What is the world’s fastest horse?
Many metrics and races have been introduced over the years, showing that different horse breeds excel in each area.
Today, I discuss some of the fastest horse breeds and some of the quickest horses recorded in the history of horse racing.
But first, let’s discuss what determines a horse’s speed.
What Makes A Fast Horse?
One would assume that the tallest or the biggest types of horse breeds are the fastest, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some of the fastest horses are short or of medium height.
Seabiscuit, for instance, a Thoroughbred (more on this breed later) dominated racing in the 1930s and 1940s.
And contrary to what you’d expect, he had a small stature. Eclipse is another famous racehorse that was studied by scientists.
They found that one reason he was so fast is because he had an average stature.
Dr Robert Cook of Tufts University states that tall horses may be slower than shorter horses because they are more susceptible to RLN (Recurrent Laryngeal Neuropathy), a condition that inhibits their breathing.
You see, for a horse to run as fast as they do, they rely on their build, muscles, and respiratory system.
Dr. Melissa Mazen of Tufts Equine Center explains that horses can run fast because they have huge hearts which help pump oxygenated blood.
She also states that they’re obligate nose breathers, which means they’re built for running.
When it comes to the build, Miles Henry, author at the Horse Racing Sense, states that a good racehorse has a good balance between the frame and the type of muscles.
They shouldn’t be that muscular, but they often have an average size.
Generally, a horse with an average size and that can control its breath as it races, tends to run faster and endure longer.
Other Factors That Determine the Speed of a Horse
Below are more characteristics of a good racehorse.
- Stride Length – This is the distance a horse moves in every stride, or from when it lifts its front legs to the point the front legs hit the ground again. Most racing horses have a 20-foot stride length, but horses such as the Man O’ War could cover a distance of up to 28-feet in one stride.
- Stride Rate – This is the rate at which a horse completes strides within a predefined period, mostly one minute. The stride rates of Quarterhorses and Thoroughbreds, some of the fastest horses, are 172 and 140 strides per minute, respectively. But most horses range from 130 to 140 strides per minute.
- Stride Angle – This is the angle made by the front foot and back foot when they’re in a vertical position or when the horse is at the maximum length of the stride. The longer larger the stride angle, the longer the stride, and the faster the horse will be.
Below are some of the fastest horse breeds, their top speeds, and some famous examples.
Thoroughbred horses are some of the fastest horses, and they’re the most common seen in horse racing.
They’ve also been instrumental in improving other breeds.
The development of thoroughbreds dates back to the 3rd century in England when Barb horses and Arabian horses were introduced.
Around the 16th and 17th century, 43 mares, among them the Godolphin Barb, Byerly Turk, and the Darley Arabian, were also imported.
These are the foundation parents of all the Thoroughbreds we have today. The modern Thoroughbred is taller than Quarter horses, light, agile, and high-spirited.
Unlike the Quarter horse that run short races (more on this later), Thoroughbreds race over longer distances, sometimes over a mile long.
The best horses can control their breathing throughout the race. The Triple Crown is one of the races that only Thoroughbreds can participate in.
But they also participate in other multi-breed events. They are also influential in the breeding of the best jumping horses and eventing horses.
So, how fast does a Thoroughbred horse run? Let’s look at some of the fastest Thoroughbreds ever recorded.
- Secretariat (1979 – 1989) – He is one of the most popular racehorses in history. In 1973, he clocked 38 MPH in the Kentucky Derby and broke the Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes records. He also went on to win 20 out of the 21 races he participated in.
- Man O’ War – Man O’War is another great racehorse that is a Hall of Famer and was crowned outstanding athlete of the year in 1920 by the New York Times. He also won 20/21 races and is the grandsire of Seabiscuit, another champion racehorse.
- Winning Brew (2008 to present) – This horse holds the current World Record where she clocked 43.97 MPH (70.76 KPH) in 2 furlongs (1/8 of a mile or 220 yards).
Other popular thoroughbred horses include;
- Citation (1945 – 1970)
- American Pharoah (From 2012)
2. American Quarter Horses
According to Brittanica.com, Quarter Horses date back to the 1600s.
The resulted from crossing horses of Spanish origin and horses that came from England.
During the colonial era, Quarter Horses were used in quarter-mile racing, which was quite common around that time.
That’s why they got the name “Quarter Horses”. After the Civil War, Quarter Horses were often used in Texas to gather cattle or break them from their herds.
They were bred as high-performance horses and to withstand the harsh weather conditions. While Thoroughbreds hold the fastest horse Guinness Book world record, Quarter Horses still hold the fastest horse speed record at 55 MPH.
Today, American Quarter Horses are short, muscular, and cooperative. They excel in short-distance races, and they’ve been used as stock horses.
However, Quarter Horses are also among the best horses for barrel racing due to their short stature, muscular build, and fast-turning capabilities.
3. Arabian Horses
Arabian horse originated from the Arabian Peninsula and were developed to aid in warfare.
This means that they had to run fast, endure desert conditions, and carry the rider for a long distance.
This is where they get their strength, endurance, and agility from.
These horses are relatively small, with a height of around 15 hands (65 inches), and weigh up to 1000 pounds. Arabian horses are some of the oldest known pure breeds and have been crossed with other horses to improve their endurance.
Thoroughbreds are an excellent example of such selective breeding.
This horse isn’t the fastest, with speeds of up to 40 MPH, but they’re the best in endurance racing. These are races that can cover up to 100 miles and take one day or a couple of days to complete.
For a horse to compete in such a race, it needs to attain high levels of fitness.
4. Akhal Teke
This is one of the rarest and oldest known pure breeds.
They were first developed in Turkmenistan, and they have been developed for war over the years.
Records show that they’ve been used in the Russian Military, and their parent, the Turkmen horse, was a warhorse in Asia.
This explains its speed (about 30MPH) and agility. Akhal Teke horses were once ridden for 2600 Miles in Russia, and the ride took 84 days, with some days of no food or water.
They are also known for their unique hair structure that gives their coat a metallic glow. Today, they are common racehorses in Turkmenistan and Russia, and they participate in a wide range of horse sports worldwide.
They can also be quite aggressive, just like the Thoroughbred, and aren’t suitable for beginning riders.
5. American Standardbred
The American Standardbred is a common breed in harness racing, also known as trotting.
This is because they bear the racing characters of the Thoroughbred horses.
The first selective breeding attempt between a Thoroughbred and a trotting horse occurred in the 18th century.
Selective breeding has occurred over the years to develop the excellent trotting horse we have today.
To qualify for registration in the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders (Now U.S. Trotting Association), a horse had to race a standard mile in 2 minutes 30 seconds, hence the name “Standardbred”.
The Modern Standardbred can stand as tall as 17 hands, can weigh up to 1200 pounds, and can achieve a 30 MPH speed.
They are also not as stubborn or spirited as the Thoroughbred. As a result, both beginners and seasoned horse riders can effectively engage them.
The modern Appaloosa originated from North America and was often was used by Native Americans.
The Nez Perce, used the breed for war, hunting, and transport.
But they’re not natives to North America; they came with Spanish explorers in the 1600s.
It’s likely their name is associated with the Palouse River in Idaho.
Appaloosa horses are known for their spotted coats, which come in different colors. Today, they are popular in trail riding, show jumping, endurance races, herding cattle, rodeo events, and other events, mainly in the Western United States.
They are also quite friendly, making them ideal for both beginners and experienced riders. An average Appaloosa can achieve a top speed of 41 MPH.
Fastest Horse FAQs
What Makes Racehorse Fast?
An average combination between the frame and muscle mass and the ability to pace themselves as they run are some of the reasons racehorses are fast. Other factors include a longer strider length, a longer stride angle, and a faster stride rate.
How Fast Is The World’s Fastest Horse?
Winning Brew holds the fastest record time after running 43.97 MPH in 2 furlongs. Other speeds recorded include the Quarter Horses’ 55 MPH, and the 38 MPH, which Secretariat clocked by 31 lengths.
Is the Arabian horse The Fastest Horse?
No, the Arabian isn’t the fastest, but it’s the best in endurance. The fastest horse breed in the world is the Quarter Horse, followed by the Thoroughbred.
And there you have it. The fastest horse breed in the world is the Quarter Horse, closely followed by the Thoroughbred with several of them making it to the “Best” and “Fastest” horses of all-time lists.
As we’ve also established, a good racehorse is made by an average frame, average muscle mass, and an excellent respiratory system.
- “Akhal-Teke Horse.” Equine World UK, equine-world.co.uk/info/about-horses/horse-pony-breeds/akhal-teke-horse.
- “Appaloosa | Breed of Horse.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/animal/Appaloosa.
- “ESPN.com: Man O’ War Came close to Perfection.” Www.espn.com, www.espn.com/sportscentury/features/00016132.html. Accessed 27 June 2021.
- “Ever Wonder Why Racehorses Are so Fast? Tufts University Explains.” Horse Racing News | Paulick Report, 12 June 2019, www.paulickreport.com/horse-care-category/ever-wonder-why-racehorses-are-so-fast-tufts-university-explains/.
- Nielsen, B, et al. “Stride Rates of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds during Races of Short and Classic Race Distances.” Equine Veterinary Journal, vol. 46, June 2014, pp. 44–45, 10.1111/evj.12267_136. Accessed 26 Dec. 2019.
- “Standardbred | Breed of Horse | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2020, www.britannica.com/animal/Standardbred.
- The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Thoroughbred | Breed of Horse.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 22 June 2017, www.britannica.com/animal/Thoroughbred.
- “The Evaluation and Training of Arabian Endurance Racing.” Equine Science, www.extension.iastate.edu/equine/evaluation-and-training-arabian-endurance-racing.
- WHAT MAKES a FAST HORSE FAST? A Small and Complex Answer to a Large and Simple Question Robert Cook.
- “Why Was the Racehorse Eclipse so Good?” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070611134032.htm.
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Peter was always been fascinated by horses. He got his first horse, a Morgan Horse, when he was 13 and he has been learning about them since then. He loves contributing on this blog to share what he learned so far. Find him on: FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN.
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