Best Horses for Trail Riding

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
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For avid horse riders, it is not all about competing and shuffling through different equestrian competitions. Sure, you can excel at barrel riding, obstacle courses, racing, and even dressage – but there is also a less competitive, calmer side of horse riding to explore. When you want to feel one with nature and deepen the bond between you and your horse, trail riding is the thing to do. Just brave the wilds, explore the trails, and see what your mount is truly capable of. Trail riding is a popular equine activity, and can last from just a few hours up to several days and weeks. Of course, trail riding can have a competitive side as well – if that’s your cup of tea. Either way, you will need a special mount in order to succeed: a horse that is sure-footed, hardy, and able to tackle any type of terrain. This list of the 10 best horses for trail riding will certainly help you in your selection – read on to find a perfect match!

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#1 Appaloosa 

Trail riding is all about a horse’s skill, agility, surefootedness, and endurance. Whether you engage in it for competition or pure enjoyment, you will need an appropriate mount. Appaloosa horses are one of America’s most recognizable breeds. And it’s not only their coloring that sets them apart – but it is also a set of specific and enjoyable traits ideal for trail riding. These horses are known as agile and hardy and are widely appreciated for their comfortable gait. And when you spend many hours in the saddle, you really know to appreciate this aspect. In many ways, Appaloosa is a famed and respected breed, developed across generations to excel in many equine activities. So, if you are looking to have a solid mount on your next trail ride, the old American Appaloosa horse is just the companion you need. 

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#2 Tennessee Walking Horse

When you are out on a trail, for hours on end, comfort becomes a very important thing to take care of. Of course, comfort is largely dependent on the type of mount you have, and the way they can handle the rugged and unexpected trail terrain. The Tennessee Walking horse is a famed American breed, whose gait is renowned far and wide for its smoothness and finesse. These horses are also known to be hardy and to have fantastic stamina. That is all a trail horse needs to have. Besides all this, the Tennessee Walking horse has a very even and agreeable temperament, is easy to handle, and responds well to training. In many ways, they are great for novice riders too, and anyone who is a beginner on the outdoor trails. 


#3 Thoroughbred

The Thoroughbred horse is famed on the race track and the competition course. But those are not the only places where they excel. With great speed, stamina, agility, and gait, the Thoroughbred can be a superb mount for trail riding. They can trundle on for hours on end, and their surefootedness can have you relax and have faith in your mount. Besides this, the breed is quite intelligent and eager to please. Whether a novice or a veteran on the trail, you can expect your mount to react well to your commands and to understand the rules of the game. Slender, muscular, hardy, and spirited, these horses truly belong in the great outdoors!   


#4 Friesian Horse

Of course, when you expect to tackle the rugged wilderness trails with all their unexpected twists and turns and rough patches, you want your mount to be able to endure all of it. And the mount to do that is definitely the powerful Friesian horse. Hailing from Friesland in Europe, these horses are admired for their absolute power, great stature, muscular bodies, and fabulous beauty. Bred in ages past for warfare and heavy fieldwork, they have evolved into horses of pure power. And that power comes in handy on the toughest outdoor trails. Surefooted and strong, the Friesian won’t have issues dealing with various terrains. And thanks to their size, you will feel comfy in the saddle, even for hours on end. Experienced trail riders know how crucial all this is. And even novices can benefit from this breed – they are smart, relatively easy to handle and respond well to commands. 

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#5 Irish Cob

Similar to the Friesian – but certainly not the same – is the Irish Cob, also known as the Gypsy Vanner. An old Irish breed, it was developed over ages to excel in challenging heavy fieldwork and for pulling the heavy gypsy caravans. This resulted in a large, stocky, muscular, and very powerful breed, with a lot of endurance and a balanced gait. Nowadays, they are known for their calm and peaceful demeanor, their intelligence, and their eagerness to please. Of course, they won’t have the slightest of issues with the outdoor trails as their large stride and powerful build will tackle the uneven terrain with absolute ease. Whether short or long, any trail ride with an Irish Cob will prove to be nothing short of equine enjoyment. Just make sure that feed is close at hand – those muscles need to be refueled! 


#6 Mustang

Considered a wild breed, the Mustang is a horse that is one with nature, and one of the iconic symbols of America. Renowned for its sheer power and all-around ruggedness, the Mustang can be an exceptional trail mount when properly trained. Luckily, they are not an entirely wild breed and can respond well to training by professionals. Trained Mustangs can excel in a variety of equine activities, but trail riding is something in which they can definitely excel. After all, these horses are in their natural surroundings when in the wild – they are sure-footed over rocky and uneven terrain, and will make short work of any obstacles and in all seasons. The Mustang boasts a slightly coarser coat and is much hardier than some other breeds. All this makes it exceptionally adapted to the outdoors, and an ideal mount for long treks and trails. 

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#7 Morgan Horse

We all know that the Morgan Horse is exceptional for racing, barrel riding, and other equine sports. These are lighting fast and agile horses and are amongst the most iconic American breeds. But of course, they are very versatile and adaptable and can be surprisingly fantastic on the trail. After all, the Morgan Horse has its roots in the American Old West, when wandering gunslingers depended on their mounts – and Morgan was a classic choice. So, you can expect a sure-footed and able animal, with great endurance and willingness to go that extra mile. Besides this, they are very smart and pick up new tricks and lessons surprisingly quickly. However, a Morgan Horse might not be best suited for a novice rider. They are powerful and able animals, best suited for those who are seasoned in the saddle. After all, an able mount needs an able rider in order to shine. 

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#8 Australian Stock Horse

Any equine breed that was bred in Australia has to be inherently hardy. It is a tough land, and the Australian Stock horse evolved to deal with the harsh climate and terrain. This is a truly balanced breed, boasting even and tempered traits, and great reliability. What is more, this breed is famed for its sure-footed gait, the ideal thing for trail riding. They are smart, agile, reliable, and enduring, and are overall a very good breed for the outdoors. Somewhat placid and obedient, they are hardy animals who are willing to work long and hard. What is especially important is their resilient nature – if they can tackle the harsh Australian climate, they won’t even flinch in the more temperate climates of North America.

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#9 Icelandic Horse

If we want to talk about a hardy horse, we need to look no further than Iceland. This remote nation is known for its rugged terrains and frigid climate, and the animals that were bred there had to adapt to these conditions in order to survive. The Icelandic horse is stocky and has coarse hairs, and is slightly smaller than the usual horse breed. But these traits are its strengths - the breed is perfect for outdoor trail riding, where their balance and even gait will definitely get you that extra mile. Of course, Icelandic horses are slightly less common on the market and finding one could be a bit challenging. But if you do manage this, you are bound to have a reliable, versatile, and surprisingly fast and agile breed. Don’t let their cute looks fool you!


#10 Missouri Fox Trotter

Bred in the ruggedness of the Ozark Mountains, the Missouri Fox Trotter is naturally evolved to tackle the rugged trails and to endure the elements. Originally a hunting horse, this breed is well known for its comfortable and smooth gait, known as the Fox Trot. This gait was developed over generations, specifically with comfort in mind. So, if you plan on spending long hours in the saddle as you tackle your next designated trail, the Missouri Fox Trotter will definitely bear you with absolute comfort. Besides this, the breed is quite sure-footed on rugged terrain and possesses good endurance and agility. All in all, this is a quite versatile breed and one that you can depend on in the toughest of times. 

What Are the Most Important Traits of Trail Riding?

It goes without saying that not all horse breeds are capable of enduring trail riding. This activity can be quite challenging for both the horse and the rider, and that is why you need to choose your mount with care. Trail riding can happen in a variety of environments and in different seasons, and each one can bear new and unexpected threats. Rocky and uneven mountain paths, snow-covered ice patches, dense forests, desert heat, and faint trails – the threats are many. In many ways, that is the thrill and the fun of trail riding, but it is nonetheless something to take seriously. If you want to be sure that you have the right mount for the next trail, make sure that they excel in the following traits. 


A horse needs to be hardy and enduring in order to thrive in the outdoors. If your trail crosses a wild country, you can never be 100% sure when the rain will come, or strong winds, snow, blizzards, or storms. It is because of this that a horse needs to be hardy and strong. Of course, endurance is also important for the overall trail journey. Stamina is the key to it all – a horse will have to endure hours of journeying across rugged terrain: not all breeds are capable of this. 


Of course, there is always the matter of your comfort. A rider is equally as important as the mount: if you are to endure hours of riding, you will have to be comfortable. Otherwise, you can get sores, a stiff back, and all sorts of pains and discomforts. The key to comfort on the trail is the horse’s gait. Some breeds are simply not meant for leisure riding, while others were bred with just that in mind. Such breeds have a smooth, comfy gait that makes for subtle riding even across rugged terrain. When you spend hours in the saddle – this can make a major difference in the experience. 


If the horse is to tackle the rugged terrains of the great outdoors, it cannot falter at any point. One wrong step and they can get injured and throw you out from the saddle. A horse will thus have to be sure-footed in all terrains. This means that they will be confident, with a balanced stride. The hardiest of horse breeds are the most sure-footed – the Icelandic Horse, the Friesians, Clydesdales, Morgans, and many others. Those breeds that are bred for other activities, such as dressage or exhibitions, could be much less stable on rough terrain.   

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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