There are estimated to be over 50 million horses in the world today. Horses were once a necessary part of mankind's daily life and work. A small percentage of the equine population still functions as working animals, but most horses are now used primarily for recreational purposes.
Still, the years when horses were the primary mode of transport and labor resulted in the development of specialized breeds. Here is an overview of the most popular modern breeds.
The American Quarter Horse Association was founded in 1940 as a registry for the country's many ranch horses. Today there are over 3 million registered Quarter Horses with countless other grade and cross-bred animals not in the books. These hardy horses are known for their calm nature, trainability and athleticism. Their stocky build also makes them well-suited for carrying men and women alike. While halter and performance Quarter Horses have become extremely specialized at the top level of competition, this breed is also a favorite at open shows and in youth organizations like 4H.
Arabians are renowned for being the oldest breed in the world with their lineage tracing back over 4500 years. Many other modern breeds, like Thoroughbreds, are descendants of Arabians. The breed is known for its spirited nature, elegance and beauty, so much so that its top halter competitions have become formal affairs. That said, Arabians were originally working desert horses and as a result also remain the preferred mount for modern endurance competitions.
Though not the most populous breed in the world, Thoroughbreds are arguably the most well-recognized among non-horse people. Prestigious races like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are exclusively for registered Thoroughbred horses. Outside of racing, the speed and agility of Thoroughbreds also make them ideal for sporting events like jumping and dressage.
The gaited American breed known as the Tennessee Walker has earned a loyal following in recent years. Developed for plantation work, these horses are famous for their smooth way of going. Sometimes called "the Cadillac of horses," a properly gaited Tennessee Walker promises a comfortable ride that appeals to older riders and is ideal for long days on the trail.
The two Miniature horse registries are among some of the largest in the United States despite being less than 50 years old. Miniature horses are largely descended from Shetland ponies but also have other influences like Falabella bloodlines that allow for great diversity in color and type. Minis are surprisingly able-bodied. They can halter, drive and jump just like their full-sized counterparts. The natural willingness of the breed makes them wonderful companions for people of all ages and ability levels. In fact, many states now recognize Miniature horses as authorized guide animals.
While some equestrians might say that no good horse is a bad color, there is no denying the appeal of color breeds like Paints, Pintos and Appaloosas. Paint horses descend from the same stock horse lines as Quarter Horses. Pinto horses display the same color patterns as Paints, but the registry represents a multitude of different breed influences from Thoroughbreds to ponies. The famously spotted American Appaloosa horses trace their origins back to the Nez Perce Native American tribe, but the modern Appaloosa registry also allows for some cross-breeding with Quarter Horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds.
These breeds are among the most popular, but the horse population as a whole boasts of immense diversity with over 300 different recognized breeds throughout the world. From pasture pets to Grand Prix jumpers, there is a horse to suit every function and fancy.