Horse Breeds of North America: The Pocket Guide to 96 Essential Breeds

Horse Breeds of North America: The Pocket Guide to 96 Essential Breeds

by Judith Dutson

ISBN: 9781580176507

Publisher Storey Publishing, LLC

Published in Calendars/Photography, Calendars/Animals

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Sample Chapter


Abaco Barb

The ancestors of these colorful horses may have swum ashore from Spanish shipwrecks, or they may have arrived in the Bahamas with Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. The last mare of this herd died in 2015.

HEIGHT: 13 hands

DESCRIPTION: Typical Spanish traits; head long between eye and muzzle, with large nostrils and heavy bone above the eye. Of the last twelve living horses, most were pintos and the rest were bay or strawberry roan.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Some individuals rack or pace

BEST SUITED FOR: Surviving without human intervention

Place of Origin

Great Abaco, Bahamas, sometime during the 16th century


The color of the Akhal-Teke ranges from palomino to light bay and roan, always with a golden metallic gleam to the coat. It was among the world's first hot-blooded breeds, developed by nomadic tribes in Asia.

HEIGHT: 15–16 hands

DESCRIPTION: Lean build with a long, thin neck; sloping croup, long pasterns, pronounced withers, sparse mane and tail, and lustrous coat. Many colors including bays, chestnuts, dun, palomino, grullo, cremello, perlino, and black.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Metallic sheen to coat; soft, gliding gaits; extraordinary endurance

BEST SUITED FOR: Endurance and dressage

Place of Origin

Turkmenian desert east of the Caspian Sea


American Cream Draft

The American Cream Draft is one of only a few draft breeds that were developed entirely in the United States. Many of these horses are used for pleasure driving and riding, and at least one shows in dressage.

HEIGHT: Mature mares, 15–16 hands; mature males, 16–16.3 hands

DESCRIPTION: Refined head with large eyes, small ears, and flat profile; long, full mane and tail; wide chest, deep heart girth, and solid, strong legs set wide apart. Always cream-colored — light, medium, or dark; pink skin; white mane and tail; amber or hazel eyes.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Unusual striking cream color

BEST SUITED FOR: Commercial carriage driving, parade hitches, farm work, riding, and pleasure driving

Place of Origin



American Curly Horse

When viewed in the right light, the Curly coat has a wavy pattern similar to that of rippling water. Not only do Curlies have a curly mane, tail, and coat, but many even have curls in their ears.

HEIGHT: 14.3–15.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: A sturdy horse with wide-set eyes, a muscular neck, extremely hard, round hooves. All common colors.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Unique curly coat and mane; smooth lateral gaits; unusually hardy

BEST SUITED FOR: Ranch work, trail riding, endurance, and all pleasure sports

Place of Origin

Unknown; first recorded in Nevada

American Indian Horse

These horses transformed entire indigenous cultures into swift nomadic hunters and fearsome mounted warriors. Used as warhorses, racehorses, stock horses, and beasts of burden, they truly changed the face of a nation.

HEIGHT: 13–16 hands

DESCRIPTION: The American Indian Horse is the name now given to all Indian horses. Typically small and tough, with great endurance, individual populations vary according to tribal preferences. All colors known to the horse.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Tough and durable; features vary according to tribal and family lines


Place of Origin

Throughout North America

American Paint Horse

Colored horses came to the Americas with Cortés and have been extremely popular ever since. American Paint Horses are now found throughout the world. They excel in all working and pleasure disciplines.

HEIGHT: 14.2–16.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: Solid stockhorse conformation; striking color patterns. Major patterns are tobiano (regular spots, white extending across back; often four white stockings and blaze or star on face, multicolored tail) and overo (irregular, splashy white markings not extending across back; at least one leg colored; often a bald or bonnet face; tail of one color).

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Versatility, athleticism, gentle temperament

BEST SUITED FOR: Western competition, ranch work, trail riding, and all working and pleasure disciplines

Place of Origin

The American West

American Quarter Horse

Originally developed on the East Coast to run races over short distances, the Quarter Horse found its place in the development of the West as an outstanding ranch horse with innate "cow sense."

HEIGHT: 14.2–17 hands

DESCRIPTION: Short, fine head with straight profile; small, alert ears and lively eyes set well apart; solid, muscular body. Many colors appear, but sorrel is the most common.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Exceptional athleticism and versatility; extreme speed for short distances; most highly developed "cow sense" of any breed

BEST SUITED FOR: Ranch work; short-distance racing, cutting, reining, and other competition

Place of Origin

North America; originated along the eastern seaboard and became a breed on the ranches of the American West

American Quarter Pony

Known for their calm disposition, quickness, and agility, Quarter Ponies are popular mounts for Western competitions such as bulldogging, roping, and team penning. They make excellent trail and family mounts as well.

HEIGHT: 11.2–14.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: Small, chiseled head with bold eyes often showing white sclera; long, arched neck and moderately high withers; long, sloping shoulders and deep heart girth. All solid colors and pinto.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Extremely athletic, heavily muscled, stock-type animals

BEST SUITED FOR: Western competition and ranch work

Place of Origin

The first Quarter Pony Association started in Iowa, but the breed has long been found across the United States.


American Saddlebred

These beautiful horses, with their graceful bearing, are spirited yet gentle and easily trainable. They carry themselves elegantly and are a pleasure to ride and to watch at all times.

HEIGHT: 15–17 hands

DESCRIPTION: Finely chiseled heads with small, alert ears and large eyes; long, arched neck; wide-chested with short strong back and powerful hindquarters. All colors.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Elegance and beauty; can have two extra gaits, the slow gait and the rack

BEST SUITED FOR: Showing (riding and driving); trail and pleasure riding

Place of Origin

Eastern United States, especially Kentucky


American Walking Pony

These ponies' natural gaits are the walk, pleasure walk, merry walk, trot, and canter. Some also perform the slow gait and the rack, making them seven- gaited. They combine Welsh Pony and Tennessee Walker bloodlines.

HEIGHT: 13.2–14.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: Small, chiseled head with bold eyes showing white sclera; long, arched neck and moderately high withers; long, sloping shoulders and deep heart girth. All solid colors and pinto.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: A gaited pony breed of great beauty, versatility, and athleticism; some individuals can perform seven gaits

BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure, driving, jumping, and trail riding

Place of Origin



Not only does the Andalusian have stunning visual appeal, but it also has a gentle, willing disposition. Along with the Lusitano, a close relative, this breed has long been considered one of the finest in the world.

HEIGHT: 15–16 hands

DESCRIPTION: Straight or slightly convex profile on head of great elegance and character; highly arched neck; solid build; rounded croup with low-set tail. Solid colors only, most commonly bay, gray, and black.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Exceptionally even temperament, elegance, agility, power, "cow sense"

BEST SUITED FOR: Dressage, all general riding purposes, ranch and cattle work, and mounted bullfighting

Place of Origin

Spain; came to New World with Columbus


During the nineteenth century the Ni Mee Poo (Nez Percé) Indians bred these spectacular horses, which quickly became famous for their speed, surefootedness, and tremendous endurance.

HEIGHT: 14.2–16.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: Although the color is the most obvious feature of Appaloosas, their strength and versatility are prized by horsemen. One of the most common Appaloosa patterns is the blanket (shown).

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Bold coat-color patterns; striped hooves; mottled skin on nose, lips, and genitals

BEST SUITED FOR: Ranch work, trail riding, Western sports, jumping, and middle-distance racing

Place of Origin

Western Washington state and eastern Idaho


Among the most beautiful of all horses, the Arabian is also one of the oldest recognizable types in the world. It is the most widespread breed on earth and the most influential, having been used to improve almost every other breed.

HEIGHT: 14–15.3 hands

DESCRIPTION: Dished profile, large expressive eyes, wide forehead, small muzzle; arched neck, high tail carriage. Bay, gray, black, chestnut, or roan, always with black skin.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Great beauty, tremendous endurance, high tail carriage, and unflagging spirit

BEST SUITED FOR: Endurance, pleasure riding, and showing

Place of Origin

Middle East, especially Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan


A relatively new breed, the Azteca combines the finest qualities of its foundation breeds, the Andalusian, the Quarter Horse, and the Mexican Criollo: physical beauty combined with athletic ability and an ideal temperament.

HEIGHT: Male horses 15–16.1 hands, mares 14.3–16 hands

DESCRIPTION: Lean and elegant head, arched neck, small ears and intelligent eyes. All solid colors.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Spirit, intelligence, agility, power, strength, elegance, and style

BEST SUITED FOR: Dressage, bullfighting, reining, cutting, team penning, roping, polo, and pleasure riding

Place of Origin



Like all heavy horses, this breed descended from the Great Flemish Horse, which lived in northern Europe more than 2,000 years ago. The Belgian is said to have the quietest disposition of any of the draft breeds.

HEIGHT: 16–18 hands

DESCRIPTION: Can weigh up to 2,200 pounds; straight or slightly concave profile and small ears; deep body with broad, short back and massive croup; strong, lean legs with some feathering at fetlock; show types have longer legs than working types; large feet. Usually chestnut or sorrel with white mane and tail, four white stockings, and a blaze.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Power and grace; high-stepping action; gentle temperament; easy keepers

BEST SUITED FOR: Draft and farm work; parade hitch

Place of Origin




The powerful Brabant, the European version of the Belgian, is the heaviest of all the draft breeds. Although massive, these horses are easy keepers with a quiet, willing disposition, ideal for the small-scale farmer.

HEIGHT: 15.2–17 hands

DESCRIPTION: A large, neat head; short, heavily muscled neck; powerful, deep body supported by substantial legs; can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds. Most often red bay and bay roan, but blue and strawberry roans and solid dark bay are also found.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Massively built; thicker-bodied and "draftier" than American Belgians; gentle disposition


Place of Origin



A light tan coat, black mane and tail, and black legs make a stunning combination on this buckskin. Most do not have a dorsal stripe. Seeming to symbolize the Old West, buckskin is a color, not a true breed.

COAT COLOR: Usually tan, but may range from cream to deep bronze


SKIN: Dark

MARKINGS: Legs black from knees and hocks to ground; rarely, a dorsal stripe


Color Close-up

Duns resemble buckskins but their hairs have dark pigment along one side. This gives the coat color a characteristic smuttiness, where other horses would have a sheen. In addition, duns often have darker points: a dorsal stripe, shoulder stripes, and zebra leg-stripes. The gene controlling these markings, called the dun factor, is often found in wild horses.

Canadian Horse

Tracing its ancestry to the royal horses of French King Louis XIV, this breed has a long, illustrious history. It has contributed much to the development of Canada, as well as to many other breeds of horses.

HEIGHT: 14.3–16.2 hands

DESCRIPTION: Solidly built with strong, arched neck, long body; short head, wide between the eyes, with fine muzzle; long, wavy mane and high-set tail. Usually black or very dark brown.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Hardy, sound, easy keeper

BEST SUITED FOR: Riding, jumping, and driving

Place of Origin


Canadian Sport Horse

Specifically developed to excel at the Olympic sports of show jumping, dressage, and eventing, this breed has big, fluid movement both on the flat and over jumps. Thoroughbred blood is evident in this stallion.

HEIGHT: 16 hands and taller

DESCRIPTION: Well-balanced conformation; large, quiet eyes; straight movement and impulsion. Can be bay, brown, black, chestnut, gray, pinto, cremello, or palomino.

SPECIAL QUALITIES: An evolving breed of large, solid horses that are structurally correct and have fluid movement, excellent jumping talent, and a natural ability to work with their human partners

BEST SUITED FOR: Jumping, dressage, eventing, foxhunting, and driving

Place of Origin

Canada, especially Ontario

Excerpted from "Horse Breeds of North America: The Pocket Guide to 96 Essential Breeds" by Judith Dutson. Copyright © 2013 by Judith Dutson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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