Top 9 Fastest Horses

Written by Lisha Pace
Updated: October 12, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Until the invention of trains, horses were the fastest source of locomotion on land.
  • The Thoroughbred is largely considered to be the fastest horse breed in the world over longer distances – topping out at speeds of around 40 to 45 miles per hour.
  • Able to reach 50 miles per hour, the American Quarterhorse is perhaps the fastest horse in the world over short distances.
  • The Appaloosa was originally developed by the Nez Perce people of the Pacific Northwest from a stock of horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Horses are incredible animals of strength and speed. From the time of their domestication from wild horses around 4,000 BC until the invention of trains, they were still the fastest source of locomotion on land.

While they no longer provide an essential service, horses are still ridden both for pleasure and for sport. This article will cover the top nine fastest horse breeds in the world.

Top speed will be the main factor, but so will stamina and endurance over long distances. Many of the horses on this list are “hot-blooded.” This means the breed combines excellent speed and agility with a bold and spirited temperament.

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9: Mustang

The Mustang can gallop at speeds around 25 to 30 MPH.

©iStock.com/Daniel Eskridge

The Mustang is a free-roaming horse from the western United States that descended from breeds brought by the Spanish to the Americas in the 16th century. They are often mistaken for wild horses, but this is not quite the case, since they were at one point domesticated and only later became feral.

Weighing around 800 pounds, this stocky and versatile breed excels at all kinds of challenging tasks such as dressage, riding, ranch work, and racing. Ranked #7 on our list, the typical Mustang can gallop at speeds of around 25 to 30 miles per hour, but they can potentially go even faster for short bursts.

The mustang is considered the fastest horse among free-roaming horses in the U.S.

8: Standardbred

Standardbreds can run as fast as 44 MPH.

©Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.com

Developed on the east coast of the United States from a Thoroughbred horse in the 18th century, this American breed is a solid, muscular, well-built horse — featuring powerful shoulders and hindquarters — that trades some speed for sheer strength. There are many qualities at which they excel such as jumping, pulling, and racing.

This makes them especially popular in the sport of harness racing in which the horse pulls a two-wheel cart behind it while competing against other horses. Another potential sport at which they excel in show jumping or eventing (a combination of multiple events).

They are also considered to be people-oriented horses, easy to work with, and train, which makes them very good choices for pleasure and trail riding, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider. While remarkably strong, it is not quite speedy enough to rank among the fastest horses in the world, at least compared to the following breeds on this list.

7: Akhal-Teke

The Akhal-Teke named Absent won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

©iStock.com/olgaIT

The Akhal-Teke is an ancient but rare breed of Turkmen horse whose ancestors may date back thousands of years from central Asia. The is the fastest horse The beautiful metallic coat, which comes from the opaque centers of the hair shafts, is a particularly unique and alluring quality in some individuals of this breed.

This horse excels at all kinds of athletic endeavors, including racing, show jumping, eventing, and dressage. While not exactly a popular choice on the racing circuit, several members of this breed made an enormous impact on international dressage competitions.

An Akhal-Teke stallion named Absent (who also had some Thoroughbred ancestry) won a gold medal at individual dressage for the Soviet Union in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He went on to win an individual dressage bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and a team dressage silver at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

6: American Paint Horses

Paint horse racing was sanctioned in 1966.

©iStock.com/slowmotiongli

The American Paint Horse is among the fastest horses in the world. It shares a common ancestry with the American Quarterhorse and the Thoroughbred (both of which are featured later in this list). The most prominent characteristic is the pinto spotting pattern of white and dark coat colors covering the body. Black, bay, brown, and chestnut are all common and popular colors for this breed.

They excel at many equestrian disciplines such as reining, Western pleasure, and show jumping.

The American Paint Horse Association, which maintains a complete registry for this breed, even operates its unique racing circuit. A horse by the name of Izzy Legal, which competed back in the 1990s, still holds the record for the number of wins on the circuit.

It’s thought that these fast horses can achieve top speeds of around 40 miles per hour.

5: Andalusians

Andalusians can run 55 MPH over a quarter-mile distance.

©Abramova Kseniya/Shutterstock.com

The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse, which has lived on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years, conveys both speed and power in its appearance. It is strongly built, compact, and graceful in its movements, with a long flowing tail and mane.

While it has traditionally been a favorite of Spanish nobility since the Middle Ages, the Andalusian has also provided the basis for numerous other breeds throughout Europe and the Americas, making it a truly global breed.

The Andalusian is not the fastest horse in history, but it is prized for its extraordinary range of motion and agility; this has given it a tremendous advantage in show jumping, dressage, and long-distance racing. Andalusians were part of the Spanish team that won medals at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and the 2004 Summer Olympics.

4: Appaloosa

Like the Andalusian, the Appaloosa can also run 55 MPH over a quarter-mile distance.

©Zuzule/Shutterstock.com

Among the fastest horse breeds in the world, the Appaloosa was originally developed by the Nez Perce people of the Pacific Northwest from a stock of horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Later additions to its lineage included Arabian and American Quarterhouse (about which more will be said later).

It is characterized by a distinctive leopard-like spotted appearance over its body. This breed is particularly well-suited for traditional Western activities such as reining, cutting, and roping, but it can also be put to use for English disciplines such as show jumping, fox hunting, and eventing.

3: Arabian

The fastest recorded time of an Arabian horse is 65 MPH.

©Osetrik/Shutterstock.com

The Arabian is one of the oldest and most recognizable breeds in the world, dating back some 4,500 years to the Arabian Peninsula. Featuring a distinctively wedge-shaped head and high tail carriage, this horse was bred to survive long journeys in difficult desert climates, making it one of the fastest horses over immense distances.

Arabians usually have dense, strong bones that allow for good hoof walls. They are noted for their incredible endurance and superiority of the breed in Endurance riding competitions. Those fastest horses that are well bred and Arabians are strong horses with amazing stamina.

Able to form strong bonds with humans, the breed is also good-natured, highly spirited, quick to learn, and eager to please. Because these traits are so appealing to breeders, a part of the Arabian lineage is found in just about every modern racehorse in the world today. These fastest horses are thought to achieve a top speed of somewhere between 35 and 40 miles per hour, perhaps even more in short bursts.

2: American Quarterhorse

The American Quarterhorse has been clocked at running as fast as 55 MPH.

©PardoY/Shutterstock.com

The American Quarterhorse, with its broad chest and powerful, rounded hindquarters, is perhaps the fastest horse in the world over short distances, eclipsing just about every other breed on this list. The name is even derived from its ability to sprint exceptionally well over a quarter-mile track. It originated in the 18th century with various crosses between the English Thoroughbred and several Spanish wild horses that had been let loose upon the Great Plains and then domesticated by native groups.

Today the American Quarterhorse serves many roles as a racehorse, show horse, ranch horse, rodeo horse, and all-around family companion. They’ve been known to reach speeds of around 45, perhaps 50 miles per hour, although their limited endurance means they are less suited for longer races compared to the number one breed on this list. While not many members of this breed are household names, the American Quarterhorse is perhaps one of the most popular breeds in the world among horse owners. They come in many different colors, including bay, black, brown, gray, dun, red and blue roan, and palomino. Perhaps the most popular choice is sorrel, a brownish-red color.

1: Thoroughbred

Thoroughbreds are the fastest horses in the world over long distances.

©BIGANDT.COM/Shutterstock.com

Tall, slim, and incredibly athletic, the Thoroughbred is largely considered to be the fastest horse breed in the world over longer distances. Topping out at speeds of around 40 to 45 miles per hour, it was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by crossbreeding local English mares with imported Arabian, Barbs, and Turkoman stallions. The horse was then exported throughout the rest of the world, providing a basis for numerous other breeds. While their exceptional speed is best suited for horse racing, Thoroughbreds also excel at other riding disciplines such as dressage, polo, show jumping, and hunting.

Thoroughbreds include the fastest horse in history, at least on the racing circuit. In 2008, a two-year-old filly by the name of Winning Brew set a Thoroughbred record for top speed over two furlongs (that’s about a quarter of a mile) at the Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania. Winning Brew covered the distance with a time of 20.57 seconds or the equivalent of just under 44 miles per hour. Other contenders for the fastest horses in history include Man o’ War (an early Hall of Famer), War Admiral (the 1937 winner of the American Triple Crown), Secretariat (the 1973 Triple Crown winner), and American Pharaoh (the 2015 Triple Crown winner). The average speed of a Kentucky Derby winner, though not quite as fast as Winning Brew, is 37 miles per hour.

Summary Of The 9 Fastest Horses In The World

RankBreedTraits/Speeds
1.Thoroughbredathletic, fastest at long distances, 45 mph
2.American Quarterhorsefastest at short distances, 50 mph
3.Arabianone of the oldest breeds, 40 mph
4.Appaloosacharacterized by a distinctive leopard-spotted appearance, can run distances of 55 mph
5,Andalusiansan extraordinary range of motion and agility that can run up to 50 mph
6.American Paint Horsesamong the fastest top speeds at 40 mph
7.Akhal-Tekeancient Asian breeds with a metallic coat can run 35 mph
8.Standardbredexcels in harness racing, can run 30 mph
9.Mustangcan gallop at speeds of 25-30 mph

Arabian Horses Were Brave in Battle

Around Louvre - Triomphe du Carrousel - Napoleon's victory

Marengo is depicted in this scene at the Louvre –

Triomphe du Carrousel

– Napoleon’s victory.

©Seet/Shutterstock.com

The Arabian breed has long been favored on the battlefield – including Napoleon’s favorite, the brave Marengo. Perhaps one of the most famous war horses, this stallion was named after the battle of Marengo between France and Austria. Marengo was with Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He lived in England until his death in 1831.

Honorable Mention: Other Fast Horses

Most Expensive Horses - Friesian

Friesians are described as being mischievous, loving, and playful. Horse lovers often describe them as being majestic with a commanding presence.

©Makarova Viktoria/Shutterstock.com

Horses are a rather diverse species that have over 400 different breeds that are broken down into either three groupings based on their temperaments, or five groupings, which goes by their specialties or physical traits. If using three grouping system, they will be categorized as the ‘hot bloods’, which include those with endurance and speed, the ‘cold bloods’, which include those that are best for heavy work, and finally the ‘warmbloods’, which are cross breeds mixed from both the hot and cold-blooded varieties.

If using the grouping of their specialties, the five categories are draft, gaited, light, pony-types, and warm-blooded. Whichever grouping you may use, one thing is certain – there are certain breeds that are faster than others. Each horse is impressive in their own right, and while not all can be the fastest, these are additional impressive horses that illustrate top speeds:

  • Friesian Horse – also referred to as the Belgian black, this breed originated in the Netherlands, in a province called Friesland, and is considered one of the most beautiful horses. They are considered draft horses although they are also agile, graceful, and fast, capable of reaching speeds of up to around 30 miles per hour. Once used primarily as war horses, they are now very popular for all rider levels due to their docile nature and are often used in competitions as trotters, or dressage.
  • Mongolian Horse – this breed originated in Mongolia and is often confused with the Mongolian wild horse, also known as Przewalski’s horse, which it split from an estimated 120,000– 240,000 years ago. The Mongolian horse is relatively unchanged from the time of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. They are said to be capable of running at speeds of between 25 to 32 miles per hour, however, they have incredible stamina and are able to keep a continuous gallop for long periods of time at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.
  • Selle Français – this breed of sport horse originated in France, having been created in 1958 by merging several studs, and as a result, there is no breed standard. The Selle Français is renowned for its use, and success, in show jumping, although it is also used in dressage. They have reputations for being quick learners and although they may not be as speedy as other breeds on the list, they are capable of running fairly fast.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/anjajuli


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About the Author

After a career of working to provide opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I am enjoying having time to write about two of my favorite things - nature and animals. Half of my life is spent outdoors, usually with my husband and sweet little fourteen year old dog. We love to take walks by the lake and take photos of the animals we meet including: otters, ospreys, Canadian geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl, and listening to my son's music.

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