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Is a Thoroughbred a Good Riding Horse?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Thoroughbred horse breed is one of the most prized breeds in the world. Thoroughbreds are particularly famous for their skill on the racetrack, but they are also used for a variety of other equestrian events. Many horses which compete at the Olympic level are at least part Thoroughbred, and the horses are also used in eventing, show jumping, dressage, and a variety of other equestrian competitions. Smaller Thoroughbreds are in great demand as polo ponies. However, for casual and trail riding, a Thoroughbred may not be the best choice.

The roots of the Thoroughbred can be found in 17th century England. Three Arabian stallions were crossed with English mares to yield an entirely new breed of horse. All modern Thoroughbreds carry the bloodline of the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerly Turk, or the Darley Arabian. The cross of this foundation stock with sturdy English horses created a breed known for being competitive, fiery, strong, and big hearted in competition.

The primary focus of Thoroughbred breeding is on creating racehorses. A racehorse is bred for speed and agility, and these traits also translate well into other horse sports. The horses range in size from as little as 15 hands to 17 hands, and they have long necks, muscular hindquarters, long legs, and distinctly planed faces. A wide range of colors meet the breed standard, although chestnuts are among the most common.

The traits which make a Thoroughbred valuable on the track are not desired for all riders. The horses have a reputation for being difficult to handle, so they should not be ridden by inexperienced and very young riders. They also require a lot of work, since Thoroughbreds get impatient and bored if they are not exercised. The long legs of the horse are also easy to damage, and many people prefer to keep Thoroughbred horses stabled when they are not being exercised, which means much more work on the part of the owner. A Thoroughbred is also not bred for extended endurance, making it less suitable for trail riding and endurance riding.

However, if you are looking for a high quality competition horse which will meet any challenge you present, a Thoroughbred is well worth considering. The horses perform very well in competition, and they will become fiercely loyal to their riders. For an additional level of difficulty, you can look into programs which rescue former racehorses. Many ex-track horses have successfully trained to compete in other arenas, although they require careful handling and dedicated training.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Janio — On May 28, 2014

I have a six year old 16.3 hh Thoroughbred that has completed three endurance rides of 80 km each, and one of 100 km at an average speed of 18.3 km/h.

The last ride it used easy boots glue on. The only disadvantage that he has in comparison with my 12 year old purebred Arabian is that he needs nearly the double of food and supplements to keep his weight with the training.

By anon924737 — On Jan 07, 2014

A correctly trained thoroughbred can be used for long distance, but other horses, like Arabs, will have a competitive advantage over them. This is due to genetics, something which no amount of training can change.

Thoroughbreds are really made up of type II fibers, the power type, whereas Arabs are type I, the endurance type. So yeah, you can use them for long distance trials, but hundreds of years of breeding and refinement means that they are most suited to short powerful gallops.

By anon321295 — On Feb 21, 2013

TBs are sensitive souls with an amazing work ethic. If you aren't a sensitive rider who can calmly and quietly communicate with a horse, don't get on one. You ask a thoroughbred, not tell them what to do.

If they are hesitant or fearful, approach what you want to do in a different way. I would never leave a thoroughbred in a stall. They do get bored easily and leaving them in a stall can make them stressed, and cribbing, weaving and ulcers can result. Worst case, they'll colic.

Letting them stay out in a paddock will keep them moving and relaxed, resulting in a calmer ride and better digestion, too. If you have an off the track TB, it may take time for them to get used to a paddock or field. Turn them out with a calm friend, and only let them out for short periods of time until they get used to it. Some of them have never had turnout.

They are incredible, athletic horses and well worth taking the time to treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve!

By anon194323 — On Jul 07, 2011

Why is it saying thoroughbreds aren't good for casual riding? I have an 11 year old gelding and besides him spooking at certain objects and shadows, he's extremely calm. All the thoroughbreds I've ridden were fantastic.

By anon164591 — On Apr 01, 2011

i was just wondering which horse do you think would have a better endurance the Thoroughbred or the German sport pony? I'm doing this for an experiment and i want to get other people's opinions on it.

By anon162229 — On Mar 22, 2011

I agree that Thoroughbreds need their exercise because as a young teen of 14 (lucky if I weighed 80 pounds back then) I went to ride a good friend's T-bred and although I was no greenie, that baby took off from underneath me! Give T-breds a few years to mellow and I believe most T-breds can become exceptional steeds that understand their owners better than many other breeds available.

It takes a lot of time investment with an appreciable amount of one-on-one time, so don't jump on buying one unless you are willing to be a committed owner.

By anon147600 — On Jan 29, 2011

I have just purchased an ex race horse and I agree with anon 132360. I'm training my horse now for extended trails and long rides. Any horse that is conditioned correctly can be a good trail horse.

By anon132360 — On Dec 06, 2010

Why do you say that Thoroughbreds can't be used for endurance or distance riding? That's absolutely not true. If you have a Thoroughbred with good feet, there's no reason that the horse can't ride extended distances. Whether off the track or off the pasture, they have a competitive spirit that exceeds many horses.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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