Thoroughbred Horse Breed Profile: History, Facts, Stats & More (2024)

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The Thoroughbred is one of the most well-known horse breeds in the world because even those who do not have an interest in horses know about the Thoroughbred racing industry. They are horses that are born to run, but they are also versatile.

Thoroughbreds have so much heart and love to work, however, there is a lot you need to know about them before deciding if they are the right horse for you and your family.

The Thoroughbred is a hot-blooded horse breed that weighs anywhere from 1,000-1,200 lbs and stands anywhere from 15-17 hands high. They are refined yet powerful and athletic horses known for their spirit and speed, which makes them excellent racehorses, but they can also succeed in other disciplines.

Since they have a lot of energy, Thoroughbreds are best suited for experienced riders.

Average Height:15-17
Weight:1000-1200 lbs
Colors:Bay, brown, chestnut, black, grey, roan, palomino
Conformation:Refined head, high and well-defined withers, even back, deep and muscled shoulder, deep heart girth, clean legs
Temperament:High-spirited, intelligent, agile, sensitive, driven
Price:$10,000 – $20,000

History of the Thoroughbred Horse Breed

The Thoroughbred horse breed has its beginnings in England during the late 1600s and early 1700s when Byerly Turk, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Darley Arabian were imported there and bred to mares that originated there. Specifically, they were bred to 43 royal mares owned by King James I and King Charles I.

The result of these crosses were horses that could carry substantial weight at high speeds over long distances, the characteristics needed for racing. This line of Thoroughbreds was the introduction of the English Thoroughbred.

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Since these crosses were successful, breeders started a selective breeding program to create the best horses for the sport.

The American Thoroughbred we know today was created when Bulle Rock, a son of the Darley Arabian, was imported in 1730. From there, 186 more Thoroughbreds were imported to make its foundation.

The first Thoroughbred race in North America was held in 1745 in Annapolis, Maryland and the sport has gained worldwide popularity since then.

When horse racing became popular in North America in the 1800s, Kentucky and Tennessee became headquarters for Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

All Thoroughbreds have the genetics of the three foundation stallions, Eclipse, a great-great-grandson of the Darley Arabian, is credited with being the foundation stallion for 80% of modern Thoroughbred horses.

Thoroughbred Characteristics and Temperament

The Thoroughbred has several characteristics that distinguish it from other horse breeds. They are tall and elegant, but have incredible musculature and stamina. They have a long and lean face with a slight slope to it that comes from their Arabian ancestry. Their withers are high compared to average horses and they have a long back.

They also have a fine-haired coat and delicate skeletal structure, which contributes to their athletic ability and speed.

These features, as well as a large heart, enable them to run at high speeds for long distances. The heart supplies a greater oxygen supply to the body to support this. Their fine coat gives them a silky and shiny appearance.

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Thoroughbreds are a breed with a lot of energy, but they love to work. They are easy to train and are extremely sensitive to rider cues.

Their excitable nature makes them best for riders with at least some experience handling horses, as they would know how to handle a sudden spook or bolt. They can succeed in disciplines such as hunting, jumping, eventing, and racing.

Unique Characteristics

  • Short, fine, and silky coat
  • Muscular, yet refined and elegant body
  • Large heart
  • Long hind legs and back

Thoroughbred Breed Standard

The Jockey Club is the organization that establishes the breed standard and naming conventions for Thoroughbreds in the US. It took over the publishing of the American Studbook, a close copy of the General Studbook for English Thoroughbreds, from Col. Sanders D. Bruce in 1896.

Now, The Jockey Club uses a computer system to manage a database of more than 3 million Thoroughbreds in a master file that began in the late 1800s.

The breed standard of the Thoroughbred according to the Jockey Club is as follows:

  • Refined head, with spaced out eyes
  • Long and refined neck
  • High and well-defined withers
  • Even, curved back
  • Deep, sloped, and muscular shoulder
  • Deep yet narrow heart girth
  • Clean and long legs
  • Well-defined tendons
  • Powerful hip, thigh, and legs

What Color is a Thoroughbred Horse?

The common coat colors approved by the jockey club are bay, dark bay/brown, black, and chestnut. Rare approved colorings are grey or white, roan, and palomino. Paint coats are not allowed on Thoroughbreds.

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However, they can have any combination of face markings such as the stripe or star, and leg markings like socks and stockings.

4 Thoroughbred Horse Facts

Thoroughbred horses are unique in many different ways. Here are some facts you may not know about them.

1. Artificial Insemination is Not Allowed

In order for a Thoroughbred foal to be approved for registration by the Jockey Club, a stallion must live cover a mare. In other words, the foal must be conceived naturally.

2. No Two Thoroughbreds Can Have the Same Name

Every Thoroughbred registered with the Jockey Club must have a unique name to complete their profile. This makes it easier to track their wins, earnings, and genetic data inside the database.

3. Thoroughbreds Have the Same Birthday

All Thoroughbreds born in the Northern Hemisphere have a birthday of January 1st, while those born in the Southern Hemisphere have a birthday of August 1st. This convention allows young horses to train for an compete in age-restricted races earlier than normal, which gives them a longer career on the track.

4. Thoroughbreds Have Number Tattoos

All Thoroughbreds have a tattoo on their upper lip. It is a letter followed by four to five numbers in a random combination.

The letter represents the year the horse was foaled, and the tattoo is used to identify Thoroughbreds.

What Type of Rider is a Thoroughbred Horse Good For?

Thoroughbreds are best suited for riders that have at least some riding experience due to their energy level. This is especially true for young Thoroughbreds and those that are just starting a career away from the track. The younger the Thoroughbred, the more experienced handler they need.

Famous Thoroughbred Horses

These are some of the most famous Thoroughbreds throughout history and their contributions/accomplishments.

  • Man O’War – regarded as the greatest American racehorse, won 20 of 21 starts by large margins. Successful breeding career as a stallion.
  • Secretariat – was the first horse to win Triple Crown in 1973 after a quarter century by 31 lengths. Sired many champion Thoroughbreds.
  • American Pharoah – 2015 Triple Crown winner, 12th horse to win. Second fastest Belmont time to Secretariat. Retired to stud in 2015 and was inducted into the US Racing Hall of fame in 2021.
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Also read: 10 Best Racehorses of all Time (Ranked)

What Are Thoroughbreds Used For Today?

Thoroughbreds are mainly used for horse racing. However, those that do not find success on the track are retrained as lesson horses or for a variety of sports like showjumping and eventing. These are known as OTTB horses or off-track Thoroughbreds.


What makes a horse a Thoroughbred?

A horse is a thoroughbred when their bloodlines link back to the three foundation stallions: Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian.

Are Thoroughbred horses the fastest horse breed?

The fastest horse breed is the Quarter Horse which can gallop up to 55 mph. Most Thoroughbreds run around 30-40 mph. However, Thoroughbreds have much better stamina than Quarter Horses and are much better suited to horse racing.

Do Thoroughbreds make good riding horses?

Their willingness to work, desire to please, and intelligence make Thoroughbreds great all-around riding horses.

Thoroughbred Horse Breed Profile: History, Facts, Stats & More (2024)
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