How many hands is a Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred, breed of horse developed in England for racing and jumping (seephotograph). The origin of the Thoroughbred may be traced back to records indicating that a stock of Arab and Barb horses was introduced into England as early as the 3rd century. Natural conditions favoured development of the original stock, and selective breeding was encouraged by those interested in racing. Under the reigns of James I and Charles I, 43 mares—the so-called Royal Mares—were imported into England, and a record, the General Stud Book, was begun in which were listed only those horses that may be traced back to the Royal Mares in direct line, or to one of three other horses imported to England: the Byerly Turk (imported in 1689), the Darley Arabian (after 1700), and the Godolphin Barb (about 1730). The English Thoroughbred has since been introduced to most countries, where it is bred for racing or used to improve local breeds. A son of the Darley Arabian, Bulle Rock, was imported to Virginia in 1730. During the following 45 years, 186 Thoroughbreds imported from England became the foundation of Thoroughbred breeding in the United States.

The history of the English Thoroughbred is a long one. Records indicate that a stock of Arab and Barb horses was introduced…

Thoroughbreds have delicate heads, slim bodies, broad chests, and short backs. Their short leg bones allow a long, easy stride. They are sensitive and high-spirited. Averaging 16 hands (64 inches, or 163 cm) high and weighing about 1,000 pounds (450 kg) at maturity, Thoroughbreds are usually bay, chestnut, brown, black, or gray. Outstanding for speed and stamina, they have been combined with and have improved several other breeds of horses. The term thoroughbred is sometimes incorrectly used to mean purebred, but Thoroughbreds are a specific breed, registered in the General Stud Book of the English Jockey Club, organized about 1750, or in the studbooks of similar clubs in other countries.

A horse having only one Thoroughbred parent is called a Grade Thoroughbred in the United States and a half-bred in Great Britain. Grade Thoroughbreds may be used as hunters, polo ponies, stock horses, or riding horses, depending on their training.

See the Table of Selected Breeds of Light Horses for further information.

nameoriginheight (hands)*aptitudecharacteristicscomments
Akhal-TekeTurkmenistan14.2–16riding, racinglong neck carried almost perpendicular to body; long, slender legs; metallic golden-dun colour is unique to the breedancient breed; noted for its endurance and speed
American Paint HorseU.S.15–16ridingtwo colour patterns—overo and tobiano—determined by location of white markingsdeveloped from Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, and Paint breeds; versatile riding horse
American Quarter HorseU.S.14.2–16riding, racing, herdingshort, fine head with a straight profile; short back; long, powerful croup and shoulders; well-muscled thighs, gaskins, and forearmsone of the most popular breeds; noted for its agility and quick bursts of speed; adapts easily to any riding discipline
American SaddlebredU.S.15–16riding, light draftsmall head with long neck lying almost vertical to shoulder; short back; level croup with high tail carriageperforms three gaits (walk, trot, canter) or five gaits (three plus slow gait, rack)
AndalusianSpain15.1–15.3ridingarched neck; round and muscular hindquarters with low-set tail; mane and tail are often profuse and wavyinfluenced breeds worldwide; used in bullfights
AppaloosaU.S.14.2–16ridingseveral colour patterns: snowflake, leopard, marble, frost, and blanket; black and white striped hoovesdescended from the spotted horses of the Nez Percé Indians; influenced by Arabian and, most recently, American Quarter Horse blood
ArabianMiddle East14–15riding, light drafthead profile is uniquely concave (dished), tapering to a dainty muzzle; wide-set, large eyes; long, graceful neck; short back; flat croup with distinctive high tail carriagehas refined almost every breed worldwide; considered one of the most beautiful horses; noted for its stamina, excels in endurance competitions
Argentine CriolloArgentina14ridingshort, deep body; long head; heavily muscledone of the soundest breeds; descended from the Barb, Arab, and Andalusian; common throughout South America; noted for its endurance
Cleveland BayEngland16–16.2riding, light and medium draft, farm workpowerful and substantial build; short legs; always bay in colouroldest British breed; often crossed with Thoroughbreds to produce excellent hunters and sport horses
HanoverianGermany15.3–17riding, light draftlong, muscular neck; deep body; powerful hindquartersexcels in dressage and show jumping; elegant, fluid gaits; developed from Holstein, influenced by Thoroughbred and Trakehner blood
LipizzanerAustria (now in Slovenia)15–16.1riding, harness, draft, farm worklong head with crested neck; compact, powerful body; foals are born black or brown in colour and usually mature to white-graydescended from Spanish horses; famous for its association with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, where it is trained in difficult "high school" movements
Missouri Fox Trotting HorseU.S.14–16ridingwide, deep-chested body; muscular hind legsnoted for its natural smooth "fox-trot" gait, the horse canters with the front feet while trotting with the hind, producing little movement in the back
MorganU.S.14.1–15.2riding, light draftfine head with arched neck; well-defined withers; long, sloping shoulders; muscular hindquartersdescended from one prepotent stallion; noted for its versatility; possesses great stamina
Paso FinoPuerto Rico14–15ridingmedium-sized; small head with large, wide-set eyes; legs delicate in appearancenoted for its natural four-beat lateral gait, in which the hind foot touches the ground a fraction of a second before the front; gait executed at three speeds—paso fino, paso corto, and paso largo
StandardbredU.S.15–16harness racing, ridinglong, sloping, muscular hindquarters; long, thick mane and tail; typically bay in colourprimarily used for harness racing
Tennessee Walking HorseU.S.15–16ridingsolid build; sturdy, muscular legs; numerous colours and markingsnoted for its running walk, a natural smooth four-beat gait in which the horse's head nods in rhythm with the rise and fall of its hooves; considered the most naturally good-tempered horse breed
Thoroughbred, also called English ThoroughbredEngland15–17riding, flat and jump racinglarge, expressive eyes; exceptionally long, sloping shoulders; fine-boned legs with small hooves; thin skinbred primarily for racing, but also excels at dressage, eventing, and jumping; possesses great stamina and courage; bred extensively to improve other breeds
TrakehnerEast Prussia (now in Lithuania)16–17riding, light draftrefined head with large, expressive eyes; long, elegant neck; strong, sloping shouldersconsidered one of the most elegant European warmbloods; excels at dressage and show jumping; influenced by Thoroughbred and Arabian blood
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