turkmenistan, they were initially bred in Russia and are descendants of the now-extinct Turkoman Horse. They are the closest descendants of the ancient Scythian horse. Akhal-Teke’s are purebred and revered for their stamina.
The Akhal-Teke’s bony, flat-muscled build varies greatly from the many deep-chested horse breeds. They are a lightweight breed capable of carrying heavy weights and are valued for their distinctive metallic coat. Their fiery personality and ability to form strong bonds with their owners have earned them the title of ‘one-rider horse.’ They stand between 14 – 16 hands and weigh between 900 – 1,000 lbs.
Events Akhal-Teke’s Compete In
Though they may not be the best sprinters, Akhal-Teke’s are considered one of the fastest long-distance and endurance horses. Thus, they were popular war horses and used for long journeys.
The Akhal-Teke’s speed, stamina, and calm demeanor make them hard to beat when it comes to lasting long distances and endurance racing. They also perform well in other competitions like show jumping, dressage, and eventing.
Average speed: 45 – 55 mph / 72.5 – 80.5 kmph.
Top speed: 55 mph / 88.5 kmph.
The Origin of Andalusian Horses
Andalusians – also known as the Pure Spanish Horse – were developed on the Iberian Peninsula. It is thought that this breed has barely changed since the 15th century and its warhorse days. Bred for strength, agility, and speed, Andalusians can carry out complex maneuvers, unlike any other horse.
Andalusians have a straight profile, massive chest, well-defined wither, and a long broad neck. These qualities make them capable of fast speeds and running over long distances. These horses stand at an average height of 15 hands and weigh 900 – 1,000 lbs.
Events Andalusian Horses Compete In
Andalusians can reach incredible speeds, making them amongst the fastest horse breeds alive. Due to their stamina and agility, this breed excels explicitly at racing over long distances. Being long-distance runners, Andalusians move swiftly and can turn on their haunches – a quality which is considered as one of their greatest strengths.
Though they are famous for their running skills, these versatile horses also perform well in trail riding, driving, dressage, and show jumping.
Average speed: 35 – 50 mph / 56.5 – 80.5 kmph.
Top speed: 55 mph / 88.5 kmph.
The Origin of Mustangs
Mustangs are free-roaming horses found in western America. Considered to be wild horses, they are descendants of domesticated Spanish horses, technically making them ‘feral.’
Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses have also contributed to the Mustang’s bloodline, giving them similar attributes. Known for their hot-blooded and fiery nature, Mustangs can have prominent personalities, but many are calm and gentle. Mustangs have an average height of 14 – 15 hands and weigh around 800 lbs.
Events Mustangs Compete In
Due to their ‘feral’ nature, Mustangs are not often seen in competitive events; however, they are versatile and can be used for racing, trail riding, dressage, and more.
Average speed: 30 – 40 mph / 48.5 – 64.5 kmph.
Top speed: 55 mph / 88.5 kmph.
The Origin of Appaloosa Horses
The Appaloosa is an American horse with unique spotted coats. Discovered in the 15th century, they were bred by the Nez Perce tribe using an infusion of Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses. Thus, the Appaloosa’s great speed comes as no surprise.
Unlike other horse breeds, Appaloosa’s have no standard body type. Coming in different sizes, ranges, and with different patterned coats, they are a sight to behold. Generally, these horses have a muscular build, with strong necks and legs. Their height ranges from 14 – 16 hands, weighing around 1,000 lbs.
Events Appaloosa Horses Compete In
Revered for their speed, strength, endurance, and durability, these are great athletic horses. Appaloosas are favored in long-distance trail riding. Other than racing, they are commonly used in show jumping, eventing, rodeo events, and hunting.
9. Orlov Trotter
Average speed: 45 mph / 72.5 kmph.
The Origin of Orlov Trotter’s
Orlov Trotters were developed in Russia in the late 18th century. Originally bred for its strength, speed, and endurance, this breed is also able to withstand the harsh Russian climate. The survival of this breed has been threatened many times, but dedicated breeders are working to secure its safety.
These horses have large and muscular bodies but paired with their calm demeanor, they are often referred to as ‘gentle giants.’ Orlov Trotters typically stand between 15 – 17 hands and weigh around 1,000 lbs.
Events Orlov Trotter’s Compete In
This versatile breed is good for many uses and successful in a combination of competitive events. They are great workhorses, driving horses, and general sport horses. Orlov Trotters are very popular in harness racing.
10. American Paint Horse
Average speed: 40 mph / 64.5 kmph.
The Origin of American Paint Horses
Discovered in North America in the 16th century, these spotted horses were likely mixes of Barb, Andalusian, and Arabian bloodlines. Amongst one of the fastest horses in the world, American Paint Horses share common ancestry with Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses.
American Paint Horses often share their physical attributes with Thoroughbred or American Quarter Horses. They are muscular and compact horses with powerful hind legs, contributing to their fast speeds. On average, these horses are between 14 – 16 hands tall and weigh around 1,000 lbs.
Events American Paint Horses Compete In
American Paint Horses excel at many equestrian disciplines, such as reigning, trail riding, and ranch work, thanks to their strength, speed, and stamina. These horses are popular in flat racing, barrel racing, steeplechasing, and show jumping competitions.
Average speed: 30 – 35 mph / 48.5 – 56.5 kmph.
The Origin of Shire Horses
The Shire is a British draught-horse, descended from the English Destrier, or “great horse.” Shires were improved as draft and farm horses in the 18th century. These are amongst the most popular heavy horse breeds.
With their convex profile, long necks, and sloping shoulder, Shires are built for strength and power and are capable of impressive speed considering their size. This breed holds many records for the largest and tallest horses, averaging around 17 hands tall but known to reach 19 hands and weigh as much as 2,000 lbs.
Events Shire Horses Compete In
Though they may not seem like your everyday competitor horse, Shires do well in dressage, and it has even become a tradition to race Shire’s in certain parts of the world, such as Lingfield Park in England.
Average speed: 25 – 30 mph / 40 – 48.5 kmph.
Though, some have achieved higher speeds.
The Origin of Friesian’s
Originating from Friesland in the Netherlands, Friesians were bred to pull carts. Friesians are one of Europe’s oldest breeds, appearing during the Middle Ages, as early as the 4th century.
The breed’s stature resembles that of a light draught horse, making their grace and nimbleness shocking. Their long, arched neck is relatively upright and ties into rounded withers. Friesians have a compact body with powerful, sloping shoulders and strong hindquarters. Their height averages between 14 – 17 hands tall and weight between 1,000 – 1,500 lbs.
Events Friesian’s Compete In
Friesians are a popular and successful choice in dressage competitions, known for their expressive movement, upright posture, and flashy, high-stepping trot. Their majestic appearance leaves an impression.
13. Gypsy Vanner
Average speed: 22 mph / 35.5 kmph.
The Origin of Gypsy Horses
The Gypsy Vanner was bred in England, where Shires and Clydesdales were combined with Dales and Fell ponies to develop a strong and mild-mannered, gentle horse. Originally bred to pull carriages and caravans, the versatile horses are now also used in competitions.
Gypsy horses have a stocky, powerful draft-type build. They range from 12 – 16 hands and weigh between 1,000 – 1,700 lbs. Their calm demeanor well balances their strength and speed.
Events Gypsy Horses Compete In
These versatile horses can be used for more than just pulling. Gypsy’s can often be seen in dressage and jumping events as they are recognized for their beautiful form.
14. Clydesdale Horse
Average speed: 20 mph / 32 kmph.
The Origin of Clydesdale Horses
Originating in Lanarkshire, Scotland, Clydesdales were heavy draft horses. The breed was improved in the 18th century when Flemish and Shire blood was introduced into the bloodline. Clydesdales are noted for their high leg action while walking and trotting.
Clydesdales have a lighter build than their fellow heavy breeds have an arched neck, higher withers, and well-formed legs and feet. Thus, Clydesdales are an extremely strong and powerful breed. This breed has an average height between 16 – 18 hands and weighs 2,000 lbs.
Events Clydesdale Horses Compete In
Though they are better as draft or pleasure horses, Clydesdales can be used in some races.
15. American Miniature Horse
Average speed: 18 – 20 mph / 29 – 32 kmph.
The Origin of American Miniature Horses
Through selective breeding, American Miniature Horses were discovered in Europe in the 18th century. These horses were often kept as pets by European Novelty.
Despite their height of 8.5 – 9.5 hands and weight of 150 – 350 lbs, American Miniature Horses are surprisingly fast, especially compared to other small horses. They can also carry heavy loads due to their strong backs.
Horses have achieved mind-blowing speeds and shown a great capacity to learn and evolve. It is essential to remember that every horse breed has been designed with a specific purpose in mind. Thus, which horse breed is considered the fastest depends on more than just their speed.