Top 10 Fastest Horse Breeds in the World

April 11th, 2024

Horses were born to run, but some were bred specifically with the need for speed.

From the noble Arabian poised for battle to the esteemed equines who run in the Kentucky Derby, let's explore the 10 fastest horse breeds in the world.

10. Morgan

One of the oldest breeds of horses in the United States, the Morgan is a muscular type that measures between 14 and 15 hands in height, around 1,000 pounds in weight, and can reach speeds up to 20 mph.

In the 10th century, Morgans were incredibly popular for their versatility and were once the exclusive breed used for harness racing. Today, they perform a number of activities, from cross-country riding to Western pleasure, cutting, and show jumping.

9. Friesian

A large horse bred to be a working animal, the Friesian may not look as fast as some of its counterparts, but it can run up to 30 mph.

From the Netherlands, this agile and quick breed can perform the trot and is well-suited for harness racing because of its powerful hindquarters. Dressage, pleasure driving, fox hunting, and show jumping are among the other disciplines at which Friesians excel.

8. Akhal-Teke

Nicknamed the “golden horse,” because of its distinct metallic coat, the Akhal-Teke originated in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan and is one of the oldest horse breeds in existence.

The hot-blooded purebred averages 14 to 16 hands in height, around 1,000 pounds, and is built for stamina, with long, hollow legs and a straight back. Seen primarily in dressage, show jumping, and endurance riding, the Akhal-Teke can hit a top speed around 35 mph.

With an estimated population of fewer than 6,000 horses around the world, mostly in Turkmenistan, it’s one of the rarest breeds.

7. Andalusian

Hailing from the Iberian Peninsula, the Andalusian is a Spanish purebred that can be traced back to prehistoric times. They have a long neck, flowing mane, and a deep chest and compact build suited for running at speeds as high as 50 mph.

Around 1,100 pounds and 15.5 hands in height, Andalusians were recognized as a breed around the 1500s, and can today be found competing in show jumping, riding, and dressage.

6. Standardbred

Most commonly used in harness racing, Standardbreds can reach up to 30 mph and excel at the trot and pace.

This warm-blooded breed measures around 16 hands in height, weighs between 900 and 1,000 pounds, and features broad shoulders and strong hindquarters. All Standardbreds come from Thoroughbreds and can draw their lineage back to a horse named Hambletonian 10, or Rysdyk’s Hambletonian, born in Sugar Loaf, New York in 1849.

Niatross, Dan Patch, and Glidemaster are some of the most famous Standardbred race horses.

5. Arabian

Originating from the Middle East and Egypt, Arabians are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world and can clock a top speed of 40 mph.

Ridden by historic figures like Napoleon and Alexander the Great, these light and agile creatures are able to conserve energy in order to run longer distances and were used in war in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Rome.

Between 800 and 1,000 pounds, and around 14 hands in height, Arabians are unique in that the hot-blooded breed is born with one fewer lumbar vertebra, rib, and tail bone, which gives rise to their high tail carriage.

A number of other breeds can trace their lineage back to Arabians, including the No. 1 horse on our list.

4. Mustang

The free-roaming mustang, found in the western U.S., is not a “wild” breed, but a feral one that descended from domesticated Spanish horses brought to the Americas.

Weighing around 800 pounds and standing between 14 and 15 hands high, these strong, spirited equines can run incredibly fast (reportedly up to 54 mph), but more often are used for trail riding, dressage, and ranch work.

Since mustangs reproduce freely in the wild, there is significant variety among these horses. Thoroughbreds and American Quarter horse lines have contributed to mustang blood and have produced some of the speedier progeny within the mustang family.

3. Appaloosa

The official state horse of Idaho, the Appaloosa was bred by the Nez Perce tribe of the Pacific Northwest and is known for its striking spotted pattern.

Weighing around 1,100 pounds and standing 16 hands tall, the warm-blooded breed can run up to 41 mph and is frequently seen today in horse racing, fox hunting, show jumping, and eventing.

Appaloosas nearly became extinct in the 1870s, when the U.S. Army captured and slaughtered nearly 1,000 horses belonging to the Nez Perce in an effort to seize the tribe's land. In 1937, a series of articles in Western Horseman magazine highlighted the dying breed, which sparked an interest in preserving the uncommon horse. Today’s generation of Appaloosas are crossbred with Quarter horse and Thoroughbred lines to produce a breed more suited for racing and halter competition.

2. Quarter Horse

The fastest breed at short distances, the American Quarter horse can run up to 55 mph at a quarter mile — the distance that inspired the animal’s name.

The breed originated in the 1600s, when colonial Americans crossed Native American horses of Spanish origin with English horses imported to Virginia. 

Today there are more than 6 million horses registered by the American Quarter Horse Association, prompting the AQHA to label them as the world's most popular horse breed.

Weighing between 950 and 1,200 pounds, and standing 14 to 16 hands high on average, the Quarter horse is quick and muscular, with a calm, friendly demeanor. While they can sprint faster than any other horse, they lack the stamina of the top horse on our list, who can hit high speeds at both short and long distances.

1. Thoroughbred

The distinguished breed known for running in iconic races like the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup (G1), Thoroughbreds originated in England and can be traced back to three foundation sires: the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk.

Some of the most famous Thoroughbreds of the last century include unlikely champion Seabiscuit, esteemed filly Zenyatta, and Secretariat, who set speed records in all three of his Triple Crown victories, averaging 37.7 mph in each race.

In May 2008, three-year-old bay Hawkster hit a record 37.82 mph speed and finished 1 1/2 miles on turf in 2:22.8 at Santa Anita, while Winning Brew clocked 43.97 mph in a two-furlong sprint at Penn National Race Course as a two-year-old filly in 2008.

With an average height between 15 and 17 hands, and a weight between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds, Thoroughbreds are a slim, athletic and versatile hot-blooded breed that competes in a number of disciplines, from long-distance racing to show jumping, dressage, and cross-country riding.

Related topics