Differences Between a Quarter Horse & a Thoroughbred

Quarter Horse Vs. Thoroughbred is a common topic within the equestrian community. 

Every new horse owner wonders what the main differences between these breeds are. 

I’ll provide the answer by discussing several aspects of each horse. 

So let’s get this journey started with their physical characteristics.

READ MORE: What Kind of Horses Are There?

Physical Characteristics 

An American Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred will look incredibly similar. But there are subtle differences in their physical traits that can help people distinguish between them:

Size and Appearance 

Thoroughbreds will be between 16 to 17 hands tall and weigh about 1,030 to 1,130 pounds. It provides them with an athletic, toned, muscled body. 

Meanwhile, a Quarter Horse will weigh a bit more on average as they often reach 1,300 pounds. You won’t see Quarter Horses weighing as little as 800 pounds like Thoroughbreds. 

But thoroughbreds do tend to tower over them. American Quarter Horses will only stand between 14.2 to 16 hands tall, making them a bit shorter than most Thoroughbreds.

These measurements will usually provide Quarter Horses with a broad chest, chunky/compact body, and a short head. It makes them perfect for sprinting over shorter distances.

More on each breed’s racing qualities later.

Overall, Quarter Horses often appear stockier and bigger. But a Thoroughbred gives off a stronger and more powerful vibe with their athletic, lean body.


Both horse breeds have common colors of black, various browns, and gray. However, Quarter Horses tend to have a little more variation in their coat colors. They have 17 recognized colors in their breed standards:

  • Sorrel
  • Chestnut
  • Black
  • Brown
  • Gray – Check our guide on dapple grey horse.
  • Buckskin
  • Red dun
  • Grullo
  • Bay
  • Bay roan
  • Palomino
  • White
  • Perlino
  • Cremello
  • Dun
  • Blue roan
  • Red roan


Both horses will be long-time companions for their owners. But Quarter Horses often live longer as they usually live between 25 and 30 years. 

In comparison, a Thoroughbred horse will live anywhere between 22 to 28 years. Owners of either horse should expect them to be around their farms or ranches for a long time. 


Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are familiar sights at racing tracks and horse racing events. But it has to lead many to wonder what racehorse is the fastest breed?

TRY READING: How Much Does a Thoroughbred Horse Cost?


In general, riders can expect a Thoroughbred racing horse to top out at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. It makes them a bit slower than Quarter Horses as they can reach a faster pace of 55 miles per hour.

But the question of who’s faster doesn’t only factor in maximum speed. The situation at hand and race type will play massive roles in how each horse breed does in horse races. 

For instance, American Quarter Horses provide a more consistent speed. It allows them to win whenever they start a race well and gain their momentum from the start.

But a Quarter Horse who suffers from a bad start will find themselves struggling to regain momentum. As a result, American Quarter Horses are much better suited for shorter distance races like a quarter-mile race.

Thoroughbreds are the exact opposite. This popular breed will usually gain momentum and increase its speed as the race progresses. 

A Thoroughbred won’t be phased by a bad start and often catch up rather quickly. These abilities make them a much better fit for longer horse racing events that require endurance. 

Racing Method

Each breed of horse differs drastically when it comes to its racing method. In other words, riders shouldn’t expect a Thoroughbred to run the same as a Quarter Horse.

Thoroughbreds will run out of their gates but have a “run-up distance” before reaching it: a “run-up” is the distance covered before the timer begins on a race. It gives Thoroughbreds a chance to gain some serious speed before the race starts. 

But American Quarter Horse racing starts the moment each horse exits their gates. Due to this, the horses have to be spiriting right from when their gates open, and the timer starts. It makes them more prepared for a quarter-mile than Thoroughbreds.

READ MORE: Best Horse Breeds for Heavy Riders


Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses couldn’t be more different concerning their mental makeups.

Therefore, it’s essential to know these differences between getting one. Otherwise, it could lead to picking the wrong horse for your situation. 

Mental Characteristics

American quarter horse

American Quarter Horses are a good fit if you’re looking for a calm and mellow horse breed.

These horses are known for being open to new surroundings and owners. 

It does take them a little time to settle like any horse, but they won’t be aggressive. Quarter Horses only turn aggressive when triggered by something in their environments.

Quarter Horses also have a reputation for being loving companions with a gentle nature. It’s why many horse owners end up preferring them over other breeds.

a large Thoroughbred looking at the camera

Thoroughbreds don’t have anywhere close to the same reputation.

These horses are known for being hot-tempered and require a lot of patience. 

Strangers aren’t something that Thoroughbreds do well with, either. People have to work hard and build a rapport with them before they allow a new rider.

READ MORE: Moose vs Horse: What’s Their Difference?

Who’s Their Ideal Rider?

A Quarter Horse would be an ideal fit for any rider. In fact, this horse breed is one of the best beginner horses for newbie riders.

But allowing a beginner to ride a Thoroughbred would be an unmitigated disaster. Thoroughbreds are only recommended for expert riders with extensive experience with horses.

History and Uses

As you can imagine, American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds don’t have the same history. It’s essential to learn their respective backgrounds to get a handle on their origins. 


group of quarter horses eating grass

The American Quarter Horse originates from the United States.

It’s not a shocking piece of information, given their name, but it’s vital to know. 

Quarter Horses date back to the 17th century, making them one of America’s oldest breeds. During this time, these horses emerged through selective breeding between a Spanish horse and an English horse.

Many experts contend that the “English horse” were Thoroughbreds. As a result, Quarter Horses seem to have thoroughbred blood running their veins. 

thoroughbred horses galloping

Meanwhile, Thoroughbreds are a breed of horse coming from England.

The modern Thoroughbred’s history started in the 17th or 18th century when they were bred for agility and speed. 

They’re born from selective breeding of native England mares with imported stallions. Some of these stallions included Turkoman, Arabian, and Barb breeds. They went on to emerge in the United States when the colonists first settled.

Primary Uses

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds share a lot of the same uses. But they do have a few activities where each breed does function a little better than the other. So here’s a quick overview of their respective common uses:

  • Quarter Horses: show horses, racing horses, rodeo competitors, ranch horse, family horse, and a reigning/cutting horse.
  • Thoroughbreds: racing horse, equestrian sports (jumping, dressage, etc.), general riding, pleasure riding, and trail horses. 

Quarter Horses Vs. Thoroughbreds FAQs

What do you call a Quarter horse mixed with a thoroughbred?

It’s called an Appendix Quarter Horse. These horses are a sought-after breed as they’re known for being “a powerhouse on the race track, in speed events and much more.” 

Can a quarter horse beat a thoroughbred?

This outcome will depend on the racing event. For instance, a Quarter Horse could beat a Thoroughbred in shorter races. The Quarter Horse averages  faster in races “when they are timed from a standing start.”


I hope our discussions about Quarter Horses Vs. Thoroughbreds answered all your questions. However, if you do have any more, feel free to use our comment section. I’ll make sure to answer each question and comment as soon as possible!


  • “And This Is Why Ex-Racehorses Are Not for Beginners.” Horse Network, 22 Mar. 2017, horsenetwork.com/2017/03/ex-racehorses-not-for-beginners/. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Average Weight of a Thoroughbred.” Best Horse Rider, 7 Sept. 2019, www.besthorserider.com/average-weight-of-a-thoroughbred/. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Breed Characteristics.” Aqha, www.aqha.uk.com/project/breed-characteristics/#:~:text=Temperament. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Breeding a Thoroughbred to a Quarter Horse: What to Know – AQHA.” Www.aqha.com, www.aqha.com/-/breeding-a-thoroughbred-to-a-quarter-horse. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Breeds of Livestock – Thoroughbred Horse — Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science.” Afs.okstate.edu, afs.okstate.edu/breeds/horses/thoroughbred/index.html/.
  • Henry, Miles. Quarter Horses, Are They a Good Breed for Beginner Riders? horseracingsense.com/quarter-horses-good-breed-for-beginner-riders/. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “History of the Quarter Horse – AQHA.” Www.aqha.com, www.aqha.com/history-of-the-quarter-horse.
  • “Horse-Breeding Basics: Quarter Horse Color – AQHA.” Www.aqha.com, www.aqha.com/-/horse-breeding-basics-quarter-horse-color#:~:text=There%20are%2017%20recognized%20American. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Run-up Distance or Run-up Length.” Www.aiche.org, 17 Dec. 2014, www.aiche.org/ccps/resources/glossary/process-safety-glossary/run-distance-or-run-length. Accessed 7 July 2021.
  • “Thoroughbred vs. Quarter Horse Top Speed.” SportsRec, www.sportsrec.com/13674197/thoroughbred-vs-quarter-horse-top-speed. Accessed 7 July 2021.
quarterhorse vs thorougbred: what are the differences?

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Ben R.
Ben R.

My name is Ben Roberts, and I absolutely love animals. So, naturally, I love writing about them too! I have three dogs and one old cat, plus experience with horses. Each one of them provides me with a new adventure every day. And the best part is they’re all best friends. Well, except the cat when he gets a little annoyed. FIND HIM ON: TWITTER.
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