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Top 11 Best Horse Breeds for Trail Riding

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Whether you’re buying a horse for yourself or researching places to ride, in many cases finding a breed of horse well-suited for trail riding will make a big difference.

Sometimes when people are new to horses, their size can be intimidating. Spending time with these amazing animals is the best way to learn their moods, what to do and what not to do, and how to protect yourself.

Ideally, beginners will learn on a horse with a calm temperament that is safe and predictable. They’ll be willing to put up with mistakes from whoever is riding them or taking care of them.

For people who have been riding for years but are new to horse ownership, there’s a lot to learn.

Make things simpler by buying a horse breed that is easier to care for. It will make learning go more smoothly and mistakes won’t be so pronounced.

Horse riders heading down

That said, certain horse breeds are better suited to trail riding. You’re not going to take a horse trained for racing up and down trails.

Finding a breed that won’t get spooked easily and will stand steadily through your struggles as you learn or keep customers safe will make things easier and more fun!

Every breed comes with distinct traits, but there are some that are more suited for the task. Here are some horse breeds that are ideal for trail riding.

1. The Morgan

Morgan horses are a much-beloved breed in the U.S. and around the world.

It was one of the first horses developed in America, and its calm nature has made it a big favorite in many other countries.

They are a terrific all-around horse with a muscular frame that is small enough for children to ride yet strong enough to navigate challenging trails.

They generally have a gentle nature and form bonds with humans quickly.

They’re also smart and can adapt to different riders very easily. People love to take Morgans out for trail riding, camping, and they even do well with English-style riding.

American Paint horse running gallop across winter snowy field

2. The American Paint Horse

If there was a go-to all-around horse, it would probably be the American Paint horse. You can spot these loving horses from a mile away because of their distinct coats.

You’ve seen them in western movies and on ranches all across the country. They’ve got a great personality and aren’t spooked easily, which is important when you’re out in the woods or on a trail around other animals.

These are athletic horses, so they may not be the best horse for an absolute beginner. However, for people who have years of experience riding looking to buy their first horse, the American Paint horse is an excellent choice.

3. The Appaloosa

Appaloosas are consistently rated as one of the best riding horses out there. They do, however, need a rider who knows what they’re doing.

These horses can be stubborn, and you may just get stuck on a trail or going in the opposite direction if you’re new to horse riding. With regular exercise and a bit of experience, they’ll do very well on trails and can be a lot of fun to ride.

4. The Arabian Horse

These aren’t the best horses for beginners because of their strong personalities, but Arabians can be terrific trail riding horses when the right person is holding the reins. It’s not that they have bad temperaments per se, they’re just iron-willed.

Strong in body and in mind makes them a challenge to control on a trail for people new to the sport. How these horses are trained will have a big impact on how they do on the trail. The more time you put in, the better the experience will be.

Portrait of a horse

5. The Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is the quintessential cowboy’s horse. It’s one of America’s earliest horses and has been a staple on cattle ranches and other farms for centuries.

These horses are famous for having good personalities and being smart and dependable. They are eager to earn people’s trust and can learn new tasks quickly. All of these traits add up to make them the favorite horse breed in America.

People love Quarter Horses because they can sprint and do well as a workhorse. They live a long time and grow to a good size, not too large and not too small. They don’t require a ton of maintenance and are fun to be around.

6. The Tennessee Walking Horse

If you want a horse that will be very tolerant of beginner mistakes, then consider the Tennessee Walking horse. These horses are some of the most gentle out there, and instructors and new owners have been choosing them for decades.

They’ll adjust to your experience level wherever you are and are very forgiving when something goes wrong. They are amazing to ride on because of how they respond to commands and are versatile in their capabilities.

7. The Mustang

Riding a Mustang just feels natural when it’s done on a trail. They are adaptive to new environments by nature, so they won’t be surprised by anything you come across on the trail.

They can manage all sorts of terrains, and won’t be spooked easily if you come across some deer or other wildlife. While the movies often depict Mustangs as stubborn and hard to train, they form bonds with humans quickly and with the right training can become very easy to ride.

8. The Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred earns its reputation and money on the racetrack, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do well on the trail as well. These horses are tall and elegant with a smooth ride that makes time on the trail go by swimmingly.

 bay thoroughbred racehorse in a paddock

Well-trained Thoroughbreds will have a good pace throughout the ride, though their stubborn streak and high energy levels may shine through at times. A lot of these horses find their way to the trail via second-chance farms or rescues, and with the right training, they’re excellent with riders of all levels.

9. The American Saddlebred

The American Saddlebred was meant to be a warhorse. And we’re talking about wars in the past where horses played an integral role. They were designed to be ridden for long periods on rough terrain under harsh conditions.

They are large in stature, and their step makes them a ton of fun to ride on trails. High endurance levels mean that they can go for long rides, and they do well with riders of different experience levels.

10. Rocky Mountain Horse

The Rocky Mountain horse is originally from Kentucky, a horse-crazy state with breeders and trainers who know what they are doing. These horses have one of the smoothest gaits you have seen, and riders of all levels will love being on them up hills and down into valleys.

While you’re on a Rocky Mountain horse, it’s hard not to keep staring at their amazing chocolate coats and light manes. This breed is often used for trail rides for disabled riders.

A herd of horses in the mountains

11. Missouri Fox Trotter

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better trail riding horse than the Missouri Fox Trotter. This is a calm horse that is sure-footed on gravel, rock, and steep inclines.

People spend hours on trails with these equine partners. They are strong enough to carry loads and will respond well to commands from experienced and beginner riders.