Light horses are one of the three main types of horses that exist, the other two being Heavy horses and Ponies. This article will look specifically into the light horse type and see that it can be further divided into 4 main subtypes.
In general, light horses are the type of horses that can be ridden or driven. However, they encompass a wide variety of breeds that have been individually developed to perform many different activities.
The Light horse’s conformation and temperament will usually determine what kind of job it will perform well, and so we can group light horses into 4 main types: Sport Horse, Stock Horse, Baroque Horse, and Gaited Horse.
1 – Sport Horses
Sport horses have a body build that allows long strides and jumping ability. Additionally, quality sport horses need to be trainable and have a willingness to perform. Sport horses are popular in English disciplines.
Characteristics of Sport Horses
The following characteristics are common to Sport type horses:
- Lean body build
- Long legs
- Long neck coming forward and slightly upward from the shoulder with the head carried higher than the stock horse
- Smooth muscles
- The stride is long and low
- Stamina to gallop long distances
- Athletic ability to jump fences and shorten or lengthen stride as needed
What are Sport Horses Used For?
Due to their stamina and athletic ability, these horses are suitable for Olympic Equestrian sporting events such as:
Sport Horse Breeds
The list of sport horse breeds is huge, but the most popular are horses with warmblood or thoroughbred ancestry, such as:
- Swedish Warmblood
- Danish Warmblood
- Dutch Warmblood
- Belgian Warmblood
- Irish Sport Horse
- Selle Francais
2 – Stock Horses
The stock type horses have a muscular build and a calm temperament which makes them ideal for working with livestock. Stock horses are very popular in western disciplines.
Characteristics of Stock Horses
The following characteristics are typical on stock type horses:
- The shoulders, forearms, and hindquarters are heavily muscled
- Short, strong backs and medium length legs
- The neck should come forward from its shoulders (as opposed to upward) with the head carried low.
- Relaxed stride with feet close to the ground
- They are very agile. They can start, stop and turn quickly
- They are very fast in short-distance sprints
What are Stock Horses Used For?
Due to their strength, speed and calm temperament stock horses are well suited for:
- Ranch work
- Trail riding
- Western event showing (roping, cutting, and reining)
- Short distance racing
- Contests that require speed and agility such as barrel racing
Stock Horse Breeds
Well known stock horse breeds include:
- American Quarter Horse
- Australian Stock Horse
- American Paint Horse
3 – Baroque Horses
Baroque horses have a strong and agile body type, allowing them to perform graceful movements. They have a gentle temperament and are very intelligent, making them easy to train and safe to ride. These versatile horses are suitable for any type of rider, from children to highly experienced riders.
Baroque horses were very popular in Europe during the Baroque period (1600 to 1750), but they have existed since the middle ages (500 to 1500) and were bred for battle. They descend from the Destrier, the warhorse of the middle ages.
Characteristics of Baroque Horses
A typical baroque horse will have the following characteristics:
- Compact, muscular, square body
- Powerful, rounded, and sloping hindquarters
- Tail set low
- Muscular, arched neck
- Broad face with large expressive eyes and small ears
- Straight or slightly convex profile
- Thick mane and tail
- Gentle temperament and very intelligent
- Very expressive and smooth movements
What are Baroque Horses Used For?
Due to their strong and agile bodies, these horses are particularly suited for the following disciplines:
- Dressage, where they excel in the high-level exercises such as the piaffe.
- Haut Ecole, where horses perform movements above the ground such as the levade, capriole and mezair. These very difficult exercises are trained in several riding academies such as the Spanish Riding school in Vienna (Austria), The Cadre Noir in Saumur (France) and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Sintra (Portugal)
- Bullfighting, which dates back many centuries. Besides being a spectacle, it had the purpose of training and selecting the best horses for war.
- Working equitation, which requires a strong partnership between rider and horse and the ability to maneuver obstacles.
Baroque Horse Breeds
The most popular baroque horse breeds are:
4 – Gaited Horses
Gaited horses are those that have one or more unusual gaits in addition to or instead of the 4 basic gaits (walk, trot, canter and gallop).
These special gaits are very pleasant to ride and were developed by humans to make long-distance riding more comfortable.
Characteristics of Gaited Horses
Gaited horses can perform ambling gaits, which are four-beat gaits that are faster than a walk but slower than a canter.
These horses have a genetic trait that permits the legs to move independently from one another. This enables them to perform these special gaits naturally or with minimal training.
The body conformation can vary between the different breeds of gaited horses because the criteria for grouping these horses are their gaits rather than their conformation. However, most breeds have the following characteristics:
- Elegant body with light bones and muscles.
- Long necks that come straight up from the shoulder (rather than forward), with the head carried high.
- Tail set high
- Long legs relative to the body
- The stride is lively and high
- They offer a comfortable ride
The Ambling Gaits
Gaited horses have the ability to naturally perform a variety of ambling gaits.
The main ambling gaits are:
- Running walk
- Fox trot
- Stepping pace
The ambling gaits specific to certain breeds
- The “Paso Fino gaits” (Classic Fino, Paso Corto, Paso Largo)
- The Peruvian Paso gaits (Paso Llano and Sobreandando)
- The “Mangalara gaits” (Marcha Batida and Marcha Picada)
What are Gaited Horses Used For?
Due to their stamina, endurance, and comfortable movement, gaited horses are generally used for trail riding.
Because they have unusual ambling gaits, they can also be seen in gaited horse shows and competitions to demonstrate their gaits.
Gaited Horse Breeds
The most popular gaited horse breeds are:
- American Saddlebred
- Tennessee Walking Horse
- Racking Horse
- Missouri Fox Trotter
- Icelandic horse
- Paso Fino
- Peruvian Paso
- Mangalara Marchador