Light Horses are the best known modern horses ranging from high spirited hot blooded horse breeds to sturdy, dependable warmblood breeds!
The Light Horse breeds are the most predominant types of horses seen today. These breeds were developed primarily for light work, harness horses, and for riding. Some light horses, like the stock breed types, are still used for ranch work today. But the majority of the light breeds, the hunter types and saddle types, are primarily used for recreation or show.
Light horse breeds vary in temperament and this is related to their ancestry. Light horses include both the warmblood and the hot-blooded breeds. The hot blood breeds are well-known race horses. There are only two types of hot-blood horse breeds, the Arabian and the Thoroughbred. Although common sense would lead to the idea that being warm-blooded would mean a crossing between a hot blood and a cold blood horse breed, this is not the case. A warmblood light horse is one that was developed for sport to excel in dressage and show jumping. Registered warmblood breeds will have 5 or more generations of recognized sports horse bloodelines.
Many light breeds are attentive and responsive. These make excellent riding horses for the average family. Others are very high strung and spirited. These can excel in competition and the show ring. Such spirited animals as these do best with experienced equestrians and a firm hand.
Learn about all types of horse breeds:
Horse Backgrounds and History
The Light Horse breeds have ancient bloodlines, connecting their ancestry back to the oldest breed of horse. Of the hundreds of modern breeds of horse, the majority of these are Light Horse breeds. Throughout history the development of each horse breed has been influenced by its environment. Today most horses are owned primarily for recreation and show activities. There are many are newer light breeds developed to suit our modern times.
Historically, with the original domestication of the species, smaller light horse types began in Northwest Europe. The heavier-built horses with a convex profile began in North Eurasia. The somewhat lighter hot hot-blooded horses originated in Central Asia, and the more refined dish-shaped profile horses began in Western Asia. When domestication led to selective breeding, many characteristics changed as horses were bred to suit specific purposes.
The majority of the horse breeds used for riding horses today are Light horses. Light horse breeds originally descended from the Arabian type horse, and possibly the Barb. The Arabian horse is the oldest breed of horse documented and thus considered the purest breed. The light horses are either “hot blooded” or “warmblood’. The Arabian types are classified as being hot-blooded and the warm-blood horses are those breeds into which some Draft Horse characteristics were introduced.
Centuries of selective breeding for specialized uses, as well as various environmental conditions, have influenced the development of hundreds of different Light Horse breeds. Most of Light Horse breeds range from 14.2 hands high to 17.2 hands high, and are generally faster and less bulky than the draft type and taller than the ponies. These horses are widely used for recreation and show.
Light Horse Class
Classifying horses as Light Horse breeds, Draft Horse breeds, or Pony breeds is just one of the ways of distinguishing these horses. Another common method is to classify them by the country or continent of their origin, with some of the most popular breeds being native American horses. Along with these, each Light Horse breed can further be distinguished in several other ways.
Some ways that Light Horses can be further divided by are such things as characteristics, temperament, type related to usage, the disciplines they are suited for, and a combination of training and/or body type:
Characteristics are such things as coat color, for example the color breeds like the Pinto, Appaloosa, and Palomino.
Temperament is related to ancestry and includes horse that are hot blooded, warmblooded, and cold-blooded. The hot blooded breeds are those resembling the Arabian types while those that are warmblood horses are those similar to the European competition horses. The cold blooded breeds are the quieter, heavier Draft-type horses.
Type Related to Usage
Type that is related to usage includes such things as the Polo pony, riding pony, sport horse, performance horse, hack, hunter, gaited, stock horse, reining, and more.
Disciplines they are suited for include, but not limited to, racing, driving, dressage, show-jumping, show hack, eventing, and trail riding.
Training and/or Body Type
A combination method of classifying includes both training and/or body type and is divided into ‘Stock type’, ‘Hunter type’, and “Saddle type’. This horse class method is quite subjective and class types may differ between sources for a particular breed. Registries as well as individual breeders will place a breed in a particular class type, depending upon their emphasis of that breeds use. This is because many of the light horse breeds are readily adapted to more than one class. For example a “Hunter Type” may be just as adept at being a “Saddle Type”, and so forth.
Horse Type and Training
The horse class division we use here is the Training and/or Body Type that includes the Stock type, Hunter type, and Saddle Type, with the addition of an ‘Other’ type group that is a catch-all to include the color bred horses as well as horses that don’t quite fit in the first three. Each breed is placed into a type classes according to established demonstrated talents. (These classifications are not absolutely definitive, and may vary from source to source.)
Stock Type Breeds
Stock type horses are those traditionally used for ranch type work. They are heavily muscled in the shoulders, forearms, and hindquarters. Their backs are short and strong, the neck comes forward from the shoulder, and the legs are medium length. These horses can start and stop quickly, and turn sharply. They are used for ranch work, as pleasure and trail riding horses and as show horses in western events like roping, cutting, and reining. Stock type breeds include:
- Paint Horse – also Hunter type
- Quarter Horse
Hunter Type Breeds
Hunter type horses are a sport horse, having a long, ground covering stride. They have longer, leaner body than the Stock type horse with a neck that comes forward and slightly up from the shoulders so that the head is carried higher. Sport horses are used for show jumping, eventing, dressage, competitive driving, and fox hunting. Hunter type breeds include:
- Canadian Sport Horse
- Dutch Warmblood
- Iberian Warmblood
- Selle Francais
- Swedish Warmblood
Saddle Type Breeds
Saddle type horses are those used for show and conformation. They tend to be lighter boned and muscled than either the Stock Type or the Hunter type, with a long neck coming up from the shoulders and legs that are long. They are distinguished by a high stepping action, some are noted for being gaited horses. They are comfortable and pleasant to ride, spirited but easy for their rider to control. Saddle type breeds include:
- American Saddlebred
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
- Morgan Horse
- National Show Horse
- Tennessee Walking Horse
Other Type Breeds
Other type horses includes those that are considered color breeds. These are bred for specific coat color or pattern, and some are also bred for a specific type of movement, or gait. The Other type also includes those breeds that may fit a body type of one of the other training classes, but not be used for that type of training. In some cases it can also include those that may fit into more than one of the specific type groups.
- Caspian Horse
- Icelandic Horse
- Miniature Horse
- Norwegian Fjord
Horses have been used for work, sport and leisure for centuries. Today some horses are still used for work, but the majority of the horse breeds are widely owned for recreational riding and show activities. Many modern Light horses are bred to excel at a specific discipline. Some of these disciplines include polo, racing, driving, fox hunting, jumping, dressage, three day eventing, plantation riding. There are also western disciplines such as cutting cattle and reining, gymkhana, endurance, and trail riding.
The temperament of the Light Horse varies by breed. There are those that are very responsive and even and respond well to a beginner, to those that are very high spirited and high strung, requiring a firm experienced hand. Many Light breeds make a wonderful riding horse for the average family; and for the dedicated equestrian, there are Light breeds that excel in competition and the show ring.
Light Horse Care
There are basic care requirements for all the Light Horses, but it is very important that the needs of each individual breed is also considered. The number and type of special considerations for Light horses is as variable as the vast number of breeds. Below are some general light horse care tips, but be sure you learn about the breed of horse you are getting for its particular care requirements.
The amount of feed the Light Horse breed eats is dependent on its background (the environment it was developed in), the use it was developed for, its size, and the amount of activity it gets. Many of the Light Horse breeds are considered to be ‘easy keepers’. This means that they tend to stay at a good weight on an adequate amount of feed if not overfed.
A basic diet includes hay and grain, with a vitamin and mineral supplement, if not allowed to graze freely. Larger breeds, high-energy horses, and those that are exercised excessively will need more feed and/or special supplements. Some breeds that are less active or are smaller will need a reduced amount of feed. Those prone to overeating can develop problems from too much food intake, so it is important to manage their ration to keep them at a healthy weight.
The housing considerations also vary from breed to breed. Many will be equally fine in a barn, box stall, or an open pasture. If kept indoors they do need to be turned out into a paddock daily.
Again the individual breed needs to be considered. Some have higher maintenance and grooming requirements. Others are prone to environmental problems from the sun or from wet ground. Many horses need stimulation or will get bored, so being quite curious they must have a safely secured environment. And then there are some that some like to play, so will need “stall balls”, “pony pops”, or some other type of equine toy.
Horses are gregarious and thrive on companionship, they can do poorly when left alone. Most are highly social and enjoy the company of other horses. They need plenty of attention and socialization.
Light Horses breeds include some of the hardiest horses. These durable breeds are strong, sound and healthy. They require very little maintenance and include some of the longest lived horses. But this group also includes some very specialized breeds highly prone to individual afflictions. It is very important that you become familiar with the type of Light Horse you want so you know what it will require to keep it healthy.
Featured Image Credit: Sabine, Hagedorn, Shutterstock