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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).
For a brief length of time, the typical racehorse can sustain speeds of 40 to 44 mph (64 to 70 km/h). The top speed of most riding horses is no more than 20 to 30 mph (32 – 48.5 km/h) when carrying a rider.
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.
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).
For example, the renowned Got Country Grip, a Paint horse, raced 350 yards (320 m) in 17.23 seconds at the Fair Meadows Race Track in Oklahoma, to name a few additional breeds. This equates to a speed of 40 mph (64 km/h).
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 fastest horse breeds in the world are the Quarter horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, Standardbred, and Paint Horse. Horse breeds with Thoroughbred or Arabian blood tend to move more quickly than the norm.
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.
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
The average speed of the various horse gaits will be examined here. Please note that all of these speeds were estimated with a rider on.
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. Hence why this hasn’t been measured yet.
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:
|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
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.
In addition, horses’ lower legs are largely formed of bones, tendons, and ligaments with very little muscular tissue. This not only makes their legs lightweight and easy to move around, but also very efficient when it comes to running.
These tendons get loaded with elastic energy when the horse’s foot makes contact with the ground. This energy is subsequently released when the animal pushes off the ground. The lower leg then springs back up with no effort required from the horse, and the cycle starts again.
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.
Additionally, fitness boosts blood flow throughout the horse’s body, aiding in the maintenance of proper muscular function when exercising. It also prevents the horse from overheating while running.
Related: 15 Interesting Horse Anatomy Facts
The Horse’s Spleen Stores Red Blood Cells
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
The horse’s respiratory system cannot be trained way the heart and muscles are. This is one of the reasons why it is considered a weakness in the horse’s athletic ability.
Horses also pull a lot of air into the upper respiratory system that would never reach the lungs due to their relatively long heads and necks. This is called anatomical dead space and makes horses less efficient in breathing during exercise.
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