As a horse owner, you may be curious to know the speed at which your horse can run. However, it’s important to know that several things will determine how fast or how slow your horse actually is.
Aspects such as breed, age, agility, and endurance all have a say in the speed of a horse. That said, the average speed of a running horse is about 30 miles per hour (mph).
Racehorses will top this speed, while other horses will have a slower speed based on the factors I mentioned above. But just because a horse isn’t fast, doesn’t mean it’s not built for endurance.
Even with a rider on their back, horses will achieve an average speed between 20 mph and 30 mph. Some horses will reach this speed in less than 20 seconds.
You probably know that horses have different gaits, each lending the horse different speeds. Below, I’ll cover these and some other horse speed-related facts.
Different Gaits of Horses
Depending on the speed at which they need to go, horses have different gaits. These are based on the placement pattern of their legs and the speed of movement.
Therefore, we can distinguish four natural gaits in horses:
When a horse is walking, each foot hits the ground independently when moving forward. This is why it’s called a four-beat movement and it’s the slowest of all the gaits.
When walking, horses reach an average speed of around 4.3 mph. A healthy horse in good physical condition can walk as many as 8 hours a day and cover around 32 miles.
A trotting horse is moving in a two-beat rhythm with a horse’s legs working in paired diagonals. When trotting, a horse will move at a speed of 8.1 mph.
Trotting is faster than walking, but slower than a canter. Therefore, a horse that’s trotting, can cover double the miles in the same time compared to a walking horse.
A canter is a three-beat movement and it’s called like that because two pairs of feet land simultaneously, while the other two feet land independently.
A canter is faster than a trot but inferior in speed to a gallop. The average speed of a canter is around 10-17 mph.
A gallop is the fastest type of gait. Expressed in numbers, the average speed of a gallop is between 25-30 mph. It’s a four-beat movement.
Some horse breeds are called gaited horses because of their distinct gaits unique to them such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino or the Missouri Fox Trotter.
Endurance horses can travel up to 100 miles in 24 hours. Mind you, these are fit endurance competitors and not your average horse, so don’t expect your horse to pull these numbers out of nowhere.
Speed of Popular Horse Breeds
I mentioned how the breed of a horse is also a determining factor in how fast they’re going to be. Some breeds are built for speed, others are historically better adapted for endurance.
For a quick overview of the average running speed of different horse breeds, I’ve drawn up the table below, so you can compare how the different types of breeds measure up to each other in terms of speed:
|Average Running Speed of 15 Most Popular Horse Breeds|
|Breed||Average Running Speed|
|American Quarter||45-55 mph|
|Andalusian Horse||40-50 mph|
|Orlov Trotter||45 mph|
|Paint Horse||40 mph|
|Akhal Teke||30-35 mph|
|Wild Horse||30-40 mph|
|Shire Horse||30-35 mph|
|Friesian Horse||25-30 mph|
|American Miniature Horse||18-20 mph|
|Black Forest Horse||14 mph|
|Tennessee Walking Horse||10-20 mph|
As you can see, there is a lot of variation in the speed of these popular horse breeds. While the breed is a determining factor of speed, it’s not the only factor that will make a horse run fast.
There are a lot of other factors that come into play, such as:
- Stride length, which is the distance a horse travels in a single leap. The average length of a racehorse’s stride is about 20 feet.
- Stride rate is another important aspect and determines the number of strides a horse can complete in a given time. The average racehorse’s stride is around 130-140 strides per minute.
- Stride angle is also important. This is a metric that’s the distance between a horse’s front and back foot, measured at the push-off point of the rear foot. The highest stride angle measured was 110 degrees and it belongs to the racehorse Secretariat.
- Muscle tone, airflow, heart strength and a solid frame are also factors that have a lot o say in a horse’s speed and endurance.
Therefore, there are a lot of anatomical factors that along with breed and physical fitness will make a horse speedy or slow.
How Long Can a Horse Run?
A horse may run fast, but it may not have endurance. And endurance can be just as important as speed when it comes to covering long distances.
If we’re talking about running, horses can run without stopping for about 1-2 miles before showing signs of tiredness.
If you don’t expect your horse to run, but go at a slower pace, it can travel up to 20 miles in one day.
And based on the table of average speed I put together above, horses can theoretically cover 30 miles per hour if running at a fast speed.
It’s not accidental that I mentioned that this is “in theory”. Forcing your horse to run at its top speed for an hour will put a severe strain on it and you could cause serious harm.
That’s because horses will become tired after just one or two miles of running, so they need to rest and recover before they can go further.
It’s not accidental then that horseraces that measure for speed are also around one mile long (1 ¼ mile). Endurance races, however, where horses can pace themselves can be as long as 100 miles, but horses typically have a 24-hour period to cover that distance.
If you need to cover a long distance with your horse, I strongly recommend going slower rather than faster to avoid any physical strain on your horse.
All things considered, there are horse breeds that have evolved with better endurance than other breeds.
Take the Arabian horse, for example. A horse that’s know for its amazing endurance and adaptability to extreme heat and even dropping temperatures.
The Arabian horse has been dominating the U.S. Tevis Cup, which is a 100-mile 24-hour endurance race that has been won for 23 years in a row by an Arabian breed.
Besides the Arabian, the Mustang is also a breed that’s recognized for its endurance.
Therefore, while some aspects of speed are built into the genetics of a horse, other aspects can be achieved through training and exercise.
How Fast Can a Foal Run?
Foals can usually gallop after 24 hours of being born. The speed at which they will do so, depends, again, on a variety of factors.
But just because your foal is galloping, don’t expect it to be as fast as its mother. In fact, foals often fail to keep up with galloping dams.
Therefore, while still in their early infancy, foals don’t run as fast as an average horse does, but they can reach that speed once they’ve become bigger and stronger.
Fastest Horse in the World
In 2008, the Guinness World Records awarded Winning Brew, a thoroughbred from the U.S., the title of fastest horse in the world, clocking in at 43.97 mph.
However, outside of equestrian races, American Quarterhorses have been known to clock in at speeds of 55 mph.
When it comes to horseraces, however, Thoroughbreds are certainly the ones dominating them, being worthy of the title of the fastest horse breed in the world.
There are different types of horse races, measuring speed achieved on different distances by different breeds, so it’s not always easy to set up an equivalency between these races.
While Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds are known for their speed, Arabian horses dominate endurance races.
The top endurance race is the Tevis Cup, covering 100 miles and lasting 24 hours. The course goes through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.
As you can see, horses showcase a lot of versatility in terms of speed and endurance. But it’s important to recognize that just because a horse can, in theory, run fast, it doesn’t mean it should be made to do so.
Unless your horse is a professional racehorse, it’s not supposed to be under the intense physical strain that racehorses are under. It’s not accidental that racehorses retire early.
From joint and ligament issues, and even fractures, horses can sustain severe and debilitating injuries, even under the care of a professional.
Therefore, make sure you don’t put unnecessary strain on your horse and pace their running to avoid injuries or joint issues.Horse Facts