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15 Best Riding Horses for Beginners (with Photos)

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If you’re a beginner in the equestrian world, choosing your first trusty steed is no easy task. There are so many breeds to choose from – how do you decide? Here are 15 of the best riding horses – for beginners and beyond!

Things to Consider

 Even with hundreds of years of careful breeding, every horse is an individual. Each one will have his own set of quirks and traits that make him special – however, some riding horse breeds are better suited for beginners and first-time horse owners than others.

Purchasing a horse is a big commitment and not one that anyone should take lightly. Before rushing to buy the first cute horse that you find, consider answering the following questions first:

  • What do I want to do with my horse? What disciplines interest me?
  • Do I want a young horse that will learn and grow with me, or a seasoned veteran that can teach me the ropes?
  • Will this be my forever horse, or will I be looking to transition to a new partner in a few years?

Once you have a general idea of the types of things you’d like to do with your horse, find yourself some local experts who can guide you in the process.

As a beginner, it’s important to gain knowledge from seasoned horsey people in your discipline of choice. Taking lessons at a professional barn, riding with a certified instructor, or even attending professional clinics can help you make the right choice.

If you’re currently in the beginning phases of your equestrian journey, this post is designed to give you some insight into 15 of the best riding horses for beginners (and beyond!).

American Paint Horse

paint horse

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, ranch work, rodeo events, eventing, jumping, trail riding

The American Paint Horse has a long history of working with people. These intelligent and affable horses are known for their flashy coloring, willing natures, and good work ethics.

Paint horses are often chosen as beginner mounts because they have a reputation for being strong, docile, and trainable.

Things to consider: Paint horses are versatile, and excel at nearly every discipline. As a result, some Paint horses may display dominant physical characteristics of other breeds, such as the Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred (and a personality to match).

Consider the other breeds in your potential horse’s pedigree, and how it might affect your goals down the road.

 If you’re a very new beginner, an experienced paint horse can teach you a lot about being a good equestrian.

American Saddlebred

Jean [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Suitable Disciplines: Saddle seat, showing, driving, jumping, dressage, trail riding

These flashy high-stepping horses have a reputation for being hot-headed and nervous. However, there are plenty of calm Saddlebreds in lesson programs, teaching precocious beginners the ropes.

They are intelligent and trainable and are often more “forward” than your average stubborn lesson pony.

Things to consider: The Saddlebred is a graceful and athletic breed, and is an excellent choice for the beginner who may want to perform on the flat. While they may be more feisty than other breeds, they are generally sweet and good-natured.

A young beginner could show his horse in a lead-line class, and a good Saddlebred could grow with him all the way into adult competitions.

Appaloosa

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, western events, ranch work, eventing, showing, trail riding

The Appaloosa is an agreeable and trainable breed. Known for their easygoing dispositions and willing natures, the versatile Appaloosa can be a great choice for a beginner rider.

Found in nearly every discipline, Appaloosas turn heads in competitions with their unique spotted coats. And, depending on what discipline you seek, an Appaloosa can probably do the job.

Things to consider: While these spotted horses are generally pretty hardy and sound, the genes that cause their unique spotted coats can affect their vision (night blindness or full blindness).

They are also known for having quirky personalities, which can be very fun and entertaining – or become the infamous “Appy attitude” in inexperienced hands.

With their overall calm dispositions, the versatile Appaloosa can make a solid choice for beginners.

Arabian

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, trail riding, jumping, endurance, eventing, showing, performance

These beautiful horses are athletic and elegant. Carefully bred for thousands of years by the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian peninsula, these horses often create lasting bonds with their owners.

Good-natured and intelligent, these delicate horses can often make excellent partners for beginners.

Things to consider: Arabians are considered by many to be “hot-blooded”, and may have a feisty temperament. However, many Arabians are sweet, calm, and eager to please. 

Like other athletic breeds, these horses are very popular. If you take time to search carefully, you’ll be able to find an Arabian to suit your needs, even if you’re new to the equestrian world.

Belgian

Suitable disciplines: Pleasure riding, driving, farm work, trail riding

These gentle giants can make excellent mounts for larger adult beginners. These draft horses are calm and collected, and are generally willing and good-natured. They can be trained to ride and drive, and appear in a variety of disciplines, despite their larger size.

Things to consider: The large size of these horses can be intimidating to some riders. They can also weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, and may require more food than other breeds.

Overall, these gentle giants are friendly and trainable, and many appear in lesson programs teaching adult beginners the basics.

Connemara Pony

Suitable uses: Pleasure riding, jumping, trail riding, Western events, gymkhana games, dressage, eventing, driving

These hardy little ponies are descended from wild and scrappy cliff-dwelling ponies in Ireland. Rugged and intelligent, Connemaras make excellent mounts for children. They are great jumpers, excel in Western events, and are well-suited for trail riding. 

Things to consider: The tallest of the pony breeds, Connemaras often reach 15 hands high. Because of this, they can make excellent choices for both children and adult beginners.

Haflinger

Suitable disciplines: Pleasure riding, driving, trail riding, dressage, jumping, farm work, therapeutic riding programs

The Haflinger is a hardy little horse bred high in the Austrian mountains. Small and docile enough to teach children to ride, the Haflinger is also stout and strong enough to handle many adult riders as well. The Haflinger is an excellent beginner horse, with a calm disposition and a willingness to work.

Things to consider: While the Haflinger is known for its easygoing disposition (they are selectively bred for a good temperament in Austria), they can be stubborn. This can be an excellent quality for teaching young riders how to treat their horses – but it can also be just as frustrating.

Often used in therapeutic riding programs, Haflingers are generally calm and trainable – and perfect for teaching beginners how to ride.

Quarter Horse

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, ranch work, trail riding, rodeo events, jumping, dressage, eventing

The American Quarter Horse is one of America’s most popular and influential horse breeds. Versatile, athletic, and trainable, the Quarter Horse is a solid choice for both experienced equestrians and beginners alike.

The Quarter Horse is a popular ranch horse, and is often found working with cattle and performing in rodeo competitions. With over 5 million Quarter Horses in the world today in nearly every discipline, you’ll be sure to find one to meet your needs.

Things to consider: A Quarter horse is bred for athleticism, speed, and performance. Many quarter horses come straight from the race track, and these hot-headed green horses may not be suitable for a beginner right out of the gate. They may need time to settle down, and proper training to make them safe and easy to handle.

However, there are many, many experienced and safe Quarter Horses serving in beginner lesson programs all over the country. These horses have been bred to work with closely with people, and they are intelligent and trainable. Consider choosing an older and thoroughly trained Quarter horse with a calmer temperament for your first mount.

Missouri Fox Trotter

Suitable disciplines: Pleasure riding, trail riding, ranch work, therapeutic riding programs

The Missouri Fox Trotter is a smooth gaited horse from the Ozark mountains of Tennessee. Known for their ambling “fox-trot” gait, these surefooted horses can comfortably cover miles of rough terrain. They are known for their agreeable natures, and are commonly used in therapeutic riding programs.

Things to consider: These gentle horses make an excellent choice for families, beginners, or anyone who’s looking for a smooth ride and an agreeable disposition.

Morgan

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, parades, saddle seat, dressage, jumping, western events, ranch work, trail riding, driving

Morgans can do it all. They’re found in nearly every discipline, and are popular in the show ring. They are generally good-natured and trainable, and are sound easy-keepers. Known for their agreeable attitudes, Morgans generally have a reputation for being easy to handle and train.

Things to consider: Morgans are agreeable, but they can often be spirited. A feisty Morgan is prized in the show ring, but may not be the right choice for a beginner.

Generally speaking, a well-trained Morgan is a great choice for a beginner – especially one who may wish to compete in the future.

Percheron

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, driving, dressage, trail riding, performance

Like the Belgian, the Percheron is a popular gentle giant. Capable of carrying adult beginners, Percherons are often described as “easy-going” and docile. They are suitable for a variety of disciplines, such as trail riding, driving, and even dressage!

Things to consider: The large size of a Percheron can be intimidating to some beginners. Like other large draft horses, they may require more food to sustain them.

A good choice for an adult beginner, Percherons can make great trail and pleasure horses, but are athletic enough for competitions as well.

Shetland

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, driving, jumping, showing

Shetland ponies are often a child’s first mount. They are strong, intelligent, and a popular choice for new riders. Shetland ponies can be trained to ride and drive, and often stay with their families for their entire lives – even after the children grow up.

Things to consider: Because Shetlands are usually small, they may be outgrown quickly. And, because they are most often ridden by children – they are trained by children as well (for better or worse).

Shetland ponies are small and relatively easy to handle, which makes them perfect mounts for the smallest of beginners.

Tennessee Walking Horse

DSC_0766 by Bobby Todd, II – Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Suitable disciplines: Pleasure riding, trail riding, saddle seat, trail riding

These comfortable horses have a willing disposition and can provide a comfortable ride. The Tennessee Walking Horse has a unique gait called the “running walk,” which is comfortable to sit. They make excellent trail horses, and they are flashy performers in the show ring.

Things to consider: While the running walk may be desirable for beginners or riders with physical limitations, some may want their horses to trot and canter. These can be difficult gaits for Tennessee Walkers, but many have no trouble performing them as well.

It can take some time to get used to, but many beginner riders find the running walk to be much more comfortable and easy to sit than the standard two-beat trot.

Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred Horse Makeover After

Suitable Disciplines: Pleasure riding, eventing, show jumping, showing

These lean mean speed machines are natural born athletes. Thoroughbreds are thoroughly bred – for racing, that is. These long-legged speedsters are perfect for someone who’s looking for an equine partner to grow with. Thoroughbreds excel at show jumping and other speed competitions (such as fast-paced rodeo events).

Things to consider: While they are intelligent and trainable, a young Thoroughbred right off the track may not be a suitable partner for a beginner. However, many of these Thoroughbreds are adopted, trained, and excel in the performance arena.

Thoroughbreds are known for their “big hearts”, and they are good-natured and willing to learn. With a good temperament and suitable training, a Thoroughbred can make an excellent partner for a bold beginner.

Welsh Pony and Welsh Cob

Suitable disciplines: Pleasure riding, jumping, trail riding, endurance, lesson programs, gymkhana games, eventing, driving

Welsh ponies have a long history of teaching youngsters to ride. They make excellent jumpers, trail horses, and are often driven as well. They are a hardy breed, and are generally sound and easy keepers. The Welsh Cob is a larger version of these versatile ponies, capable of carrying teenagers and adults.

Things to consider: Because many ponies are too small for adults to ride safely, they can pick up bad habits from inexperienced novice riders. With proper training however, they can make excellent equine teachers for children.

Luckily, Welsh ponies and cobs tend to have good attitudes, and a well-trained Welsh can make a great mount for a beginner.

Final Thoughts

There is no single horse breed that is suitable for every rider. If you’re a beginner, weigh your options carefully before choosing a new equine partner. Hopefully this guide gave you a little insight into 15 of the best riding horses for beginners.

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.