Trail riding is one of the most enjoyable experiences for both new and avid equestrians. A great trail horse can make the difference between a memorable trail ride and a terrible experience.
Not every horse breed is ideal for trail riding, but there are some breeds that tend to make the best trail riding horses.
A great trail horse should have a smooth walk and a calm demeanor. They should not be easily spooked, and they should be trustworthy. Avoid flighty horses, horses that are uncomfortable to ride, and horses that lack stamina and endurance.
Trails can get daunting when you come across hills and rough terrain, so you need a horse that can handle it all.
The following horse breeds tend to produce horses that have traits that make them ideal for trail riding excursions. It is important to know exactly what you are looking for in a trail horse before you start looking. You can use the following information to help you narrow down the search.
Top 17 Trail Horse Breeds
1. Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walking Horses are well-known trail riding horses thanks to their stamina, strength and smooth gait. Initially bred to be a trail horse for the daunting Tennessee hills, the Tennessee Walking Horse can handle most trails like a seasoned professional.
These horses have 3 gaits, including their notorious running walk that is super smooth on the trail. Tennessee Walking Horses are easy to handle, have calm demeanors and perform extraordinary well as trail horses (source)
2. American Quarter Horse
The American Quarter horse is one of the best trail riding horse breeds in the world. They are trustworthy, hardy and able to withstand almost anything that pops up on the trail! It is almost like the American Quarter Horse breed was tailor-made for trail riding!
The American Quarter Horse is a stocky, muscular horse that has a smooth ride and a calm demeanor. Originally bred for speed, the breed has cemented itself as a reliable trail horse that can endure some of the toughest trails with ease. (source)
Thoroughbred horses may be popular on the racetrack, but do not let that make you think they will not make a great trail horse. On the contrary, Thoroughbred horses have a long and smooth stride that makes for a smooth and enjoyable gait.
They are strong and sometimes high spirited, but they can often be easily trained to handle trails with ease. (source) Thoroughbreds are usually easily to come by since many of them never make the racing circuit and often find their way to rescues or second-chance farms.
Known for their uniquely spotted coat patterns, Appaloosa horses have more to offer than just their unique looks.
They make excellent endurance and trail riding horses thanks to their body composition, agility and stamina. (source)
5. American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse is a stocky, muscular horse that excels in several different horse sports including trail riding. If you enjoy riding Quarter Horses on trails, consider trying an American Paint Horse.
Not only are American Paint Horses gorgeous, they also are extremely successful many different equestrian activities, especially trail riding. (source)
Even though the breed sometimes gets a bad reputation, American Paint Horse owners will attest to the fact that many of them make excellent trail horses.
6. Spotted Saddle Horse
Not to be confused with an American Paint Horse, the Spotted Saddle Horse is a breed all its own.
Created in America by crossing pinto ponies and gaited horses like Tennessee Walking horses and Morgan horses, the Spotted Saddle Horse is a superb trail horse.
Spotted Saddle Horses have a smooth gait along with gorgeous pinto coloring. They do not trot like Quarter Horse or Paints, but it is an amazingly comfortable and smooth ride, nonetheless. (source)
The Andalusian horse breed originated in Spain and were not even allowed to be exported out of the country until the 1960s.
Known for their stunning elegance and strong yet compact bodies, the Andalusian horse is popular among riders of all kinds.
They have a high endurance, an energetic gait, and can handle rough trails if needed. If you are looking for a truly classical looking horse to trail ride on, consider the Andalusian horse a notable contender. (source)
The Morgan horse breed was established in the United States in 1909. They are known to have influenced the formation of several other popular trail riding breeds including the American Quarter Horse as well as the Tennessee Walking Horse.
The Morgan horse breed tends to produce compact horses that pack a muscular build. Morgan horses can be a variety of colors and even sometimes may have a pinto pattern.
They make great trail horses thanks to their undeniable strength, stamina, and calm disposition. (source)
9. Australian Stock Horse
Much like its name implies, the Australian Stock Horse, also called Stockhorse, originated in Australia. It is a breed known for its hardiness, stamina and calm temperament.
All these qualities are ideal in an exceptional trail horse. Stockhorses have what is call a sure-footed walk, meaning they walk steadily without tripping or stumbling like some horses of other breeds do.
Their strength, trustworthy gait, and intelligence make them outstanding as trail horses. (source)
While it may seem surprising; mustangs are one of the best trail horse breeds! It makes sense because their lives have basically been a long trail ride!
Mustangs are familiar with encountering odd things in open ranges and they can easily detect certain scents or sounds on a trail. Mustangs have what is called surefootedness, a trait that makes them more reliable on the trail, especially rough terrain.
Mustangs are often easier to train than you may think, and they are quick to develop strong bonds with their owners. (source)
Arabians may be well-known for their speed, but they also make superb trail horses! Arabian horses tend to be on the smaller size, but they have strong legs and they can endure long trails rides.
Did you know that the Arabian horse breed can be found in the lineage most modern riding horse breeds? Trail riding is practically a part of their DNA! (source)
12. American Saddlebred Horse
The American Saddlebred Horse is a breed developed in the United States. Once called the Kentucky Saddleri, the American Saddlebred Horse was originally bred as a war horse.
They essentially were designed to handle long trail rides during war times and beyond.
American Saddlebred Horses are sometimes spirited, but they have a slow gait that is ideal for trail riding. They are friendly and perform extremely well in pleasure riding activities like trail riding for the whole family. (source)
13. Dutch Warmblood
The Dutch Warmblood horse breed originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s. While most Dutch Warmbloods are bred for the showring, some also make wonderful trail horses.
The skills that make the horses popular in sports like dressage and show jumping, make them well-equipped as a trustworthy trail horse.
Dutch Warmblood horses tend to have a friendly disposition, balanced temperament and are easy to handle on most occasions. (source)
14. Rocky Mountain Horse
Originating in the United States, this Kentucky-bred horse breed is a prominent figure on trails across the country.
The Rocky Mountain Horse has a super smooth ambling gait that is extremely comfortable for riders, especially on trails.
The breed is known for their strikingly beautiful appearance, often sporting chocolate coats with light, flaxen mane and tails. This breed is one of the best trail horses for older or disabled equestrians. (source)
15. Icelandic Horse
Just as their name suggests, this breed hails from the country of Iceland. They are the only horse allowed in Iceland, as it is illegal there to import horses from other countries!
The breed can handle a variety of tasks and excels in several sporting events. They can be small, reaching an average of 14 hands, but Icelandic horses are extremely hardy and make spectacular trail horses.
Icelandic horses are often friendly, calm and easy to deal with, making them a desirable breed for trail riding. (source)
The Westphalian horse breed originated in Germany and was created to compete in pleasure riding sports including trail riding. They can stand rather tall, up to 17.2 hands in some instances!
Westphalians can be a variety of colors, but are mainly black, grey, bay and chestnut colored. They are typically easy to handle and have a comfortable gait, making them an excellent choice for riding on the trail! (source)
17. Paso Fino
Originating in Puerto Rico and Columbia, the Paso Fino is a gorgeous horse that is well-designed for trail riding.
Paso Fino horses are known for their unique natural gait that is smooth and enjoyable for trail riders of all ages. This trait makes trail riding more enjoyable, especially long distances.
Paso Finos are extremely athletic and well-balanced, making them very capable of enduring long trail rides with ease. (source)
Tips for Selecting a Trail Horse
1. Research the Breeds.
Find out what breeds of horses you think fit your needs the best. This is should not be a deciding factor, but it will definitely give you a starting point.
2. Ride the Horse Before Deciding to Buy It.
You should always ride a horse in a controlled environment like an arena to make sure it suits your riding style. Pay attention to how it walks and runs, checking closely for signs of lameness or a rough ride.
3. Take an Experienced Equestrian with You.
When you go to look at a horse, take an experienced horse rider with you to help you decide. They will often be more impartial than you and may spot issues that you cannot.
4. Decide whether you want a gelding, stallion or mare.
Typically, geldings make great trail horses because they are castrated and tend to be calmer around horses of the opposite sex. Mares often make great trail horses as well, but stallions, uncut males, may not be the best trail horse choice but there are always exceptions.
5. Make Your Decision Based on Quality, Not Appearance.
Many novice horse riders make the mistake of letting a horse’s beauty be the deciding factor in choosing a great trail horse. Appearance should only come into play regarding muscle tone, health, height and stockiness.
The best trail horse breeds are not limited to only the normal breeds you think about. Sure, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Appaloosas make spectacular trail horses, but so can several other breeds that may have never crossed your mind.
Do not let stories you heard about certain breeds dissuade you from considering them as a trail horse. Every breed has its bad apples, but that is not always the norm for an entire breed. Just keep an open mind, pay close attention to the horse’s walk and mannerisms.
Make your final decision on a trail horse based on the facts of the actual horse, not the breed or what the advertisement says.