Brown thoroughbred horse - The thoroughbred breed

The Thoroughbred Breed

In the Western world, the thoroughbred is a breed of horse that’s well-known. Thoroughbreds are most easily identified as horses that race on dirt (and turf) tracks at great speeds. Although they may be slower than the Quarter Horse over a quarter mile, they can generate incredible speed over longer distances.

Thoroughbreds may be used as racehorses in sprints (short distances), middle distance races or staying races over a longer distance. However, the thoroughbred is a breed of horse that’s typically athletic and may be used for many different disciplines. Although racing is characteristic for them, they’ve also been successful in:

  • Eventing
  • Dressage
  • Show jumping
  • Cross-country
  • Pony Club
  • Trail rides and other riding disciplines

Even after a racing career, many thoroughbreds go on to be retrained in another discipline and live out their days in various capacities. Overall, the thoroughbred is a very versatile breed.

Origins of the Thoroughbred Horse

The origin of the thoroughbred breed can be traced back to three stallions from the 17th and 18th centuries. These stallions were:

  • The Byerley Turk
  • The Darley Arabian
  • The Godolphin Arabian

Alongside these three stallions that are recognized as foundational sires of the thoroughbred breed, other horses have played a significant role. You can find out more about this at the Thoroughbred Heritage website.

The thoroughbred is a breed that’s fairly common throughout the world in the 21st century. The three foundational stallions, however, were established in Ireland before moving on to stud in England (the Byerley Turk) or being imported to England (the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian).

Although there’s a lot of Arabian influence in the thoroughbred breed, various other horses have played a role in its establishment. And perhaps it’s all these influences that have led to such a versatile breed that can cover many different disciplines so successfully.

A “Typical” Thoroughbred

There are particular traits that help us define what a certain breed of horse should look like. These often fall under the areas of colour, height and build, and can also include a horse’s temperament.

A thoroughbred may be described as a horse that is:

  • Fifteen to seventeen hands high (although some are shorter and others can be taller)
  • One of a variety of colours, such as bay, brown, black, grey, chestnut or roan
  • Athletic in build, with sprinters being more muscular and stayers having a leaner stature

Symmetry is important in any horse, and it’s desirable for thoroughbreds to have front and back legs that are symmetrical; short, strong cannon bones; a short back; and a large girth and hindquarter area.

The temperament of a thoroughbred can vary from highly reactive to very docile. In the racing industry, these horses need to be able to cope with large crowds, intense stabling and lots of travel. That said, horses thrive on routine and this can often be found within a racing stable.

Where to Get a Thoroughbred

A thoroughbred’s racing career may be considered long if they race from two to three years of age up until they’re six or seven years old.  It isn’t unusual for their racing career to span just a couple of years, and then they’re retired from the sport.

Racing is a demanding sport and some horses aren’t fast enough to continue doing so over many years. Consequently, there are a lot of off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTTBs) that are available to be rehomed after their racing careers. In spite of the fact that many of them finish their racing career within a year, there’s often a long list of people looking to take them on and retrain them for another discipline. This is no doubt because of their versatility and the fact that they’re still young when they retire from racing.

Many OTTB geldings have gone on to have successful eventing careers—even at the Olympic level. For someone looking to source a thoroughbred, the local racetrack may be just the place to start.

Thoroughbreds can also be found for sale online and in horse magazines. Local Pony Clubs and riding schools may be able to provide you with information on thoroughbreds for sale as well—there’s no shortage! Finding the right horse with the right disposition for you—and at the right price—may take a little while, though. Patience is best when it comes to purchasing any horse.

A Great Horse on or off the Track

The thoroughbred is a distinct breed of horse that has proven to be successful across many disciplines. Although they may start out in racing, retiring at a young age can mean that a thoroughbred has many years ahead of them to pursue another discipline.

Off the track, thoroughbreds are highly sought after and can prove to be a wonderful purchase for the capable and experienced rider. Whether you want a top-performing athlete or a quiet horse to hack out on, this breed may very well be an option that suits your needs.


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