What Is A Thoroughbred Horse? (An Ultimate Breed Guide) (2024)

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If horse racing is your forte, then the Thoroughbred horse is your weapon.

What Is A Thoroughbred Horse?

Best known as racehorses, Thoroughbred horses are considered ‘hot-blooded’ horses for their speed, agility, and spirit. Though thoroughbred breeds used to refer to any breed of purebred horse, technically, it refers only to the Thoroughbred breed. These horses are tall, slim, athletic, and they perform with maximum excretion, which makes them most suitable for racing.


The Thoroughbred breed of horses originated in 17th and 18th century England. But it wasn’t until the Arabians, Turks, and Barbs, the three stallions that make up the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed were imported to England, that they were born. The three stallions which belong to the Oriental group and are native to the Middle East, mated with English mares to form the Thoroughbred.

During the Crusades in the 11th and 13th centuries, soldiers returned home with horses they captured in the middle east, which led to the English mares having Arabian blood in them. Captain Robert Byerley was the first to arrive in England with a Turk, a breed of Turcoman horse, in 1688. Captain Byerley brought the horse back to England as he was impressed with its courage in battle in Hungary. The breed was later called the Byerly Turk.

In 1704, another Oriental group breed Barb arrived in England. Thomas Darley purchased Darley Barb, also known as Darley Arabian from Bedouin sheik. When the sheik failed to deliver, Darley stole and smuggled the Barb to England through Turkey.

Godolphin Arabian, the third of the foundation stallions arrived in England in 1724. It was given as a gift to the king of France as a part of a quartet of Arabian breeds.It changed several hands before it was purchased by the Second Earl of Godolphin around 1733 and named Godolphin Arabian.

Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian all together make up the foundation sire that created the Thoroughbred breed of horses. Now, the Thoroughbred breed of horses is a part of the breed standard that includes ‘The Jockey Club,’ ‘Australian Stud Book’, and General Stud Book.

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These horses are a unique breed with three founding stallions. They are a popular breed that makes a great companion to riders who enjoy equine activities, especially racing. They are highly intelligent and have a strong work ethic. As these breeds of horses are hot-blooded and have spirited personalities, they are not suitable for riders who do not have experience. They are bold racehorses that need experienced riders more than a proud owner.

Yes, owning the Thoroughbred breed is pride as these animals are strong, powerful, and possess elegance like no other breeds. These horses are high in energy and need a confident and experienced rider to channel this energy. The breed radiates power, grace, elegance, all at once and their intelligence is the reason why they are trained in several disciplines, from polo to dressage, racing, and more.


Diet is of utmost importance to a Thoroughbred breed of horses as overlooking their nutrition deprives them of the dietary energy they need.

The typical equine diet includes good quality hay and grass, grains, fruits, and some vegetables. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals may be necessary. Some horses may need more food compared to others to maintain their healthy weight. This is due to their fast metabolism. But a diet rich in starch, fiber, fat, and protein is vital.

Breeding And Uses

Prized in both racing and war, the oriental group horses were bred with the English mares which already had come Arabian in their blood. Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, these thoroughbred racing horses evolved in Great Britain where people took interest in horse racing. The Byerly Turk the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian were imported into England to be bred with domestic mares. Successful selective breeding resulted in Thoroughbred horses; the most talked about racing equestrian breed on earth today.

The three bloodlines of the Thoroughbred – a racing horse, make this breed unique as none of these founding stallions were ever raced. These horses are primarily bred for horse racing and other equine sports that include show jumping and ‘dressage’ a French term that means training. The breed is also used as trail horses, pleasure driving horses, or in general horse riding. Former racehorses are known as off-the-track thoroughbreds and are used for driving or riding horses.

What Size Are They?

Described as bold, excited, versatile, athletic, energetic, courageous, intelligent, and alert, the thoroughbred breed of horses has strong work ethics. They are racehorses that are known for their physique.

They have a powerful body that is athletic and muscular and weigh anywhere between 1000 to 1200 lbs. These horses stand tall between 60 to 68 inches roughly 15 to 17 hands. Their size makes them the most compatible breed for racing.

What Breeds Make Up A Thoroughbred Horse?

The Thoroughbred breed of horses is a class breed with three founding stallions known as the foundation sires, which were all Arabian and originated in the Middle East. The bold and spirited personalities of the Thoroughbred horses come from their bloodline of Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. They were breed with domestic English mares that were traced to have the Arabian origin and the native select racing stock. The modern Thoroughbred horses are decedents of the Oriental group of three stallions within the male line.

What Colors Are They?

These horses have many different coat colors such as buckskin, black, brown, creme, chestnut, dark bay, gray, roan, and white. They also feature white markings on the face and the legs below the knees.

Most of the Thoroughbred horses are plain with little to no markings on their fine coat, but white blazes or stockings on their legs can sometimes be a part of their coat. These horses may also have a star or a stripe on their head, the two types of face markings.

When you consider the color, one of the most interesting facts is that white Thoroughbred horses are extremely rare.

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What Do They Look Like?

They are strong, athletic, and have great stamina which makes them the best choice for racing. They are known for their speed and are bred to mature early as their prime racing years are from two to three years.

They feature a long neck, slightly longer than average horse neck, and have a chiseled head that boldly showcases its beautiful wide-spaced eyes.

These horses also have deep shoulders, a strong and deep chest, short and evenly curved back, strong hindquarters, and high well-defined withers. They have long and clean legs, and muscles throughout the body which makes them great riding horses in addition to racing.

What Is A Thoroughbred Horse Used For?

These beautiful muscular and lean horses are primarily used as racehorses. They are also used in other equestrian sports such as show jumping, training, exhibition, and in a competition that is pursued solely for the sake of mastery.

Thoroughbred horses are used in general horse riding. Off-the-track Thoroughbreds, also known as OTTT horses are former racehorses that are used as trail horses, pleasure driving horses, as well as riding horses.

Where Do They Live?

When man tamed the horse, he used to farm and ride. Over the years, the use evolved and the Thoroughbred breed of horses came to be known as the most popular breed of horses used in racing. Usually, horses live in barns and outside. In the barns, they live in a stall and outside they live in pastures.

The thoroughbred horses originated in England, but over the years, they established themselves in other countries as well. They are bred in Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, New York, and few other states in the United States of America. They are also found in Italy, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary in Europe; Australia and New Zealand; Japan, Argentina, South Africa, among others.

How Long Do They Live For?

Thoroughbred horses are susceptible to several health problems and many of these problems are because they are bred for racing and pushed to physical extremes. These horses experience life-ending fractures caused by accidents on the tracks and other health complications. They are prone to bleeding in the lungs from intense exercise or exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage.

Some of these horses have uncharacteristically small hearts that contribute to circulatory issues, and some have smaller hooves that cause lameness and soreness. Considering the common health issues that the breed faces, many horses do not live a full life. But if they are taken care of as they must be, they live anywhere between 25 to 35 years.

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How Fast Are They?

Thoroughbred horses are strong and fast because of which they are considered to be the most suitable breed of horses for racing. Their lean and muscular body, combined with their long legs makes these horses fast. They are also full of energy and hence are referred to as a ‘hot-blooded’ breed that needs a proper outlet.

The modern Thoroughbred horses run faster than their skeletal structure can support. Their capability for speed is enhanced by selective breeding, and these animals are born to win races. They hold a Guinness world record for the fastest speed at 77.6 kilometers per hour or 43.97 miles per hour over two furlongs. The spirited and bold thoroughbred horses have an average speed of around 37 miles per hour or 36.89 miles per hour to be more precise.

What’s The Difference Between A Thoroughbred Horse And Arabian?

Horses have common ancestry or have been cross-bred to create a breed that we know of. But they are very different from one another. Some of the differences between Thoroughbred horses and its ancestors the Arabian include the following.

  • The general cut off for an Arabian is between 14.1 and 15.1 hands and for a Thoroughbred, the average cut off is between 15 to 17 hands.
  • Purebred Arabian horses are bay, grey, chestnut, black, or roan in color whereas Thoroughbred is bay, brown, or dark brown though there are other colors as well such as black, grey, and others.
  • The dished face is one of the most notable features of the Arabian breed which adds additional sinus capacity. They also have a laid-back shoulder, compact body with a short back and arched neck. The Thoroughbred is characterized by a deep chest, a lean body with long flat muscles, fine to medium bone, and well-angled shoulders.
  • The Arabian is inquisitive and sensitive while the Thoroughbred is hot-spirited.

What’s The Difference Between A Thoroughbred And Quarter Horse?

Some of the vital differences between a Thoroughbred and American quarter horse include the following.

  • The general cut off for Thoroughbred is between 15 to 17 hands whereas for a quarter horse it is 14 and 15 hands.
  • Thoroughbred is generally bay, brown or dark brown and quarter horses are brownish-red or sorrel.
  • Thoroughbred are tall, have a deep chest, lean body with long flat muscles. They have well-angled shoulders and fine to medium bone. American quarter horses have a heavily muscled short body with a neat wide head and wide gullet.
  • Thoroughbred horses are hot-spirited, whereas quarters are sensible, calm, and safe.

Read our in-depth post on the key differences!

How Much Do They Cost?

This is not an easy question to answer as there are decades worth of prices that may be a little too much for the weak-hearted. Horses are expensive. In fact, some are worth more than the best car money can buy. We are talking about champions! But in general, a Thoroughbreds from champion bloodlines will cost you nothing less than USD 100,000 or GBP 80,000. You can find retired Thoroughbred horses, or for general riding at not more than USD 10,000 or GBP 8,000. The price of the horse varies greatly depending on its age, health, training, and several other factors.

Conclusion / Summary

The Thoroughbred horses originated in England and are considered the best racehorse there is in the world.

The Arabians, Turks, and Barbs that belong to the Oriental group and are native to the Middle East make up the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed. These horses come in different colors with white being very rare.

Though they originated from the Arabian stallions, they are different from them in many ways. These animals are full of energy and considered to be very intelligent.

These high-spirited horses live anywhere between 25 to 35 years and the best of them can cost you several thousands of dollars.

There’s a whole world of horse breeds out there to explore! Discover and find out more information by checking out our horse breed guides.

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What Is A Thoroughbred Horse? (An Ultimate Breed Guide) (2024)
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