When riding in the mountain trails, you need a horse that can handle the terrain, distance, and challenging obstacles you might encounter in mountainous areas. So, what breed of horse is best for mountain trail rides? This article discusses the many horse breeds that are perfect for trail riding.
When it comes to mountain riding, you need a trustworthy horse. Mountain horses are sure-footed and calm. The best horses for mountain trail riding are the American Quarter horse, Appaloosa, Mustang, Missouri Fox Trotter, Tennessee Walking horse, Icelandic horse, Norwegian Fjords, and Mules.
Most horses can be ridden in the mountains provided they have the right mindset and are properly trained. The breeds we discuss in this article are hardy and excel in mountainous areas. Here we look at the specifics of each breed and what makes them great for mountain riding.
Horse Breeds That are Best for Mountain Riding
American Quarter Horse
Our number one-horse breed perfect for mountain trail rides is the American Quarter horse.
The Quarter horse breed was established in America during the 1600s. Colonists bred Thoroughbred horses from England with native horses in America to create the Quarter horse breed.
Quarter horses are fast like a thoroughbred but hardy like a native horse built for mountainous terrain. Quarter Horses are great all-around horses used in many disciplines.
A Quarter horse’s average height is 15 – 16 hands high. They are well-built stocky muscled horses known to be easy-going with great temperament and lots of energy.
They are incredibly versatile, excelling in roping, show jumping, barrel racing, dressage, and trail riding. Quarter horses are known for their stamina; they can carry you over a trail for hours.
Quarter horses are perfect for trail riding because of their animal sense. Unexpected challenges or wild animals that pop up during a mountain ride will not faze a Quarter horse easily. They can handle any situation on a trail. They are not very high, perfect for dismounting and mounting while on a trail.
There are many great reasons why Quarter horses are our top pick for mountains like:
- Their natural calm demeanor means they won’t be nervous riding through terrain where animals appear on a trail.
- They don’t spook easily and are very intelligent and levelheaded.
- They have lots of energy needed on a mountain trail to overcome obstacles.
- Their calm temperament allows them to be handled and ridden by children and novice adult riders.
- Quarter horses are extremely sure-footed perfect for mountain trails with variable terrain.
- A Quarter horse’s muscled stocky body gives them a better center of balance that is perfect for uneven mountainous terrain and getting over obstacles without stumbling.
- The intelligent hardy Quarter horse can deal with any situation on a trail ride.
The Nez Percé Indians initially bred Appaloosas in the northwest. Appaloosas are famous for their sure-footedness, stamina, and speed, which are all necessary on rocky mountain terrain.
During the Nez Percé war, the Appaloosas traveled 1,200 miles in four months with little food and water while fighting a war.
The Appaloosa is best known for its colorful spotted coats. They are the perfect horse to tackle any mountain trail. They have a calm, reliable temperament with lots of stamina, ideal for long trail rides. Their trustworthy, friendly demeanor makes them great for children and novice riders.
Appaloosas can handle any adventure that might be encountered on a trail ride. Appaloosas are friendly, gentle, loyal, eager to please, intelligent, and obedient, making them a great horse for any riding discipline.
Thanks to the wild heritage of Mustangs, they are naturally sure-footed and particularly hardy. Mustangs are ideal trail and working horses because they can handle and navigate rocky mountain terrain that other horse breeds can’t cope with. Mustangs are known for their healthy, strong hooves.
Because of their wild heritage, Mustangs have an elevated sense of awareness that keeps them safe. They are uniquely observant on the trail and extremely intelligent.
Mustangs in the wild survive on a diet of brush and grass only, and for that reason, they are perfect for trail riding. Typically, Mustangs that spend time with a herd make magnificent trail horses. They have a natural survival instinct that allows them to deal with any situation that might occur during a mountain trail ride.
The Mustang’s natural ability allows them to sense sounds, movements, and scents on the trail rival the best mules used for trail riding.
Missouri Fox Trotter
Missouri Fox Trotters originated in Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains. In the 1800’s mountain settlers, who wanted a good hardy horse that could handle any challenge mountain living could throw at them, bred Missouri Fox Trotters.
There is no better horse for mountain trails than the Missouri Fox Trotter. They have a calm, good-natured demeanor with sure-footedness and sound conformation necessary for trails.
Missouri Fox Trotters is a favorite for trail riders, who appreciate their weight-carrying abilities and stamina. U.S. forest rangers prefer the Missouri Fox Trotters because they know how to find their way through mountains and forests. They have shown exceptional bravery in dangerous, harsh mountain terrains.
The Fox Trotter’s gait is smoother than other horse-breeds, which is great for long hours in the saddle on a trail ride. These traits make the Fox Trotter an excellent horse for children and novice trail riders.
Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walkers are very popular as trail horses in the United States. They have a smooth gait that is very comfortable to ride. They are well-known for their gentle, calm temperament, easy to handle, and easy to keep.
The Tennessee Walking horse has great endurance and can work all day. Their quiet temperaments, sure-footedness, and versatility make them perfect for mountain riding. They are capable of carrying riders and weight for long distances.
Tennessee Walking horses are naturally smooth-gaited, making them the ultimate trail horse. They are great for children and inexperienced riders because they have all the characteristics necessary for novice riders.
They are famous for their “running walk,” which is best described as being between a walk and a trot, though they can get up to 5 miles per hour in this gait.
Tennessee Walking horses don’t spook easily, which is perfect for mountain rides where an animal can jump out of a brush anytime. This popular breed is excellent for trail riding and pleasure riding.
Icelandic horses are typically hardy, tough horses that are comfortable to ride.
They are perfect for mountain terrain with their steady, smooth gait. Icelandic horses are famous for their fourth gait called tölt.
Icelandic horses have four gaits walk, trot, canter and tölt. The Tölt is a very smooth four-beat gait that is very comfortable to ride. They make perfect trail horses because they don’t have natural predators in Iceland, so they don’t spook easily.
Instead, they would assess an animal jumping out of the bushes on a trail rather than spook at it. Icelandic horses are working horses used to round up livestock in Iceland.
They are bred for work in uneven, rough terrain. A mountain trail is not a challenge for an Icelandic horse. They can handle surprises that might pop up during a trail ride. They are hardy with a lot of stamina and don’t tire quickly.
Icelandic horses have a natural homing device built-in that lets them find their way home on their own. Icelandic horses are powerful and can carry most riders on a trail ride despite their smaller size.
Norwegian Fjord horses are strong, intelligent, and even-tempered, making them perfect for mountain trail riding. Their easy-going nature makes them one of the best horse breeds for children.
The Norwegian Fjord Horse is one of the oldest horse breeds. Even though they are smaller than other trail horses, they are sturdy enough to carry adults on any trail. Their sure-footedness in the mountains and unflappable calm nature makes them popular mountain horses.
Traditionally Norwegian Fjord horses are bred for farm work like pulling lumber or plowing fields, and they are just as good as pulling sleighs through the snow. This hardworking horse will not disappoint; they are perfect as a mountain trail horse.
The Norwegian Fjord is a versatile horse breed that allows them to excel in several riding disciplines like dressage, show jumping, working and mountain trail riding.
In 1785 George Washington imported the first mule to North America and started the first mule breeding program. Last but not least, the mule is an extraordinary trail companion to have along on any mountain trail ride.
You will always find one or two riders on a mule on trial rides; for a good reason, mules are famous for their trustworthiness, reliability, stamina, and dedication, making them excellent mountain trail companions.
Mules are more sure-footed than horses which they get from the donkey side of their genes. This lets a mule maintain stability even on the rockiest terrain. Mules are born with a natural self-preservation instinct that alerts them in dangerous situations, which is excellent for trail riding.
They are brilliant and will check out the safest trail when going up or down slopes in the mountains. You have an extra pair of eyes with a mule that finds the safest path forward.
Mules are solid and comfortable to ride for extended distances, and they are more sure-footed than horses.
Typically, mules can travel 20 miles a day. They can see where they are placing their hind feet, unlike horses and that gives them the edge over horses on sure-footedness.
Mules are the best trail buddy or packhorses you can have, doing their job day by day while out on trial.
They are careful steppers, and because of the toughness of their hooves and legs, they suffer fewer soundness issues.
Mules are the 4 x 4 performance athletes of the equine world. If trail riding is your favorite outdoor activity riding a mule on a mountain trail is the best way to enjoy it. Mules are comfortable working in warmer climates that horses would find intolerable making them great for mountain rides.
What Characteristics Should a Good Mountain Trail Horse Have?
Any horse rider who rides mountain trails will agree that a good trail horse is worth its weight in gold. Trail horses are trained just like other performance horses.
The qualities that make a good trail horse are achieved by hours of training, but there are several conformational and personality and conformational traits that are essential for a good mountain trail horse to have like,
- The ability to get along with other horses on the ride.
- A good trail horse should have a calm, even demeanor.
- He should have good legs and healthy hooves.
- He should be able to travel long distances. Travel four mph alone and as slow as three mph when leading a pack.
- A good mountain trail horse should stand tied patiently without pulling back.
- He should stand quietly while being loaded or unloaded.
- A good trail horse does not paw when tied.
- He should be able to cross bridges, creeks, and mud without fuss.
- Sure-footedness is a must, and he should be able to walk up or down a trail without tripping.
- A good trail horse is confident enough to ride away alone from other horses.
- He should be able to turn around on a narrow mountain trail.
- A good trail horse can stand quietly on the Highline.
- He should be able to wear hobbles with ease.
Any mountain trail rider will tell you horses that are best for mountains are any of the horses we listed above. Our favorites are the American Quarter horse, Mule, Icelandic horse, and the Tennessee Walker. All the horses we included in this article are excellent choices for mountain trails.
They all have the qualities that good trail horses need to be great trail horses. These horses are all strong, intelligent, trustworthy, and sure-footed enough to handle anything a mountain trail can throw at them and get you to your destination safely.