Thoroughbreds: All You Need To Know About The World’s Most Popular Racing Breed


The thoroughbred horse is a breed that has had my attention ever since I was a little girl. These horses, with their beautiful appearance, exceptional speed, and incredible stamina are enough to catch anyone’s eye. After having the privilege to ride these amazing horses, I decided that researching this breed and learning as much as possible about these horses would be something fun to do.

What Is A Thoroughbred?

A Thoroughbred is a breed of horse most commonly seen in the racing industry. These horses are known for their natural jump, incredible speed, and exceptional stamina. Outside of racing, Thoroughbreds are seen being used for a number of different sports and riding disciplines. These horses are really versatile and adaptable making them great choices for nearly any sport out there in the horse industry. These horses can be pretty tall when looking at their height and can stand between 15.2 and 17 hands high. They can come in any solid colors with the most common colors being chestnut and bay.

How Big Are Thoroughbreds?

Thoroughbreds are taller than the average horse and can stand between 15.2 and 17 hands high. One of the Thoroughbreds I ride is a huge chestnut gelding that stands at 17 hands high! There are some smaller members of this breed, but on average they are over 16 hands in height.

When it comes to the weight of these horses, the number varies. Because Thoroughbreds are lightly built, they aren’t extremely heavy meaning that the smaller members of this breed weigh around 1,000 pounds and the taller members weigh around 1,200 pounds.

What Colors Can Thoroughbreds Come In?

Thoroughbreds can be seen in any solid color. The list of colors that these horses are mainly seen in include:

  • Bay
  • Chestnut
  • Gray
  • Black

In some rare cases they can be:

  • Palomino
  • Buckskin
  • Smokey Black
  • Cremello
  • Perlino
  • Smokey Creme

The most common colors that these horses are seen in are chestnut and bay.

What Type Of Horse Is A Thoroughbred?

Thoroughbreds are hotblooded horses. This means that they have a lighter build and frame, they are more fiery, they are faster, and overall more temperamental that most other breeds.

The History Of The Thoroughbred

The origins of this breed are in the country of England and began in the 1600s. It was around this time that farmers and country men began to be interested in horse racing. Because of the growing interest, local horses not bred for racing were beginning to be raced. Because of the lack of speed that these local horses carried, it became apparent that a faster and lighter breed needed to be created for the sole purpose of racing.

Wealthy landowners interested by the new surge of popularity in horse racing noticed that the local and native horses had the stamina for racing, but lacked the speed. Because of this, these wealthy landowners began to import Arabian horses from the Middle East between the years of 1689 and 1729. It was from these Arabians and the local horses that the early Thoroughbreds were bred.

The three stallions known to have created the founding Thoroughbred stallions were: Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. Between these three stallions, the bloodlines of Herod, Eclipse, and Matchem were created. It was these three bloodlines that started the Thoroughbred breed.

The Thoroughbred breed was not given its name until the year of 1812. Even though these horses were bred specifically with racing in mind, They do really well in a variety of other disciplines.

The first Thoroughbreds reached the United States in the 1730s, all of which were descended from the first Thoroughbred stallions. Overtime however, an American type of Thoroughbred emerged, one that carried longer hind legs and performed a longer stride.

How To Identify The Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred is a breed that can be a little hard to identify, mainly because of their plain looks. The identifiable traits that the Thoroughbred carries include:

Eyes

The eyes of a Thoroughbred are bright and intelligent in appearance. They are usually fairly large and dark and are placed well on their heads.

Head

The head of a Thoroughbred is of a good size and is proportionate to their bodies. Thoroughbreds carry a cleanly made head with a long straight nose and a narrow muzzle.

Build

Because the Thoroughbred is a hotblooded horse, this breed has a lanky, narrow build. Though they carry a lot of muscle and are pretty tall, they are never bulky. This is because this breed needs to remain lean and fit to be able to run as fast and as far as they do.

Ears

The Thoroughbred is a breed with well-made pricked ears that are positioned well on their heads. Their ears are finely sculpted and their shape make them always look alert.

Withers

Most Thoroughbreds have very defined withers. This is a trait that I have noticed about this breed in all the time that I have been around them. For the most part, especially in American-bred Thoroughbreds, the withers are level with or slightly shorter than their croup.

Croup

The croup of this horse, especially in American-bred Thoroughbreds, is level with the horse’s withers. Because of different breeding, the American-bred Thoroughbred usually has larger and more defined hindquarters and croup making the croup, in some cases, taller than the withers.

Quarters

The hindquarters of these horses are always firm, round, and strong. They need to be this way to propel the horse down the track as fast as they possibly can. The American-bred Thoroughbred horses have noticeably rounder and larger hindquarters, thus slightly differing them from the more narrow European-bred Thoroughbreds. No matter the breeding, the Thoroughbred must carry strong quarters.

What Makes The Thoroughbred Unique?

The Thoroughbred stands out from other horse breeds because of their stamina, jumping ability, and exceptional speed. Most other horse breeds are unable to keep up the incredible speed that these horses are over the distances they cover.

What Are Thoroughbreds Used For Or Good At?

There is a huge list of things that these horses are good at just because they are so versatile. The things that these horses can do and are good at include:

Racing

Racing is the Thoroughbred’s specialty as this is one of the main things that these horses were bred to do. Most of the Thoroughbreds you see around today have some tie back to racing whether it is that they themselves were previously racehorses, were trained to become a racehorse, were bred to be a racehorse, or their ancestors were racehorses.

These horses really do excel at both kinds of track racing seen in the horse racing industry today. In the United States of America, Thoroughbreds are used mainly for flat standard track racing. This means that these horses are raced just around a track with no obstacle in their way. These horses do really well in this type of racing because it tests their stamina, speed, and drive to win.

The other type of racing that these horses do really well in is known as steeplechasing. This is a form of racing that developed in the country of Ireland, but is now most popular in Great Britain. A steeplechase race includes not only flat bits of track that a horse must gallop across, but also hedges and jumps that the jockeys must get the horse to clear. This type of racing incorporates the Thoroughbreds natural stamina, speed, and jumping ability all in one race.

To learn more about horse racing click here!

Show Jumping

Thoroughbreds are natural jumpers making showjumping a sport that they are really really good at. Though these horses aren’t as good at showjumping as a warmblood might be, these horses will still push themselves over all the fences for you no matter how tired they are. Thoroughbreds make great showjumping horses at the lower levels.

To learn more about showjumping click here!

Cross Country

Cross country, in a way, is kind of like steeplechasing, a sport that Thoroughbreds are often bred to do. Cross country is only different because in steeplechasing you are racing on a track and all the jumps are pretty much the same. Cross country has a great variety of obstacles and jumps that often will even incorporate water jumps. Cross country tests a horse’s stamina, bravery, speed, and jumping ability while steeplechasing just requires the horse to get to the finish line as fast and as soon as possible.

Dressage

Dressage is a sport that is excellent for Thoroughbreds to do. If a Thoroughbred is fresh off the track, they often need a job that they can focus on that will help to calm them down, and learn to accept their riders commands. Dressage requires a lot of strengthening work and obedience training which is great for Thoroughbreds as these horses are known to be quite hot headed in cases.

To learn more about dressage, click here!

Eventing

Eventing is a sport in the horse industry that incorporates the three disciplines of show jumping, dressage, and cross country all into one competition. Eventing usually is a competition that goes over the span of three days, one for each of these disciplines. Thoroughbreds do really well in this sport because it allows them to exercise their running abilities, practice their jumping abilities, and focus on obedience and strengthening.

Barrel Racing

Many Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbred crosses are used as barrel horses or sold as barrel prospects. The reason for this is that barrel racing is a fast paced sport that requires a lot of speed and stamina out of the horse which are traits that Thoroughbreds carry. Because these horses were especially bred for running, the fast paced sport of barrel racing is one of the top things that these horses are sold for.

General Riding

Many of these horses are pretty mellow in temperament and make great all around general riding horses for both English and Western riding. Many of these horses that don’t work well as racehorses end up being turned into just general riding horses.

Riding Lessons

One of the OTTBs that I ride is actually used as a lesson horse. He is one of the more mellow Thoroughbreds that I have met and he makes an excellent English lesson horse. Some Thoroughbreds that have been properly trained can be used as lesson horses.

Western Pleasure

Some Thoroughbreds work better under a western saddle and doing western disciplines and jobs. I have seen a number of Thoroughbreds ridden in western pleasure over the years. Some seem to just be made for this style of riding.

English Hunter Pleasure

Thoroughbreds that don’t really excel in the sports that require them to jump often are just used as equitation and hunter pleasure horses. This is the case with many Thoroughbreds. Sometimes a horse just does better when working on the flat which is why these horses do well at this job.

How Long Do Thoroughbreds Live On Average?

Thoroughbreds live the average lifespan of a horse and usually will live until they are between 25 and 30 years old. In some cases however, Thoroughbreds can live well into their thirties if they are well taken care of and suffer no health issues.

Fun Facts On Thoroughbreds

  • It is with the Thoroughbred breed that the idea of ‘universal birthdays’ started (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here!)
  • The reason there are so few grey Thoroughbreds is that there aren’t many successful gray horses on the track so no one cares to breed these horses.
  • The most common colors for Thoroughbreds are bay and chestnut
  • Cremello, Perlino, Smokey Creme, Palomino, Buckskin, and Smokey Black horses are only recently allowed in this breed.
  • Thoroughbreds MUST be bred through a live cover. Any kind of artificial insemination is prohibited in the breeding of these horses.

FAQs On this Breed

If Thoroughbreds can only be solid colors, can they have white markings?

Absolutely! Actually, most Thoroughbreds have white markings. The white markings that are allowed include the:

  • Star
  • Stripe
  • Blaze
  • White Face
  • Interrupted Stripe
  • Socks (includes coronets, half-pasterns, pasterns, fetlocks, half-cannons, and cannon markings)
  • Stockings (includes any knee and over-the-knee markings)

Where did the Thoroughbred get its name?

The name Thoroughbred came from the saying that these horses are ‘thoroughly bred.’ They were considered ‘thoroughly bred’ once the breeding became specified.

What is the longest a Thoroughbred has ever lived?

The oldest Thoroughbred ever to live is an old bay horse named Prospect Point. He was born in the year 1978 in Kentucky and passed away in 2016 at the age of 38 years and 203 days.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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