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    Common Horse Breeds

    A large herd of horses running outdoors.There are a number of differences between the common types of horses which can impact how to properly care for an individual horse. Most horses have been selectively bred for thousands of years by humans for different human desires. Some have been bred to grow quickly for their for their flesh or milk. Other horses have been bred for sports. Others still have been bred particularly large and solid for pulling things. Each breed may have its own personality traits, nutritional needs, and health considerations. Ideally, you should know exactly what kind of horses you’re taking in before making any plans or accommodations!

    Here are the broad categories of horse breeds and some of their attributes or challenges facing them:

    A Note From The Open Sanctuary Project

    While the Open Sanctuary Project does not endorse the use of any animal for human desires, the following terminology is the most commonly used when referring to horse breeds.


    Horses are categorized in a number of ways. Below are two commons ways of classifying horses:

    Classification System Based On Size:

    • Light Horses
    • Heavy (Draft) Horses
    • Ponies

    Classification System Based On “Blood”:

    • Hotblooded (Light Horses)
    • Coldblooded (Heavy Horses)
    • Warmblooded

    Each category of horse is generally associated with particular temperaments, physical traits, and needs (as well as “uses”). Within these classifications, are many breeds. Some breeds are known for their hardiness, while others have health issues that seem to affect their breed to a higher degree than in other breeds. It is important to be aware of the unique health issues that may affect any horse that you take in to your sanctuary. While this resource does not cover all of the various breeds and their needs and potential health issues, it can serve as an introduction to the breeds you are most likely to come across, and can give you some insight into what health issues you should keep an eye out for.

    Light Horses

    Light horses are smaller than Heavy Draft horses but are larger than Ponies. A horse is considered “light” if they are 14.2 hands high or taller and weigh between 900 to 1,500 pounds. They have been bred as stock horses, hunting horses, and saddle horses. Many humans use them for racing, pleasure riding, and as ranch horses. They are usually considered hotblooded or warmblooded breeds. Warmblooded breeds are actually a breed that carries both hotblooded (light horses) and coldblooded (draft horses) genes.

    Light Horse Breeds:

    Quarter Horse
    Tennessee Walking Horse

    Below are a number of known health issues that various Light Horse breeds are vulnerable to:

    • Appaloosas are prone to sunburn, especially those that have a lot of white coloring. Special attention should be paid to protecting their muzzles, ears, lips and the genitals of males. Sunburns can lead to skin cancer.
    • Appaloosas are also at high risk of blindness caused by equine recurrent uveitis. This is where there is recurrent inflammation in the uveal tract within the eye.
    • Arabians and Morgans are predisposed to enterolithiasis.
    • Although still fairly rare, Arabians may experience severe immune deficiency at birth, exhibit occipito-atlantoaxial malformation, Arabian foaling syndrome, lavender foaling syndromes, and cerebellar degeneration.
    • Young Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds that have gone through common training exercises may suffer from bucked shins (stress fractures).
    • European warmbloods, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds are more likely to experience navicular disease, while Arabians are particularly unlikely to experience this.
    • Young Warmbloods (those with both light (hotblooded) and heavy (coldblooded) horse genes) may develop Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
    • Young Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds are prone to developing Wobbler syndrome.
    • Thoroughbreds are prone to laryngeal paralysis (whistling or roaring).
      Morgans are prone to nuclear cataracts.
    • Belgain Warmbloods are prone to epidermolysis bullosa.
    • Arabians and Appaloosas may experience hypotrichosis and tail and mane dystrophy.
    • Foals that are cross-bred Appaloosas are prone to Appaloosa parentage syndrome. This is where their hair and skin color fades over time.
    • Friesians are prone to a number of health issues, with megaesophagus being the most serious, as it can lead to pneumonia. They are thought to have weakened immune systems, making them more likely to experience greater difficulties in general. A disorder of the collagen tissue can cause aortic ruptures.

    Heavy Horses

    Heavy horses are just what they sound like: heavy, even by horse standards. They generally stand between 16 and 19 hands high and can weigh up to 2200 pounds!
    They were bred for heavy pulling. They are typically considered calm and good-natured, but individuals will still have their own personalities that must always be considered. Their short backs and well-muscled hindquarters were bred into them for pulling heavy loads.

    Heavy Horse Breeds:

    American Cream Draft
    Spotted Draft
    Gypsy Vanner
    Suffolk Punch

    Draft horses have their share of health issues, some of which are quite specific to the draft horse or certain breeds of drafts. Common health issues include:

    • Draft horses are prone to azoturia, Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, Ocular Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Shivers.
    • Belgians are particularly affected by cataracts and Junctinal Epidermal Bullosa.
    • Blegians, Clydesdales, and Gypsy Vanners to a lesser degree, are prone to Chronic Progressive Lymphedema.

    All Draft horses are at risk of faulty management of their nutritional needs. Because they are so large, carers tend to overfeed them on grain. It is important to work out the best diet for them with a skilled caregiver or veterinarian to ensure their nutritional needs are met.

    Miniature Horses And Ponies

    Ponies and miniature horses are not one and the same. Ponies are under 14.2 hands high and generally have thicker coats and stockier proportions, whereas miniature horses are bred to resemble full-sized horses but on a smaller scale. If you have miniature horse and pony residents, you may be relieved to know that caring for them is much the same as caring for larger breeds. However, there are a number of conditions to which miniature horses and ponies are more susceptible. Being knowledgeable about what these conditions are, and when possible, how to prevent them, will help ensure your miniature residents are happy and healthy.

    Pony Breeds:

    American Quarter Pony
    New Forest
    Shetland Pony

    There are a number of health issues that ponies and miniature horses are prone to. Knowing what this are will help you provide the best care for your residents. These health issues include:

    • Obesity
    • Cushing’s Disease
    • Dwarfism
    • Locked Stifle
    • Difficult Birth
    • Hyperlipaemia

    As you can see, horses come in all shapes and sizes and have special health considerations to keep an eye out for. Being aware of these concerns can help you provide the best care possible for any horse you decide to bring into sanctuary. If you believe there is something missing from this list, please let us know! We love hearing from you.


    Understanding Breed-Specific Conditions | Horse And Hound (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Connecting The Dots: Recurrent Uveitis And Appaloosa Horses | The Horse (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Gentle Giants: Draft Horse Diseases | Total Equine Vets (Non-Compassionate Source)

    The Trouble With Friesians | Veterinary News (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Light Horse Breed Types And Uses | Alabama University Extension Services (Non-Compassionate Source)

    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

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