Thoroughbred Horse Breed

Thoroughbred Horse Breed

The Thoroughbred horse is one that even those who are not dedicated horseback riders are likely familiar with. This is because the Thoroughbred is the horse that is most often used in horse racing. In fact, they are largely the reason this sport exists today! They were developed in England by royalty and gentlemen for the purpose of racing. The breed is, of course, known for its speed, and is a breed that can commonly be found around the world. Read on to learn more about the Thoroughbred horse, including some of the breed’s history and characteristics. 

Thoroughbred Horse Characteristics

The Thoroughbred breed is one that is characterized by a delicate horse head that is filled with large, intelligent eyes and nostrils. Thoroughbreds also have a regal appearance. They are known to have long, clean lines that are able to smoothly connect the horse’s wide chest to their short back and their hindquarters. They are classified as having their athletic bodies. Their legs are long and they are tall, but the individual bones of the horse’s legs are short and therefore allow the horse to have a longer stride.  

Thoroughbred Horse Size

The Thoroughbred size is said to be an average height of 16.1 hands high, as decreed by the Jockey Club. The Jockey Club is the breed registry for Thoroughbreds in the United States. However, the Thoroughbred height can range from 15 to 17 hands high. Female Thoroughbred horses are typically a bit smaller than the males of the breed. This is tall for a horse breed, especially a breed meant for riding. It is largely because of the breed’s long legs. Young Thoroughbreds who have yet to reach adulthood have typically reached 84% of their adult height by the age of 6 months. There is an incorrect belief about racing horses that, when they have been raced at the age of 2 or 3, this damages them and can cause greater risk of injury. Luckily, scientific research has shown that this an unfounded myth, based on how quickly the Thoroughbred breed matures to their full size. 

Thoroughbred Horse Weight

The weight of the Thoroughbred horse generally averages around 1000 pounds, according to the Jockey Club. Just like with height, the stallions and geldings will weigh more than the mares of the breed. Thoroughbred horses and non adult horses are already at 46% of their mature weight at the age of 6 months. Their full, mature weight is reached at a slower rate than their full, mature height. It is not until a Thoroughbred turns 2 years old that they reach their final weight. At the age of 22 months, they are still only at 90% of their full weight. The bone structure of the horse, as well, is not complete until they are 6 years old. That being said, steady and continuous bone growth has been shown to be the healthiest kind! 

Thoroughbred Horse Colors

There are many different colors that your horse can come in if it is a Thoroughbred! The most common colors that you can find the Thoroughbred breed in are black, bay, gray, brown, and chestnut. Breeders have been selectively and carefully breeding the Thoroughbred for many years to achieve this. Some of the other colors that this breed can come in, which are more rare, are roan, white, and palomino. White is recognized as a color distinct from gray. The Thoroughbred horse can often have white markings on their face and legs, and they are sometimes called chrome. An example of this is the racehorse California Chrome, who won the Preakness Stakes and the 2014 Kentucky Derby. California Chrome was known as having a white blaze on the face and white socks on his legs, too. The horse’s name therefore came from these markings, and his fans call themselves “Chromies”.

Thoroughbred Horse Temperament 

The Thoroughbred horse has a bit more of a high maintenance temperament. The breed is known for being high strung and sensitive. This is still a broad generalization of the breed’s temperament and personality, though. They are very competitive and do have high energy, which makes sense because they are a breed that was bred for racing specifically. That being said, Thoroughbreds are also intelligent and kind. They are people pleasers with strong work ethics, too. All horses do have unique temperaments and personalities, just as people do. Care and upbringing can affect the Thoroughbred temperament as well. They are fantastic horses for those who are experienced riders, but they are not very well suited for beginner or novice riders. Their temperament can be overwhelming for those who are not able to handle it! There are no breed rules for the Thoroughbred horse within the United States Equestrian Federation.

Thoroughbred Horse Care

There are a few different things that are important when it comes to caring for a Thoroughbred in order to keep your horse happy and healthy. For instance, the Thoroughbred is a very energetic breed of horse. Due to this, they will require more exercise and physical stimulation than some other breeds of horse. The sensitivity of the breed can also make Thoroughbreds more difficult and challenging to care for. That being said, if the horse’s mental and physical needs are met, then this makes them easier to care for. A healthy Thoroughbred can live to live between 25 and 28 years on average. Well cared for Thoroughbreds will be able to be used and ridden throughout their lifetime. 

Thoroughbred Horse Diet and Nutrition

Horses have similar needs from their food and their diet, but different breeds have different requirements, especially due to their differing energy levels. These basic needs include water, fats, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, and protein. Horses will consume roughly 2 percent of their body weight in feed, daily. The Thoroughbred horse’s diet is made up of primarily roughage or forage, which is the hay and grass that the horse eats. This is the largest part of their diet, and then the other parts of their diet are added in as needed. These other things that make up the Thoroughbred diet include grain, protein, and fat supplements. Some of these are important to balance the horse’s diet, as well as for purposes like growth and performance. Access to clean and fresh water is also crucial to your horse’s health. The needs of a racing Thoroughbred will differ from the dietary and nutrition needs of growing or senior horses, as well as Thoroughbreds who are only expected to do lighter work. If needed, you can consult an equine nutritionist to help determine the dietary needs of your Thoroughbred.

Thoroughbred Horse Health Issues

Every breed of horse is going to have certain health issues, and these may vary based upon the breed. The Thoroughbred horse, for example, are susceptible to respiratory diseases. Some of these respiratory diseases include exercise related pulmonary hemorrhage and something called typing up, which is a neuromuscular problem that can be triggered by exercise as well. Gastric ulcers are something that can be an issue for most breeds, especially race horses like the Thoroughbred horse. However, gastric ulcers can largely be prevented, in part by lifestyle changes, treatments, and ensuring that there is plenty of forage in a horse’s diet. Thoroughbreds are also subject to certain genetic issues. One of these is parrot mouth, which is the name for when the top of the teeth and the mouth of the horse is further forward than the bottom of the mouth. A rare genetic condition of this breed is contracted foal syndrome, which is when the leg joints of the horse do not form correctly. You can also work with a trainer and veterinarian to try and prevent some of these issues from developing in your Thoroughbred horse, but of course this will not be very effective in preventing genetically occurring conditions.

Thoroughbred Horse Grooming

Every breed of horse needs to be groomed, but the particular requirements for this may vary between the different breeds. Grooming can be a great way to take care of your horse, of course, but also to create and strengthen a bond between horse and rider. Racehorse breeds have specific requirements, too, when it comes to grooming. It is important to groom the horse daily so that you can also examine them for any injuries at the same time. Some of these issues could include injuries, scratches, and skin issues. The Thoroughbred breed is also a breed of horse that has more sensitive skin, meaning that they can be more susceptible to insect bites and other such issues. Cleaning and examining the hooves is important, too, and should be done daily to keep the horse healthy and free of hoof injuries. When grooming a Thoroughbred, you should pay attention to the mane and tail and clean the horse’s face with a soft brush or a towel. Brushes and curry combs should be used on the horse’s body and coat. Only brushes should be used on the legs of a Thoroughbred, as they are very sensitive. This means that it is important to check the ligaments and the tendons of the legs for swelling during grooming sessions. 

Thoroughbred Horse History

There are three horses that are considered to be the ancestors of today’s Thoroughbred horses. These three horses were the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian, and all were stallions that were bred with mares to develop the Thoroughbred breed. These horses were imported to England from the Mediterranean Middle East to create the foundation of all Thoroughbred horse history. We will go over the history of the breed in more detail below. 

Thoroughbred Horse Origin

The Thoroughbred originated in England. The native horses of the region did not have many of the characteristics that the three imported founding sires had— the three horses that we mentioned above. These three stallions were bred with mares in order to develop the Thoroughbred as we are familiar with it today. The goal was to breed a horse that was tall, strong, and also able to sustain its speed over distance. It first originated with the aristocracy of England, who were breeding the Thoroughbred. Then, the Thoroughbred horse’s popularity spread across the globe, due to its valuable characteristics. The origin of the Thoroughbred is also incredibly well documented when compared to other breeds of horses. In depth records trace the genealogy of the horses for generations. While the breed is descended from Arabian horses and the native mares of England, all of the modern Thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to the three founding Arabian sires— the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk.

Thoroughbred Horse Historic Development

Thoroughbreds originated in England over 300 years ago. The careful breeding of the horses is what allowed them to get to the consistent breed characteristics that we are now familiar with. Consistent breed characteristics were reached after just a few generations. People used the racetrack to prove the superiority of a horse, as well as for sport. Families also guarded the bloodlines of their horses jealously and took great pride in them until the studbook was established in the 1790s. In the early 1700s, others started to export horses so that they could establish the breed in their own home country. The American Thoroughbred, for example, began with its very first import in 1730. It was able to grow from this point as more of the horses were imported and bred. These days, there are more Thoroughbreds in the United States than there are anywhere else!

Notable Thoroughbred Horses

There are famous Thoroughbreds that fill the registries of countries across the world. These famous Thoroughbreds include movie stars, Olympic athletes, racehorses, and more. Some of the Thoroughbreds are famous due to scandals, just like some of our famous human celebrities! For instance, the Irish racehorse Shergar, who had a Thoroughbred pedigree, was stolen in 1983. He was then held at ransom for 2 million pounds before he injured his leg and was euthanized. 

Bulle Rock

One of the famous Thoroughbreds is the Thoroughbred horse Bulle Rock. Bulle Rock was imported from England to the United States, and he arrived in the states in 1730. The one who imported Bulle Rock was Samuel Gist, of Virginia. Bulle Rock had raced successfully in England and was the son of Darley Arabian. Bulle Rock was the first of many imports and was used for breeding in the United States. 


Another of the many famous Thoroughbred horses is the Thoroughbred Secretariat. Many of us are familiar with this name! Secretariat was a chestnut Thoroughbred stallion that was nicknamed Big Red. He won the Triple Crown in 1973, including the Belmont Stakes by a whopping 31 lengths. Secretariat still holds some track records to this day, and is also known as a broodmare sire. He is the grandsire of many horses, such as Storm Cat and AP Indy.

American Pharoah

Affirmed is a horse who won the 1978 Triple Crown. Then, it took a long time for the feat to be repeated, as many horses came close but were ultimately unsuccessful. Finally, in 2015 the Thoroughbred American Pharoah came along and won the Triple Crown! Many say that he reinvigorated the sport, too. American Pharoah still stands as a stallion at Coolmore Farm.

Thoroughbred Horse Myths and Legends

There are plenty of myths and legends— or stories that have some truth to them but still sound like a tall tale— about Thoroughbred horses. Some are related to some of the feats these horses achieved, while others center on different locations. We will go over some of these myths, legends, and stories below! 

Man o’War – The GOAT

GOAT stands for Greatest of All Time, and Man o’War is considered to be that for racehorses. He has a 28 foot stride, which has remained a record to this day. He was bred in Kentucky by the Belmont family, who are the same family that the racetrack is named for. Man o’War was thought to be the original Big Red and could often be seen standing and gazing off into the distance regally. 

The Death of Shergar

Shergar was a racehorse who was abducted around 40 years ago, and it still remains much of a mystery to this day. His captors and his demise are still unclear. He was horsenapped at the age of 5 and held for a very high ransom. It was 8 armed men who stole him from his stable, and it is believed that the men were members of the Irish Republican Army and trying to raise gun money with the ransom.

Saratoga: The Graveyard of Champions

The Saratoga racetrack earned the name the Graveyard of Champions because it has seen many more noteworthy upsets than any other racetrack. Many of champions suffered defeats on the Saratoga racetrack. These champions who suffered defeat here include Man o’War (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Secretariat (1973), and American Pharoah (2015). Ironically, the name of the horse that Man o’War lost to was Upset. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a horse a Thoroughbred?

A Thoroughbred is a kind of horse and is considered to be a specific breed of horse. So, what defines a Thoroughbred horse in the first place? A horse is only considered to be a Thoroughbred if they have ancestry that dates back to one of three different sires. These sires are foundation sires and are the Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian. They are a horse that are taller than the Quarter Horse and are not as well muscled as the Quarter Horse, either  

Are Thoroughbreds a good beginner horse?

There are many breeds of horse out there that make good beginner horses, and just about as many that should be horses for experienced riders only. Part of this will come down to the temperament of the individual horse. However, there are also certain breed characteristics that can make a horse good for beginners. The Thoroughbred is typically not one of the breeds that is best suited for a beginner or inexperienced equestrian. While Thoroughbreds are people-oriented and have a great heart and work ethic, they can be a lot to handle— unlike some of the more mellow and gentle horse breeds we consider to be more beginner friendly. Thoroughbreds can be energetic and forward going, which can be tough energy to expect a novice rider to be able to handle. 

What two horses make a Thoroughbred?

The Thoroughbred is a breed of horse that is often used for racing and is known to be people-oriented, friendly, and have good hearts. That being said, they are also very energetic and can be a lot to handle for riders who are not confident or experienced. The breed originates from England, where it was developed between the 17th and 18th centuries. Native mares were bred together with different breeds of imported Oriental stallions. These stallion breeds were horses of the Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman breeding. Gentlemen in England imported the stallions with the goal of breeding better racehorses— as they did, because the Thoroughbred is often used for racing events. 

Are Thoroughbred horses the fastest?

What horse is considered to be the fastest will depend on how this is being measured. For example, some horses are faster at short distances, while other breeds of horses are faster when measured running across long distances. Stamina and speed can both play a part here. That being said, you may be wondering if the Thoroughbred, specifically, is the fastest horse around.

Thoroughbred horses are very fast, and they are used as racehorses and in different racing events often. However, they are not the fastest breed of horse when we are measuring the fastest clocked sprint. The Quarter Horse breed has been clocked in running at speeds of up to 55 MPH. In comparison, the Thoroughbred has been recorded at 44 MPH for the fastest race time. However, the Thoroughbred is still faster than many breeds, because the average gallop is just 27 MPH.