Best Breeds For Eventing, At All Levels

Regardless of what you want a horse for we’re all looking for that perfect horse and while the definition of a perfect horse varies from person to person when it comes to eventing there are certain things that every eventer, or prospective eventer, looks for. Ideally an eventing horse should have plenty of bravery but not be headstrong and just run at fences. They also need to have a good temperament as well as have good rideability, be trainable and have a good work ethic. Of course, a good jump is important but so is a forgiving nature. Another thing that people look for in eventing horses a natural uphill balance and well-balanced canter.

Of course, if you’re just starting out as an entry-level eventer your requirements for a horse, while obviously important, won’t be as crucial as that of a top-level competitor and this can make a difference to the breed you may or may not go for. After all, while pretty much any Warmblood would be great for all levels, something like an Appaloosa may be ideal for national competitions but you’ll be unlikely to see them at an International event, unfortunately.

Entry-level eventing horses

If you’re just starting out in the sport and are looking for a new horse you don’t have to go for a particular breed, after all, many crossbreeds make great eventing horses, but that said, if you do want to have a purebred horse then these breeds are perfect for entry-level eventing. You’ll have great fun with any of them and will learn so much that when you move up to a more advanced level you’ll have a much better idea of what you want (or need) in a horse.

Thoroughbred

Height: Most Thoroughbreds stand between 15.2hh (61 inches) and 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Any solid color is allowed but bay, brown and chestnut are the most common.
Character: Thoroughbreds are versatile horses that are most famous for their speed. They’re also courageous horses that have a friendly nature.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom

The Thoroughbred is primarily known as a racehorse but it’s helped in the development of so many ‘eventing’ breeds that its only right it should have its own place on this list. As a racehorse, there’s no question over their speed but you may not realize that there are a number of different types of Thoroughbred. The Sprinters which, as their name suggests, have incredible acceleration over a short distance, the Middle Distance and the Long Distance, the last of which is ideally suited to eventing.

Thoroughbred facts
  • All Thoroughbreds are registered in the General studbook that was started in 1791 by James Weatherby.
  • In the Northern Hemisphere Thoroughbreds are officially said to be born on 1st January while in the Southern Hemisphere it’s the 1st August.

Anglo-Arabian

Height: On average they range from 15.2hh (61 inches) to 16.3hh (65 inches).
Color: Gray, bay, chestnut and brown are the most common.
Character: Anglo-Arabians are known for their intelligence and bravery as well as their energy.
Country of Origin: France and the United Kingdom, although many countries have bred their own Anglo-Arabians.

Now officially recognized as a breed, the Anglo-Arabian, which was first bred in 1833 at France’s Le Pin National Stud, is a cross between a Thoroughbred and an Arabian. It combines the best traits of both breeds, such as strength, stamina, endurance and power, to produce an all-round great riding horse that’s perfect for eventing. Anglo-Arabians are extremely versatile horses that not only make ideal riding horses but their speed, stamina and intelligence also make them fantastic completion horses, not least in eventing.

Anglo-Arabian facts
  • To be allowed to be registered as an Anglo-Arabian a horse must have no more than 75% Arabian blood and no less than 25% with the rest being Thoroughbred blood.
  • The Anglo-Arabian’s studbook was established in 1890 and is one of the oldest in France.

Appendix Quarter Horse

Height: Generally between 15hh (60 inches) and 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Just like the Quarter Horse, Appendix horses are mainly sorrel but can be color.
Character: Appendix Quarter Horses are easy to keep and are highly sociable, they also have plenty of controlled energy. 
Country of Origin: USA

I know that technically the Appendix Quarter Horse isn’t a breed, rather a first-generation cross between two registered breeds, but the resulting horses have the best characteristics of both breeds. They inherit the Quarter Horse’s personality, endurance and courage while the Thoroughbred gives them their speed and powerful jump.

Appendix Quarter Horses are not just great for entry-level eventing but also as all-round pleasure horses. They’re always willing to please and have plenty of energy and speed but won’t use it up on a whim, they’ll always have enough energy in reserve for when you need it.

Appendix Quarter Horse facts
  • The ‘appendix’ comes from the fact that they’re not entered into the main Quarter Horse registry but an appendix of it.
  • Appendix Quarter Horses aren’t new, the first one was registered in 1949 after the American Quarter Horse Racing Association merged with the National Quarter Horse Breeders Association.

Intermediate level eventing horses

While entry-level breeds are great for helping you get a feel for the sport when you start competing at a higher level the chances are you’re going to want a breed that has proven itself in the eventing world. The breeds I’ve listed below are perfect for that.

Irish Draught

Height: Mares tend to range from 15.2hh (61 inches) to 16.2hh (65 inches), while stallions (or geldings) can be anything from 16hh (64 inches) to 17hh (68 inches).
Color: All solid colors.
Character: Irish Draughts love to be around people but are also extremely hard-working horses.
Country of Origin: Ireland

The Irish Draught is one of those rare breeds that is perfect for all levels of eventing, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or if you’re at an advanced level. In fact, the only reason I’ve not included it in both lists is that in the international level list its given way to its cousin, the Irish Sport Horse. 

Over the centuries the Irish Draught has evolved, with the aid of selective breeding, into a horse that not only has a great jump but is also tough enough to be able to gallop for prolonged periods while at the same time having a gentle ‘child’ friendly temperament. 

Irish Draught facts
  • The Irish Draught has very tough feet that can withstand the impact of landing on the hard ground, this is part of the reason why they have helped in the development of so many ‘jumping’ breeds.
  • In the United Kingdom, all police horses are Irish Draughts because of their gentle personality but unflappable nature.

Swedish Warmblood

Height: Anything up to 16.2hh (65 inches).
Color: Any solid color.
Character: Swedish Warmbloods have a great temperament, they’re calm and easy to handle but have enough power to make them great competition horses.
Country of Origin: Sweden

The Swedish Warmblood is thought to have descended from the original Scandinavian horse that inhabited the region around 4000BC. This horse was known to have been highly strung and more pony-sized, but during the 16th century Spanish, Oriental and Friesian stallions were introduced to help improve the breed and produce a horse that was suitable for Sweden’s royal stables as well as for its cavalries. Later infusions of Trakehner, Arabian and Hanoverian blood, along with Thoroughbred blood helped to create the breed we all know today.

Swedish Warmblood facts
  • The Swedish Warmblood is a regular on the international scene.
  • The Swedish Warmblood studbook, which was established in 1894 at the famous Flyinge stud, is one of Europe’s oldest warmblood studbooks.

Danish Warmblood

Height: The average is 16.2hh (65 inches) although anything between 15.3hh (61 inches) and 17hh (68 inches) is allowed.
Color: Any solid color, although bay is the most predominant.
Character: Danish Warmbloods are known for their courage and spirited natures. They’re comfortable to ride and make great dressage horses as well as eventers.
Country of Origin: Denmark

While its registry was only established in the 1960s the Danish Warmblod’s heritage can be traced back to the 14th century horses that the Cistercian monks helped to develop. The monks created the Frederiksborg which was used, along with the Thoroughbred, Trakehner and the Anglo-Norman, to create the early Danish Warmbloods. It wasn’t long before the breed began to shine on the international stage, and with a scopey jump and plenty of speed, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Danish Warmblood facts
  • Like the Swedish Warmblood, the Danish Warmblood is also popular on the international stage.
  • The Danish Warmblood is one of the few European warmblood breeds that hasn’t been influenced by the Hanoverian in some way.

International level eventing horses

When we talk about international level horses we’re generally referring to Olympic and World Class breeds that have won multiple gold medals at various events and all of these breeds are exactly that. That’s not to say though that if you’re not an elite eventer you can’t ride any of these horses, on the contrary, like all horses they’re for everybody. It’s just that these breeds are what the pros choose which is why I’ve included their World Breeding Federation for Sports Horses (WBFSH) ranking for 2019.



Irish Sport Horse

Height: Normally anything from 15.5hh (62 inches) to 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Any solid color.
Character: Like the Irish Draught, Irish Sport Horses are friendly horses that are not only eager to please but also enjoy being around people and other horses.
Country of Origin: Ireland
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 1st

Sometimes called the Irish Draught Sport Horse, the Irish Sport Horse was purposefully bred as a top-quality competition horse by crossing Irish Draughts with Thoroughbreds. Despite centuries of crossbreeding between the two it wasn’t officially recognized as a breed until the early 1920s. During the 1990s Hanoverian, Selle Français and Trakehner horses were added to the bloodline to increase its athleticism even further.

The Irish Sport Horse’s competition record is second to none with it having been placed 1st in the WBFSH rankings in all but four years since 2006, having being ranked 2nd in three out of those four years too.  

Irish Sport Horse facts
  • The Irish Sport Horse is sometimes known as the Irish Hunter due to the popularity of hunting in Ireland.
  • Despite being such a great competition horse, the Irish Sport Horse is still used as an agricultural horse on some farms in Ireland.

Hanoverian

Height: Normally between 15.3hh (60 inches) and 16.3hh (65 inches).
Color: Any solid color.
Character: The Hanoverian is a very athletic horse that has the build to match, they’re easy to train and are very willing horses.
Country of Origin: Germany
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 2nd

The Hanoverian has to be probably the most well known as well as the most successful of all of Germany’s competitive warmblood breeds, having had continued success in eventing as well as show jumping and dressage. Some people argue that the Hanoverian isn’t an international level horse because although it excels in showjumping and dressage it doesn’t quite have the speed for eventing but considering it was placed 2nd in last year’s WBFSH rankings I think it definitely does have the speed.

The breed can trace its heritage back to King George I of England who, during the early 1700s, was an elector of Hanover. During this time he introduced British Thoroughbreds and crossed them with German breeds such as the Holsteiner. This helped to produce a light, dual-purpose horse that was just as happy in harness as it was under saddle.

Hanoverian facts
  • Before being allowed to stand a stud, all Hanoverian stallions have to pass strict selection tests that include spending a year training as a riding horse.
  • With the exception of the Danish Warmblood, the Hanoverian has been used in the development of most European warmblood breeds.

Dutch Warmblood

Height: Approximately 16hh (64 inches).
Color: All solid colors are allowed.
Character: Dutch Warmbloods are famous for their friendly, hard-working natures as well as their intelligence.
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 3rd

You might be surprised, given the success of the breed, but the Dutch Warmblood is a relatively new breed with its studbook, like that of the Selle Français, only being established in 1958. The Dutch Warmblood was created with the sole purpose of establishing an outstanding competition horse that would excel, internationally, in all disciplines. Based on the Groningen and Gelderland, Thoroughbreds, along with French and German Warmbloods, were used to produce a calm breed with a good temperament and phenomenal performance. 

Dutch Warmblood facts
  • There are three types of Dutch Warmblood, the most common type is the riding horse, the Gelders horse which is a general-purpose horse and the tuigpaard which translates to mean harness horse.
  • All Dutch Warmbloods are registered in the Royal studbook known as Koninklijk Warmblood Paardenstamboek Nederland (or KWPN).

Holsteiner

Height: Typically between 16hh (60 inches) and 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Any color is allowed but bay, brown and gray are the most common.
Character: Being a warmblood, Holsteiners, are generally quiet and easy-going horses. Like other warmblood breeds, they’re hard-working and are very tough.
Country of Origin: Germany
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 4th

Out of all of Germany’s warmblood breeds, the Holsteiner (or Holstein) is by far the oldest and can be traced back to the Great Horses of the Middle Ages. During the 13th century, it was bred by monks along the River Elbe in the Schleswig-Holstein region of Germany. Originally bred as a war horse it wasn’t until the dawn of mechanization that lighter breeds such as the Cleveland Bay and the now extinct Yorkshire Coach Horse where used, this resulted, with the help of Thoroughbred blood, in the sporting horse that we know today.

Today the Holsteiner is one of Germany’s greatest competition horses and has a great deal of Olympic success, not least at the 1976 Montreal Olympics when they won gold, silver and bronze in all three disciplines.

Holsteiner facts
  • Like the Hanoverian, and most other European warmblood breeds, all Holsteiner stallions have to pass strict tests and undergo training before they’re allowed to stand at stud.
  • There are two types of Holsteiner, a light type that is a popular competition horse and the heavy type that is believed to date back to the 14th century.

Selle Français

Height: Usually between 15.2hh (61 inches) to 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Chestnut is the most common but any color is allowed.
Character: Selle Français’ have plenty of stamina, a great jump and love to run but are just as happy as an all-round pleasure riding horse.
Country of Origin: France
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 5th

For many years the name Selle Français was a general term used to describe any French riding horse, that was until 1958 when all of the ‘types’ were brought together to create the ‘le cheval de Selle Français’ which translates to mean French Saddle Horse. At the same time, the Selle Français was crossed with Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arabian and French Trotter blood to create the elegant, strong and athletic horse we have today.

Despite the breed being more of a type in its early years, most Selle Français’ evolved the same way which was with the use of Thoroughbreds and Norfolk Trotters (now extinct) being crossed with French Trotters and Anglo-Norman saddle horses.

Selle Français facts
  • One of the government-funded studs that helped to develop the Selle Français was the same Le Pin stud that also played an important role in the creation of the Anglo-Arabian.
  • The Selle Français has also been bred for racing but all horses that are raced are registered with the AQPSA.

Oldenburg

Height: Anything taller than 16.2hh (65 inches) but often well over 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Mainly brown, bay or black but occasionally grey.
Character: The Oldenburg’s history as a harness horse means that they’re very strong and powerful but also have kind natures.
Country of Origin: Germany
WBFSH 2019 ranking: 6th

Taking its name from Count von Oldenburg who create the breed over three hundred years ago, the Oldenburg is the tallest and heaviest of all of Germany’s warmbloods. Based on the Friesian horse, he used Thoroughbreds, along with Norman horses, as the foundation for the breed. 

Towards the end of the 18th century Count von Oldenburg also introduced a lot of Spanish and Barb blood to help produce a strong and hardy harness horse, but as motorized vehicles became more popular harness horses weren’t so desirable. This meant that the Oldenburg needed to change again so Hanoverians, Trakehners and Thoroughbreds were used to create the riding horse we know today. 

Oldenburg facts
  • All Oldenburgs can trace their pedigree back to the famous 18th century racehorse, Eclipse, who never lost a race in his entire career.
  • Originally developed as a harness horse, today some Oldenburgs are still used in International Combined Driving Championships.

Conclusion

I know that there are dozens of other breeds that I could have included, such as the Trakehner or the Finnish Warmblood, but I’m sure if I did include every suitable breed then this article would literally take forever to read! This is why I decided to limit it to the 12 mentioned, 3 entry-level breeds, 3 intermediate breeds and 6 top-class breeds. If you think I really should’ve added a particular breed why not let me know below or on social media?

Further reading

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