Trail riding has a joy of its kind. The obstacles, unforeseen challenges, surprising terrain, and thrill of a challenging horse ride; only a rider who has experienced it can appreciate the adrenaline rush this brings.
But, truthfully, only the best horse breeds for trail riding can make this experience worthwhile. If you head towards the mountains for a competition or purely for your pleasure, you need the best horse for mountain trails by your side.
Today, in this article, we have compiled a list of the top 12 best breeds of horses for trail riding. Along with that, you will learn what qualities a trail horse should or should not have. So, read till the very end before you plan a horse trip towards the mountains!
Top 12 Best Horse Breeds for Trail Riding
Here we go with the list of the best horse breeds for trail riding. Get ready to learn all about the qualities of these breeds that make them so ideal for the mountains!
1. Quarter Horse
American Quarter Horses are known for their calm nature. That right there is the number one and most important personality trait that makes them such great mountain trail horses. On top of that, they offer a smooth and stable ride.
Honestly, these two qualities alone are enough to justify why Quarter Horses are number one on our list. However, this isn’t all that they offer.
These horses are highly energetic. They are born athletic with the stamina to ride for hours without a sign of exhaustion. Moreover, they are smart. You won’t see your Quarter Horse confused even on the most uneven and challenging paths. A Quarter Horse is comfortable in herds as well as on its own which works perfectly well for trail riding.
Moving on, the physical qualities of the horse add to its fitting nature for the mountains. Medium size of 14 to 16 hands, strong muscular build, and sprinting speed are bonus features.
2. American Paint Horse
If all the good qualities of a Quarter Horse were to be mixed with the outstanding trail ride qualities of a Thoroughbred, the outcome will be an American Paint Horse. This horse breed is registered either under the American Quarter Horse Association or the Jockey Club, which is the Thoroughbred registry.
American Paint Horses have a content nature. There’s hardly anything that will make these horses anxious or scared. Paint Horses are ready to take on any challenges that come their way. Additionally, this breed has the ability to make quick, yet smart, decisions on the spot.
Other qualities that make this horse ideal for trail riding are its social nature, ability to adjust with new riders, and comfortable ride. Moreover, this horse breed has an optimum height of 14.2 hands to 15.2 hands.
As a bonus, these horses look beautiful. The bright colors pair perfectly well with the muscular body. Their flashy colors pop in the beautiful mountainous terrains to make your horse ride look nothing less than a scene out of a movie!
If there is one horse breed you could prize for being a jack of all trades, it’s the Appaloosas. However, what’s better is that they are the masters of all they can do.
If you look into the background of Appaloosa’s, you’ll realize why they are so perfect for this job. This breed was originally bred as a warhorse. They were required to run on low food and water for thousands of miles. Yet, they were expected to still have the strength to fight against the riders’ enemies. Therefore, there is no doubt about the stamina, strength, and sturdiness of these horses.
Later on, Appaloosas were crossbred with Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Arabian horses. So basically, you get the perfect concoction needed for the mountains. This horse breed is known for its fast speed and cool-headedness: the two perfect traits that make an ideal trail horse.
Appaloosa’s are between 14.2 and 16 hands so the height is just perfect. In terms of looks, there is no compromise. Moreover, their intelligence and obedience are worth the praise.
Mules, if you didn’t already know, are a cross between horses and donkeys. But, they are actually stronger and more intelligent than both these animals.
This breed is known universally as a trail ride animal. They can carry not just people, but also heavy luggage on the toughest of paths.
If you talk about stamina and physical toughness, Mules are way stronger than any other horse breed. They are born for difficult terrains, and that’s why their skins don’t scratch. Also, Mules offers a very stable, comfortable, and smooth ride regardless of how many obstacles come their way.
One thing to keep in mind about Mules is that they are not for beginners. Mules aren’t the easiest to handle and require training before they can head out on a serious ride. Therefore, if you want to utilize the benefits a Mule offers, first you have to get under its layer of stubbornness.
It is only fair to have Thoroughbreds on a list that talks about the best horse breeds for trail riding. These horses have maxed out the speed limit on the racetrack. But, once you train them for the trails, this speed is polished for good.
Thoroughbreds offer a smooth ride. Despite their high speeds, they know how to keep their feet on the ground. Steady and sturdy, these horses are both! Even if you’re a beginner trail rider, this horse will work for you.
Make sure you thoroughly train a Thoroughbred to be calm before heading out on the trails. Most Thoroughbreds are born with high energy levels. While that is a great trait, it can be a hassle if the energy spikes up at the wrong times.
6. Rocky Mountain Horse
As the name suggests, this horse breed is justifiably on the list of the best horses for mountain trails.
The reason why a Rocky Mountain Horse is so highly recommended is that it offers a very safe ride. With a stable gait, there are minimal risks of mishaps. In fact, it is such a safe choice for trails that it is recommended for older or disabled equestrians. If it’s suitable for them, then it’s definitely suitable for a rider with any level of expertise!
If we talk of personality, the horse is friendly. It has an easy-going nature and it won’t have trouble riding in groups.
The outer beauty of Rocky Mountain Horses is equally outstanding. Whenever you feel like the surrounding views on the trail have become boring, you can admire the striking mane against the dark coat of your horse. Moreover, the stamina and build are equally admirable.
7. Arabian Horse
If you dig into the history of modern-day running horses, you’ll find Arabian genes. This is proof enough to convince you that Arabian Horses are born for the trails!
Arabian horses have a height between 14 and 15 hands which is the recommended standard for trail horses. These horses are overall very athletic. However, they particularly have strong legs which add to their stamina for a long run and walk.
Contrasting with their tough outlook, the nature of Arabian horses is very soft. They are sociable, obedient, and friendly. An Arabian horse is willing to go to any lengths to satisfy its owner. Moreover, this breed is the horse equivalent of a ‘street smart’ person. Their alertness keeps them aware of their surroundings to avoid any wrong moves whatsoever.
Altogether, their personality, paired with their elegant physical appearance, makes them graceful trail horses.
Back in the day, Andalusian horses were trained from the age of 5 to gallop for 12 miles without a break. You can only imagine the speed, strength, and stamina that this training would have imprinted on the genes of the breed.
Despite the athleticism and toughness, Andalusians are the people-pleasers. So, there isn’t any command an Andalusian would ignore. You can train your horse in any way that you want, to make it perfect for your trail needs.
This breed checks all the physical beauty marks too. They have a height between 14.3 and 16 hands. The stallions are usually taller than the mares. As for the temperament, this breed is humble yet intelligent.
9. Spotted Saddle Horse
Spotted Saddle Horses are a cross between a Pinto horse and a Gaited horse. Therefore, expect the best of both worlds!
Their smooth gait provides a safe and stable ride in the mountains. Their beautiful patterns from the pinto parent shine through the rough terrain. With their height between 14.3 and 16 hands, this horse breed is athletic, with a calm and composed temperament.
So, a Spotted Saddle Horse is unlikely to make an impractical, impulsive decision. Altogether, these qualities work together for a great trail ride.
10. Morgan Horse
Morgan Horses are the model breed in terms of temperament. They love to please their owners so they make sure they think about every action thoroughly. As for their social side, Morgans are friendly with both, humans and other horses. Hence, there is nothing to worry about if your trail experience includes a herd.
The ride of a Morgan Horse is just as gentle as its temperament. Calm, cool-headed, and sensible describe this breed perfectly. They know how to stay on the ground even when they’re running their fastest.
A Morgan Horse is usually between 14.1 and 15.3 hands. Overall, the build is very refined and compact which gives the horse an elegant outlook. The stamina is not a compromise either. They’ll run for miles on the toughest terrain without a sign of exhaustion. All in all, Morgan Horses have all the qualities you’d expect a good trail horse to possess.
11. Icelandic Horse
This is the best-gaited horse for trail riding. The breed originates from Iceland, as the name suggests. In Iceland, these are the only horses you’ll find. Therefore, be assured that from the get-go, these horses have been trained for all sorts of tasks. After all, the people of Iceland have no other options!
One unique feature that sets this breed apart is that they have 5 gaits instead of the usual 3. So, expect the fastest speed from these horses on your long journeys. But, at the same time, getting your Icelandic Horse to keep up with a herd won’t be an issue.
Other traits that make this breed ideal for trail rides are its high energy, physical strength, and kind nature. They don’t get easily scared. Instead, they analyze the circumstances before making a move.
Icelandic Horses are on the shorter side with a height of 14 hands or less. During the winters, these horses grow an extra layer of coat. So, when all other horses are freezing, your Icelandic Horse will keep going!
12. Tennessee Walking Horse
The smooth gait of the Tennesse Walking Horse will keep you comfortable and safe on the mountain.
This horse breed has the ideal balance of looks, personality, and perfect trail horse traits. It looks very refined but is equally tough when tested in rough situations. There is no question on a Tennessee Walking Horse’s stamina and endurance.
These horses have a wide height range of 14.3 hands to 17 hands. Since Tennessee Walking Horses have a friendly nature and calm temperament, all levels of riders will find this breed comfortable. They are quick learners which makes them ideal for people who dislike the trouble of training. The kids can also train this horse as per their liking.
3 Must-Have Qualities in Trail Horses
When you’re looking for the best horse for mountain riding, you need to focus on the individual traits of the horse as well. Here are 3 qualities that your horse must be well-trained for before you head towards a trail ride!
On a trail ride, you and your horse are basically intertwined. Whatever you think should be immediately put to action. Any delay on a tough terrain can lead to risky outcomes for both of you. Therefore, your horse should be trained to follow your orders like it can read your mind.
An ideal horse for mountain trails must be calm. Firstly, this is important whenever there is an unexpected obstacle. A calm horse will be able to analyze the circumstances instantly to come up with a successful plan on its own. Secondly, only a composed mind can process commands. Your horse’s obedience will be useless if it gets anxious on a trail ride.
Practically, your horse’s personality traits are ineffectual unless they are backed by solid physical strength. No matter how well your horse responds to your orders or stays put in anxious situations, but if it doesn’t have the stamina to walk long distances continuously, it isn’t a good trail horse. Horses require fitness and endurance to qualify as good options for the mountains.
3 Things to Avoid in Trail Riding Horses
Now, your horse might be the best for casual riding, but, that doesn’t mean it will be equally good on the mountains too. While certain qualities are a must in trail horses, some must be avoided at all costs. A horse with any of these 3 traits should be kept far away from the mountains.
A horse for the trails doesn’t particularly have to be the fastest. Instead, it should be able to maintain the required balance between fast sprints and slow trots. The horse will have to walk at the pace of the rest of the herd when traveling in groups. Similarly, it should be fast as lightning when the need arises.
The rider’s commands should translate fully to the horse. If you think you don’t have strong enough communication with the horse you’re riding, don’t choose it for trail riding. Truthfully, even a delay of a few seconds in response to your command can be risky on rough terrains.
Your horse is probably very comfortable with you. But, will it be just as calm and collected when there is a group of other horses and riders? You cannot risk unexpected behaviors on the spot. Therefore, only plan a trail ride if your horse can easily adjust to new animals, people, and surroundings.
FAQs Related to Trail Riding Horses
Following are some FAQs related to trail riding horses. Read through to find out more on the topic.
Morgan horses are universally known as the friendliest horses. Not only are they loving, but also extremely lovable. A Morgan horse would follow you to your room if it could!
Thoroughbred and Arabian horses are friendly too. However, they are the kind of horses that like to have some fun. These friendly breeds will require you to be physically friendly to satisfy their entertainment needs.
Quarter Horses are also friendly. They are calm nature-wise. So, you can enjoy a peaceful time with this breed.
The top 5 horse breeds recommended for beginners are:
– American Quarter Horse
– Morgan Horse
– Welsh Cob
– Icelandic Horse
– Tennessee Walking Horse
All these breeds are friendly, calm, and intelligent. A newbie won’t have trouble training any of these breeds. Moreover, these horses also get accustomed to new people and practices quickly so that won’t be a difficult phase.
A good trail horse costs $3000 or more. However, don’t expect anything more than $5000 even for the priciest option. A horse of this price will be definitely one of the best horses for mountains. It will be obedient, physically strong, good at taking commands, and might even come with a bonus of trail riding experience.
You may find cheaper options but those horses will probably be younger. A teen trail horse is easily available for $1000. Unregistered trail horses are also lower in price.
Gaited horses are the best horses for riding. Any gaited horse breed is ideal for a smooth ride. Paso Fino, in particular, is a breed that is loved by all equestrians. Other than that, Icelandic Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, American Saddlebreds, and Peruvian Pasos are great options to look into.
A great trail horse must be intelligent, quick to respond, and good with navigation. All of these qualities are vital for the safety of the horse as well as the rider. The horse should be a good judge in terms of which paths to choose in rough terrain.
On top of these qualities, calm nature is mandatory too. You cannot expect a good trail ride with a horse that lacks cooperation and composure.
Gaited horses are the best breed of horse for trail riding. A naturally gaited horse always has one foot on the ground which gives it control. Moreover, this makes the horse ride overall smooth and safe.
For all these reasons, gaited horses make great companions for trail rides as well as any other type of long-distance ride.
The most comfortable horse to ride is the one that offers a smooth ride, stays stable, and can handle the track, regardless of how many obstacles come in the way. Therefore, there is no better option than gaited horse breeds if you’re looking for a comfortable ride.
The breeds you can consider for this job include Florida Cracker, Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse, Marwari, American Standardbred, and American Saddlebred. Lastly, you must be familiar with the horse and the horse is familiar with you for an overall comfortable experience.
So, this is all for today!
You have learned all about the top horse breeds ideal for mountain trails. Moreover, you’ve also found some non-gaited options suitable for the job. The personal traits to check in an individual horse are also listed for you to go through before making the final decision.
Hopefully, you would’ve figured out your dream horse breed for trail riding by now. One thing is for sure; whether you’ve made the decision yet or not, this list will help you whenever you’re ready!