how fast can a horse run

how fast can a horse run

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The horse’s ability to run quickly helps it avoid being eaten in the wild.

Horses’ prehistoric predecessors had to move faster to avoid predators as they gradually migrated from the woods to the grasslands.

Most horses can travel in four different gaits include gallop, which is the quickest. Gallop is a four-beat gait with a moment of suspension, which is when all of the horse’s legs are off the ground.

All horse breeds have the ability to gallop, however some are more quicker than others.

The Thoroughbred is the quickest horse breed over a medium distance, while the Quarter horse is the fastest over a short distance (14 mile) (2-3 miles).

The Arabian is a horse breed that is exceptionally swift and has exceptional endurance, making it the swiftest over long distances.

How Fast Can a Horse Run?

A horse may go at a peak speed of 25 to 30 mph (40 to 48 km/h). However, fast horse breeds such as the Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred can run up to 44 mph (70 km/h).

The average racehorse can maintain speeds of 40 to 44 mph (64 to 70 km/h) for a short period. When pulling a rider, most riding horses can only reach peak speeds of 20 to 30 mph (32 to 48.5 km/h).

Bay horse galloping in a field at top speed Rita_Kochmarjova /

Considering how big horses are, these stats are nonetheless astounding even if they are considerably slower than the speed of the fastest creatures on Earth.

Horses are fantastic athletes because they have the strength to lift such a hefty body off the ground and transport it at tremendous speeds.

What is the Fastest Horse Ever?

The quickest horse ever, according to official records, is a racing Quarter horse by the name of A Long Goodbye. In 2005, this horse galloped at 55 mph (88.5 km/h), which is the highest speed ever recorded in horses.

Since they are often raced on a quarter-mile course, quarter horses are referred to as the sprinters of the horse racing world.

They outpace every other breed over short distances because to their powerful, muscular hindquarters that drive their bodies forward with great force.

The Fastest Horses in History

A Long Goodbye, a Quarter Horse, holds the record for the fastest horse ever, clocking in at 55 mph (70.76 km/h). However, the Guinness World Records recognizes Winning Brew as the fastest racehorse of all time who ran at a speed 43.97 mph (70.76 km/h) on the Penn National Race Course in 2008.

Winning Brew racehorse

A mile and a half long race was run, and the three-year-old Thoroughbred Hawkster ran with the quickest average pace. The racehorse performed his record-breaking run at Santa Anita Park in 1989, finishing the race with an average speed of 37.82 mph (60.86 km/h).

To mention a few other breeds, the fastest Paint horse ever is the famous Got Country Grip, who ran 350 yards (320 m) in 17.23 seconds at Fair Meadows Race Track in Oklahoma. This corresponds to a speed of 64 km/h (40 mph).

Standardbred pacers are renowned for running swiftly during harness racing competitions.

At the Illinois State Fair in Springfield in 1993, a Standardbred called Cambest established the current record for a pacing racehorse. He paced his one-mile test in 1 minute 46.20 seconds, running at 33.84 mph (54.46 km/h).

In endurance competition, Jayhal Shazal, an 11-year-old Arabian, finished a 100-mile run in the quickest time ever. The gray gelding completed the race in just 5 hours 45 minutes, averaging 17 mph overall and 22 mph in the final loop.

Here is a clip of a thoroughbred moving at 38 mph for context:

Related: 10 Best Racehorses of All Time (Ranked)

Fastest Horse Breeds in the World

The Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, Standardbred, and Paint Horse are the world’s fastest horse breeds. In general, horse breeds with Thoroughbred or Arabian blood are faster than the average.

The quickest of all horse breeds to gallop is the Quarter horse, as was already established in this article. This is due to their powerful and muscular hindquarters that give them a higher than average stride rate.

Chestnut Quarter horse with tack on Horse quarters. Dagmara Ksandrova /

The number of steps taken per minute, or stride rate, has a significant role in how quickly a horse can run.

The majority of Thoroughbred racehorses stride at a pace of 130 to 140 steps per minute. As a result, they cannot run as fast as Quarter horses, but they can maintain their speed for much longer.

To learn more about each fast breed, read our guide on the fastest horse breeds .

Average Speed of Horse Gaits

Below, we will take a look at how fast the different horse gaits are on average. Please take notice that a rider was present when all of these speeds were predicted.

Horses may be able to run more quickly without a rider, but it would be difficult to get a free horse to go as quickly as it can. That is why this has not yet been measured.

Basic Horse Gaits

The walk is the most leisurely horse gait, moving at a pace of around two meters per second. In walk, the horse moves in a four-beat pattern with two to three feet on the ground and no moment of suspension.

The trot is a 4 m/s or slower medium pace gait. Trot is a two-beat gait where the diagonal leg pairs move together and there is a short moment of suspension.

Moving up the scale is canter having a longer moment of suspension than trot, is a three-beat gait. Canter can be the same speed as trot or slightly faster, ranging from 4-8 m/s.

The fastest of all gaits is gallop It allows the horse to go at speeds of up to 14 m/s on average. Unlike canter, gallop is a four-beat gait with a pronounced moment of suspension.

Special Horse Gaits

Some horse breeds, like the Icelandic horse, can execute extra unusual gaits in addition to the four conventional gaits.

The tempo, a two-beat gait in which the parallel leg pairs move in unison, is one of them. Like trot, it has a moment of suspension, although it’s a slightly faster gait at 5 m/s.

Another unique gait that provides the rider with a particularly smooth feeling in the saddle is tölt. Despite having the same footfall pattern as the walk, tölt is almost as fast as gallop and can reach 9 m/s.

The most prevalent horse gaits and their typical speeds are shown in the chart below:

Gait Average speed
Walk 4.3 mph (6.9 km/h)
Trot 8 mph (12.9 km/h)
Pace 10 mph (16 km/h)
Canter 10 to 17 mph (16 – 27.3 km/h)
Tölt 20 mph (32 km/h)
Gallop 25 to 30 mph (40.2 – 48.3 km/h)

Horses Are One of The Fastest Land Mammals on Earth

A cheetah might be able to run at 75 mph (120 km/h), and their feather-light bodies weigh no more than 65 to 110 pounds (30 to 50 kg). In comparison, a cheetah weighs 10 times as much as an ordinary racehorse (1150 pounds or 520 kg).

Horses are among the quickest creatures on Earth in relation to their size. They have many unique survival adaptations that allow them to outrun most animals their size.

The Horse’s Legs Are Built for Running

Two Thoroughbred horses grazing PJ photography / Thoroughbred horses

Their large legs, which offer them a longer stride length, are one such adaptation. Stride length and stride rate are two of the main factors that determine how fast an animal can run.

Moreover, the lower legs of horses have very little muscle tissue and are mostly made up of tendons, ligaments, and bones. In addition to making their legs lightweight and portable, this also makes them very effective runners.

When the horse’s foot touches the ground, these tendons get loaded with elastic energy, which is then released as the horse pushes off the ground. The cycle then restarts as the lower leg jumps back up on its own without the horse having to exert any effort.

Related: 12 Interesting Horse Skeleton Facts

Horses Have Very Large Hearts

It’s hardly surprising that horses have big hearts given how much better athletes they are. The larger this organ is, the more oxygen can be carried to muscles, and the faster the anima can move on the ground.

The heart of a typical horse weighs around 1% of its total body weight. This implies that a horse weighing 1,000 pounds (450 kg) would have a heart that weighs around 10 pounds (4.5 kg). Racehorses’ hearts are larger than typical because heart size becomes larger with training.

Fitness also increases the amount of blood in the horse’s body, which helps maintain adequate muscle function during exercise. Additionally, it prevents the horse from becoming too hot when running.

Related: 15 Interesting Horse Anatomy Facts

The Horse’s Spleen Stores Red Blood Cells

Beautiful horse cantering fast on snow Lusitano horse. Olga_i /

Hemoglobin, a substance found in red blood cells, is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other organs.

Red blood cells are often found in the blood of animals, but horses may also store them in their spleens.

High-speed running causes the horse to expel more red blood cells into the circulation, which helps to provide muscles with oxygen. This unique adaptation enables the horse to keep using its muscles for longer and delays the onset of fatigue.

A horse’s breed, health, age, temperament, diet, level of fitness, and rider weight are other variables that might impact its speed.

Related: 8 Best Endurance Horse Breeds

The Factor Limiting Running Speed in Horses

Unlike the heart and muscles, the horse’s respiratory system cannot be improved with training. This is one of the factors contributing to its reputation as a horse’s athletic weakness.

Moreover, since horses have very long heads and necks, they draw a lot of air into the upper respiratory tract that will never reach the lungs. Because of what is known as anatomical dead space, horses’ breathing during activity is less effective.

Additionally, the fact that horses can only breathe via their noses doesn’t help.

Having said that, the surface area of their lungs, which is about the size of ten tennis courts, is incredibly vast and is where gas exchange takes place.

The equivalent area in humans, however, is only about one-third the size of a tennis court.

Related: 40 Facts You Didn’t Know About Horses

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