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Horse breeds and how to identify them

In case your horse’s registration papers weren’t provided or are otherwise uncertain of its parentage, identifying its breed will require educated guessing. If you are familiar with characteristics of well-known breeds and basic body types, you may be able to spot certain clues that contribute to your horse’s ancestry.

Keep in mind however, that even experts on horse breeds can fail to identify a particular breed, especially if the horse in question resembles another breed or doesn’t have apparent characteristics common to its lineage.

In this article, we’ll give you a brief overview as well as a few basic tips on how you can identify horse breeds.

Horse types

Here’s some information on different horse types:

  • Stock types – Stock types in general are quarterhorses bearing color breeds such as palominos or paints. They have compact, muscular bodies and are well-suited for ranch work.
  • Warmbloods – This type was originated from Europe, where they were used primarily as sport horses. Large, elegant, and strong, this breed excels in combined driving, jumping, and dressage.
  • Hotbloods – Thoroughbreds and Arabians fall into this category. Arabians feature dished faces, arched necks, and tails carried high. This type is small in general, measuring from 14 and 15 hands high at the withers. Thoroughbreds are typically taller, sometimes going beyond 17 hands, and with a stately, athletic appearance. Thoroughbreds and crosses are also known as “hunter” types.
  • Saddle horses – Saddle horse types like the Morgan and American Saddlebred carry their heads and tails upright, and are especially alert and animated. American Saddlebreds are larger and are usually more well-defined than the Morgan. There are some saddlebreds which are gaited, and are able to perform the rack and the slow gait, as well as standard gaits of walk, canter, and trot.
  • Gaited breeds – This breed includes the Tennessee Walker, and can often be identified through their movements, as they tend to have a smooth running walk instead of a trot. Some gaited horses will tolt or pace, or may have a unique gait associated to specific breeds like the Paso Fino.

Tattoos and branding

Another way to identify a breed is to examine the horse’s upper lip and look for a tattoo, search for a freezebrand on its neck, or look at other parts of the body for branding. Standardbreds, thoroughbreds, and racing quarterhorses sport lip tattoos. Some breeds like Mustangs have neck freezebrands, which contain their birth year and registration number.

To identify a horse with a tattoo or freezebrand, you can contact the breed’s governing body, like the Jockey Club, which registers thoroughbreds.

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