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What breed is right for you, and how do you know?

I’ve been thinking about this one on and off for a few weeks. I think it started with that 25 questions meme that was going on – one of the questions asked people if they would own a “hotter” breed, and mentioned Arabians and Trakehners as examples of that. I saw a lot of people who were frustrated with that characterization.

Andrea at The Reeling recently wrote about her own transition to rescue horses, and her ideas about breeds & breeding. I really liked the way she wrote about her thought process.

Tristan is a BLM mustang, which I describe as an All-American equine mutt. Some people call mustangs a breed, and they get all involved in the DNA typing of various strains, and they come up with clever names for certain types of them. That’s really not my thing. Mustangs are typey mutts, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen a lot of them, and there is an overall “look” but there is not anything approaching the standard set of characteristics that you would get from an established breed.

Tristan’s BLM mustang freezebrand identification

I’ve known and ridden hundreds of horses from dozens of breeds, and I’ve known a lot of people who have really strong and clear preferences. A lot of eventers are Thoroughbred people. A lot of dressage riders have their own particular breed of warmblood that they prefer – or they sit on one side or another of the warmblood/Spanish type debate. My current dressage barn has quite a few Lusitanos in training.

I live in Vermont, where there are clearly established Morgan People. They have their own tack, their own show circuits, their own style of riding, their own set of views on horses that are shaped largely – if not entirely, in some cases – by the Morgan horse.

And I have been thinking about dogs, too, and how we pick the dogs that are a fit for us. My family – immediate and extended – are dog people. I grew up with yellow Labs, and my parents will always have them (no matter what my father says about no more new dogs…). My brother has a German Shepherd. My aunt had Golden Retrievers, then herding dogs, Border Collies and Aussies. My mother grew up with a Boxer, Doberman, and Irish Setter. My uncle has always (except for one Irish Setter) had hounds.

my parents’ current dog, Willow, a few years ago

My own dog, Arya, is some kind of mutt – she was listed as a Boxer/Lab cross, but probably has hound and maybe some pit bull in there. She is a different type than the more solid, more laid back Labs that I grew up with, but I love that.

I chose my horse because I fell in love with him after working with him for the summer. He was not necessarily the “type” that I usually like. I chose my dog because she does represent a type that I have an affinity for: cheerful, sharp, sweet, and has a general look (medium-sized, short hair, blockier head, athletic & slim body) that I like.

Obviously, we all have a brain type that we like, and obviously every horse (and dog) is an individual. So we all know whether we like a kick ride or a pull ride, a thinking horse or an over-eager horse, on and on.

But most of us, however much we say we choose for brain first, have at least some breed preferences. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those breeds, it just means it doesn’t fit our aesthetic or riding choices. And the very fact that there are breeds mean that some characteristics are more common in them than not. While it is misleading to say that all representatives of a certain breed are hot or cold, smart or dumb, you are more likely to get those characteristics because there has been a program of selective breeding to encourage them. That’s why we have breeds.

So I am wondering how we get there, as individuals, how we develop preferences for breeds, and how that influences us.

I didn’t necessarily pick Tristan totally blind, as he has lots of things I like:

thick neck, close-coupled, pretty but not delicate head, good bone

I’ll go first. I don’t like breeds with lots of hair: Friesians, Gypsy Vanners, some of the drafts, some of the ponies. They do absolutely nothing for me. I don’t like the more “delicate” looking breeds: most Arabians, some of the taller/thinner Warmbloods (like Trakehners, usually), breeds like the Akhal Tekes or Marwaris.

My all time favorite breed, the one I will buy from someday, the one whose base characteristics match up with my aesthetic preferences and what I like in a brain, is Morgan. I like them with lots of bone, thick through the body and the neck, short-backed and close-coupled, with a fine but not dainty head. I like a horse that’s smarter than I am, that has energy and sensitivity but would like to negotiate, and that has more of an all-around profile than something specific.

Why do I like that? I like the feel of a more solid horse. I like a horse that is quick but not reactive. I like the look of a heavier horse, but not as heavy as a draft. It’s a bit tough to really spell out.

So: what do you like? Why? Do you think it’s nature or nurture – were you exposed to a lot of that breed in formative years, or have you always loved them from afar? Do you really think you have zero breed preference at all? Why is that?

11 thoughts on “What breed is right for you, and how do you know?

  1. Oh, great post!

    Like you, I do not care for the majestical, hair-covered breeds or the delicate, waifish types.

    I typically like Thoroughbred-ish horses, albeit the slightly heavier boned kind. (Don't tell narrow, tiny Moe!) They're athletic, smart, and usually very willing partners. That said, I plan to breed Gina to an Oldenburg to hopefully produce something that's athletic, willing, and a bit less 'hot' than a typical TB. I don't want something completely dopey, but after last summer's stint with a couple of fresh off the track horses, I think I am ready for something slightly quieter.

    I have a soft spot for the rangier QHs, too.

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  2. I am definitely picky when it comes to dogs, but I'm not sure I have enough experience to say what specific breed of horses I enjoy the most. That is, I haven't been on the backs of many breeds.

    I do know, however, what I prefer in terms of looks and brain. For looks I'm like you – I dislike hair. I like height to my horse, so smaller breeds just don't do it for me. That being said, I like some substance to my horse, but not a lot. My first horse was a tiny Arabian. He was super small. I felt like I could wrap my legs completely around him and it was weird. My second horse was super bulky. Fiction is actually perfect. Bulky enough that I feel like I have substance, but not too bulky. So, summary: I like tall, medium-thick boned horses with shorter backs and a more compact frame.

    As for brains…my second horse had my ideal brain. He wasn't a push ride and he wasn't a pull ride – he was just perfect. He wasn't afraid of much, wasn't hot, and wasn't super sensitive. That being said, he wasn't the sharpest nail in the toolbox. Fiction is insanely smart but also crazy sensitive. It's a good thing and a bad thing – good because it teaches me to be a gentle rider, bad because it shows all of my flaws. I guess I would enjoy a smart, but somewhat insensitive horse.

    My friend breeds Oldenburgs and I am in perpetual love with them. I'm convinced my next horse will be an Oldenburg πŸ™‚

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  3. I tend to just pick the horse I like, regardless of breed. That said, I gravitate almost 100% toward Thoroughbreds and C or L line Holsteiners. I always kind of giggle when anyone says they like a certain “breed” of warmblood, because the only closed European warmblood studbook is Trakehner… all the other registries mix and mingle their bloodlines. A horse that's registered Hanoverian could be mostly Holsteiner by blood, or a registered Oldenburg could be mostly Hanoverian, etc. Sorry, off on a tangent.

    I like athletic first and foremost, with good jumping ability, correct gaits, a good work ethic, rideability, and something that isn't too huge or heavy. I don't need something super quiet but I don't want a total idiot, and I want the horse to be a good learner. Whatever breed that comes in is a-ok by me! I just seem to find the same breeds and bloodlines over and over again. πŸ˜‰

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  4. great post! i'd guess that preferences don't fall squarely into nature v nurture – it's probably a bit of both. maybe the types of rides we like are based on our own individual natures, but so much of my own preferences are based on my experiences. i love ottbs, and that's what i rode primarily in college.

    and oddly, i actually never cared for arabs- their typical appearance has never really checked all my boxes (too small, too dainty). but now that i ride one i've discovered all kinds of things that i love about the breed.

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  5. Thoroughbreds are all there is for me. I don't know why–that's just always, since I knew what a horse was, the breed that I've been drawn to. It's not that I don't like other breeds or can't appreciate what they have to offer, I simply won't ever own anything else. Doesn't matter what their conformation or brain is like. If it's a TB, it's golden.

    (And for dogs, LOVE ALL DOGS, BUT ESPECIALLY DOGS THAT LOVE SNUGGLES!)

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  6. I know we've talked about this, but I like assholes, basically. Smart, sassy, creative, problem-solving independent thinkers. Which makes me cringe to even type out, because so many people use a preference for those basic characteristics for justifying a totally unsuitable horse or dog — but you know me, so hopefully you know that's not what I mean. (Or that I'm entirely serious when I say I like assholes; I definitely find a certain amount of jerkface to be charming, but I have zero time or patience for anything that's going to quit on or be nasty to me.) I just mean, I like to be challenged and to have complicated conversations, and when I get into trouble, I like to have a partner who is willing and able to dig deep and help get us out.

    (I do think there are hard-triers and problem-solvers with personalities other than my personal favorite! They tend to fall into the category of critters that I appreciate but don't deeply love. Tristan, as you know, is my very favorite horse in the world that I can't do a damned thing with. <3)

    I'll take more unquestioning loyalty and obedience in a dog than I will in a horse, and want less friendliness to the entire universe, ditto, though I still want to dog to be clever and creative and confident. I like physically sturdy in either special, want more agility and speed in the horse than in the dog. I like Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, the more moderate endurance-type Arabs. Perhaps needless to say, I love a good sport-type Appaloosa. πŸ˜‰ Opposite physical preference in dogs: I like pit bulls and Rottweilers and while mentally I suspect Chesapeakes are more my style, I do think a good Lab is a gorgeous dog; my Doberman love is the outlier here. I loathe energy wasted not to a purpose; I don't care if it's *my* purpose or not, but I find a naughty terrier entertaining itself soooooo much more appealing than herding dog neuroses. (And yeah, I know not all herding dogs are neurotic and I have met some lovely specimens. Just, generalization.)

    I hate excess fuzz. I love giant ears, in any species, and I am a ridiculous sucker for a dainty muzzle. In a horse. You have, obviously, met my dog. πŸ˜‰ Height in a horse doesn't bother me (although I prefer 15-16h), but length, especially through the neck, does; that, more than any other physical trait, makes a horse feel difficult to manage, to me.

    I have no sense of nature vs nurture re: the aesthetics, but I do nnnnnnot think my preference for openly sassy and opinionated correlates to my decidedly nurture-influence suspicion of passive-aggression and “Nice Guy” people types…

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  7. Love this post! I think I may make a post on this as well because I've gone through a few breeds and I've ended up realizing that my favorite breed ever is a breed that I swore I wouldn't like *ever*…before I owned one. My mother, who got me into horses, hates gaited horses. She appreciates a good horse no matter the breed, but she can't stand gaited. My first horse (and my first heart horse) is a Quarter and he's my pride and joy, but I ended up with a rescued Tennessee Walking Horse (my previously least favorite breed.) and I fell hard into the world of gaited horses. Now, my dream horse is a Walker. I love my walking horse mare and she suits me.

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  8. Interesting post! I have a few requirements for horses. I tend to get along with geldings best, especially those that are on the lazy side because my hot seat usually amps them up. I also need a horse that can handle having pressure put on them. I don't have tons and tons of patience (working on it) so I want the sort of horse who comes out generally the same day to day. I also seem to like something that pushes more than sits, I'm good at teaching sitting. I can't handle something too wide because of my back, but too narrow makes me feel like I'm about to come off the side. Finally, my goals being in the mid to upper levels of dressage, I need something that moves nicely.

    Because of this, I tend to be attracted to the warmblood types. TC is a warmblood x friesian and I like that cross, although yeah the hair is a BIT much. I get along with most quarter horses too, although a lot of them don't tend to be fancy enough for the levels I want to go to.

    Size doesn't matter, mostly because I look best on bigger horses due to my leg length but I prefer smaller compact horses. TC is a good size at 16h for me, I wouldn't mind if he got to 16.2 but no bigger please. Rico was 16.2 and about perfect. Rico is a bit too wide for my back, my back feels a million times better on TC, who is narrower for now. Both horses are lazy, tend to retract their necks, push more than sit, and can handle a fair amount of pressure without breaking down. I have a type I guess!

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  9. I think we like the same kind of horse. Love Morgans, intrigued by some of the more athletic looking Canadians, really like the look of my big welsh cob Ginger, not so much in love with the build of my smaller, sturdy one (although temperament wise she's wonderful for me)
    I'm drawn to some of the connemaras and Irish Draft crosses too. Generally speaking, pretty head, big neck, short back, big round barrel and a decent amount of bone. Also, I really like big feet! I like riding something that feels powerful, but still very handy and athletic. And yes, keep them clipped and the hair/feathers to a minimum please!

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  10. At the moment I have a strong preference for thoroughbreds, but partially it's because they are what is around me. And there's SO much diversity within the breed — when you go to the track you can easily see ten different types of thoroughbred in one day! Their bodies and brains vary so widely, I feel like you can get almost anything you want in them. And a big part of what draws me to them is the (perhaps now-defunct) “underdog” label associated with them. I still want to prove that a neat thoroughbred can do everything a billion dollar warmblood can do.

    More important to me than the breed though is that I can actually ride and get along with a horse. I generally like a horse that slows down and thinks rather than BULLING through when I ask them to do something challenging, a horse that doesn't use their weight against me. I don't mind something a little sassy or naughty, as long as they can put it away and get some work done also. I've enjoyed that in thoroughbreds and ponies and warmbloods. I will probably not have much opportunity to explore how I get along with different breeds of horses on more than a 1-2 month basis though, as I will probably never be more than a 1-horse household.

    In terms of dogs… well, my preference is much longer-standing and irrational. I have always had an enormous soft spot for pitty-type dogs. Something about them I just adore. I love their blocky heads and almond shaped eyes and expressive faces and wrinkles. I have known a lot of great dogs in my life, and somehow the great pitties I have know have always outstripped any other great dog by far. My boyfriend is much more egalitarian — he is happy with any smart, obedient, well behaved dog that gets along with kids. I'm like “great! let's just find a pibble that fulfills those criteria!”

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  11. I love the appearance of the more “delicate” looking breeds, however I don't like them when they've been bred to demonstrate the extremes of that delicacy. Genetic engineering as a whole really irks my liver. I want a healthy critter first and foremost as health leads to higher likelihood to be fit and athletic which is what I really want out of any horse/dog.

    Super typey Arabs do very little for me. Fortunately, the world of endurance has so many Arabs and part-Arabs that are far from the typey delicate horses that do exist, so I'm able to have my cake and eat it, too. I LOVE the way Q is built. She's got SUBSTANCE. She has huge (and STRONG) feet for a 14.1hh horse — her fronts go in the second largest to largest size of Renegade hoof boots. Her legs have good bone to them (of which she receives many compliments at endurance events), she is well proportioned, and her body is stockier and bulkier than many Arabs her size (something she also receives compliments on at endurance events). She's Morgan-esque in many aspects, though FWIW, her DNA test came back lacking any Morgan which surprised me. I only wish she had a bit less action in her hind end; the hock action she exhibits is not helpful for moving down the trail. She's hard to capture in photos, but she really is my idea of near-perfect. When I look at horses and day dream of owning more, nearly all have similar attributes to this little mare. I used to think I only wanted tall horses, but no more. 14-something sounds perfect to me!

    As with dogs, I have lots of favorite breeds, but nothing rivals Siberian huskies and spitz breeds. Terriers thrill me, and I'd love to have one one day. Any spitz-mutt also thrills me. But there is just something about the proportions of a Siberian that makes me giddy inside. I've felt that way since I was a child. (And really, I felt that way about horses with similar builds to Q when I was a child.)

    In a sense, I tend to favor dogs/horses that more closely resemble their ancestors. Huskies and spitz breeds are closest looking to wolves and Arabian horses helped form the foundation or piece of the foundation for dozens and dozens of horse breeds that exist today. I think my bottom line is that I do not favor horses/dogs that have traits that are clearly a result of genetic engineering. The extremes that result from that don't fit well with me. My purebred papered dog is a contradiction to this, but he doesn't possess the extremes that can be seen in the breed (his eye color is brown (as opposed to blue), his coat is a general grey/black (as opposed to white which is so favorited these days)). My horses have no papers and are mutts of some sort, but they're athletic and versatile as hell which fits my personality and lifestyle.

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