Thoroughbred: The Racehorse of Royalty

| Updated: January 20, 2023
Thoroughbred horse

Origin and History:

The Thoroughbred horse is a breed with a long and storied history. The breed’s origin dates back to the late 17th century in Great Britain. Horse racing had been popular in the country for centuries, and people began to selectively breed horses for their racing qualities. Three stallions were imported to England in the late 1600s and early 1700s – the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian – and their bloodlines became the foundation of the Thoroughbred breed. Mares of multiple breeds, both native and imported, were also used in the breed’s creation.

The first Thoroughbred arrived in the American colonies in 1730, though importation all but stopped during the Revolutionary War. Horse racing gained popularity in the United States during the 1800s, and Kentucky and Tennessee became centers for Thoroughbred breeding and racing. The Thoroughbred also influenced several other breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, Standardbred, and Morgan. The Jockey Club serves as the registry for Thoroughbreds in the United States and Canada.

Today, Thoroughbreds are used for a variety of equine sports, including racing, jumping, dressage, trail riding, general riding, and pleasure driving. Many former racehorses, also known as “off-the-track Thoroughbreds” or OTTBs, move on to become riding and driving horses. They are also used to add refinement and athleticism to other horse breeds, particularly sport horses.

Thoroughbreds are not always the best choice for beginning equestrians due to their spirited nature. But for intermediate and advanced riders who can channel the breed’s vigor, Thoroughbreds can be the ultimate ride.

Thoroughbred stallion standing majestically
Credit: Alex Walker/Gettyimages

Physical Characteristics:

Thoroughbred horses are known for their athletic build, high-spirited nature, and beautiful coloring. With an average height of 15.2 to 17 hands, this breed is tall and lean with a deep chest and a short back. Its head is small with a straight profile and its legs are long and muscular. Its mane and tail are often thick, with a flowing and full appearance.

Thoroughbreds are known for their powerful, yet efficient, gaits. They have a smooth, round canter and a long, low-headed trot. The breed is particularly well-suited for jumping and steeple chasing due to its exceptional agility and balance. Thoroughbreds are also known for their incredible speed and endurance.

The breed’s coat color can vary from chestnut, bay, and black to palomino, gray, and roan. In addition, Thoroughbreds often have white markings, including stars, socks, and blazes. Depending on the individual horse’s conformation, the breed is also known for having a longer or shorter neck, a more or less sloping shoulder, and a higher or lower set of withers.

Overall, the Thoroughbred is an iconic, beautiful horse with a strong physical presence and an abundance of talent. With its intelligence and athleticism, it is a true multi-purpose horse that excels at racing, jumping, and dressage, as well as pleasure riding and companion animals.

Unique Characteristics:

Thoroughbred horses have many unique qualities that make them the ideal choice for racing, dressage, and other equestrian sports. For starters, they are known for their speed and agility, making them perfect for racing on the flat or over jumps. Their hot-blooded temperament also makes them suitable for a variety of disciplines, from the precision of dressage to the excitement of show jumping.

Thoroughbreds are also known for their intelligence and loyalty. They are eager to please, making them easy to train, and their strong bond with their riders makes them great partners for any sport. They also have excellent conformation and are often admired for their beauty and grace, which is why you will often find them in the show ring.

Finally, Thoroughbreds are known for their longevity. They can remain competitive in the show ring and on the track for many years, and they are often used as mounts for young riders. This makes them a great choice for a long-term companion and partner, ensuring that an owner can enjoy their mount in different disciplines for many years.

LINGFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: Runners head down the back straight during The Bet Direct On Sky Active Apprentice Claiming Stakes Race run at Lingfield Park Racecourse on January 13, 2005 in Lingfield, England. The 6 furlong contest was won by Tiger Hunter and Laura Reynolds.
Credit: Julian Herbert/Gettyimages

Interesting Facts:

Thoroughbred horses are known for their speed and agility, making them a popular choice for racing in North America. But there are other interesting facts about these amazing animals that make them even more fascinating.

For starters, Thoroughbreds are considered “hot-blooded” horses, meaning they have a more high-spirited and energetic temperament than other horse breeds. This makes them a great choice for athleticism, but also for a more relaxed lifestyle. In fact, many Thoroughbreds live out their lives as companion animals, used for pleasure riding and leisure activities.

Thoroughbreds are also incredibly versatile horses. Not only are they known for their racing abilities, but they can also be seen in other equestrian competitions, like dressage and jumping. They’re even used in therapeutic riding due to their natural calmness and ability to bond with their rider.

They can reach speeds of around 40 miles per hour, and their long back legs amplify their powerful gallop.

Finally, Thoroughbreds are known for their unique and beautiful coats. While the majority of them have a bay coat with a black mane and tail, there are also Thoroughbreds with coats of chestnut, grey, roan, palomino, and more.

Sports and Competitions:

Thoroughbred horses have been a mainstay in the world of sports for centuries. They are a natural choice for horse racing, and are the breed of choice for many of the world’s most prestigious races. In North America, the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby is widely considered to be the most prestigious Thoroughbred race in the world.

Thoroughbreds are also popular in the world of show-jumping, dressage, and eventing. Their natural athleticism and speed, combined with their intelligence and willingness to work, make them a perfect choice for these disciplines. They are often used in the hunt field, taking riders over fences and through difficult terrain.

In addition to these sports, Thoroughbreds are also popular for pleasure riding. Their athleticism and speed make them a perfect choice for trail riding, cross-country riding, and competitive riding. They are also popular for jumping and dressage, where their natural talent and willingness to learn make them a great choice for riders of all levels.

Overall, the Thoroughbred is a popular choice for many equestrian sports and activities. They are well-suited to a variety of disciplines and are a reliable and proven choice for the serious horseman.

Diet and Nutrition:

Thoroughbred horses require a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and support their active lifestyles. Their diet should consist of quality forages such as grass and hay, as well as grains and some fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals are also necessary to meet the horse’s nutritional needs.

Thoroughbreds have a fast metabolism, so they may need more food than other horses their size to stay healthy. They also have a tendency to be more sensitive to fluctuations in their diet, so it’s important to regulate their intake and not overfeed them. Feeding too much grain can cause the horse to become overweight and prone to health issues related to being overweight.

A diet rich in fiber is important for thoroughbreds. Fiber helps to maintain gut health and digestion, and can help prevent colic. High-fiber hay should form the foundation of the diet, and can be supplemented with grains, such as oats and barley, as needed. It’s important to look for feed products that are high in quality and designed specifically for horses.

Fruits and vegetables can also be added to the diet in moderation. These can provide essential vitamins and minerals, as well as added energy. Carrots and apples are two popular options, but make sure to feed them in small amounts and in a consistent manner.

Thoroughbreds have unique nutritional needs, so it’s important to feed them the right balance of forages, grains, and supplements. Following a consistent feeding schedule and providing quality hay and grains can help keep your thoroughbred healthy and fit.

Common Health Issues:

Thoroughbred horses are known for their strength and agility, but like any horse, they can suffer from various health issues. Common health issues that can affect Thoroughbred horses include but are not limited to lameness, colic, and respiratory issues.

Lameness is one of the most common health issues in horses, and Thoroughbred horses are no exception. Lameness can range from difficult to observe to a complete inability to walk and can be caused by a number of issues, including infection, injury, or genetics. In severe cases, lameness can be fatal. If a Thoroughbred horse is suspected to have lameness, it is important to have a vet examine it as soon as possible.

Colic is another common health issue for Thoroughbred horses. Colic is an umbrella term for various digestive issues, such as gas colic, impaction colic, and sand colic, which can cause great discomfort and pain in the horse. If a Thoroughbred horse starts showing signs of colic, such as rolling, trying to lay down, or pawing at the ground, it is important to get it to the vet right away.

Respiratory issues can also be a problem for Thoroughbred horses. These issues can range from mild to severe and can be caused by a variety of factors, including allergies, dust, and environmental irritants. If a horse is exhibiting signs of respiratory distress, such as coughing, labored breathing, or excessive mucus production, it is important to have it examined by a vet as soon as possible.

Overall, Thoroughbred horses are generally healthy and strong, but like any horse, they can suffer from various health issues. Lameness, colic, and respiratory issues are some of the most common issues that can affect Thoroughbred horses, and it is important to be aware of these issues and to take the necessary steps to keep your horse healthy.


Famous Examples:

One of the most famous Thoroughbreds in history is Secretariat, the legendary racehorse who won the 1973 Triple Crown and went on to set a world record in the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat was an impressive horse who was owned by Penny Chenery and trained by Lucien Laurin. His charisma and spirit inspired generations of racehorse owners and fans alike.

Secretariat Belmont Stakes 1973 & extended coverage (HD Version - NEW!)
Actual footage of Secretariat in 1973 in the final race for the triple crown. Quite possibly my favorite horse video ever.

Another famous Thoroughbred is Man o’ War, whose racing career lasted from 1919-1920 and who won every race he entered with the exception of one. Man o’ War was owned by August Belmont Jr. and trained by Louis Feustel. He earned the nickname Big Red due to his chestnut coat and size, standing 16.2 hands high. After his racing career, he continued to have a successful career in breeding and siring many offspring.

In more recent media, the Thoroughbred War Admiral is perhaps the most recognizable equine name. War Admiral was the great-grandson of Man o’ War and the champion of the 1937 Triple Crown. He was owned by Samuel Riddle and trained by George Conway. His career was as successful as his predecessor’s, as he earned the title of Horse of the Year in 1938.

Overall, these three horses demonstrate the incredible spirit and energy of the Thoroughbred breed. These horses were powerful athletes and champions in the racing world. They show that Thoroughbreds are capable of incredible things and are able to inspire generations of horse owners and fans.

Where to Adopt or Buy:

When it comes to finding a thoroughbred horse to adopt or buy, there are many options. From breeders and trainers to rescues and auctions, there are thoroughbreds available all over the world. It’s important to do your research before committing to any horse, as each thoroughbred comes with its own set of needs and challenges.

If you’re looking for a thoroughbred from a champion bloodline, you’ll likely need to search for a specific breeder. Thoroughbreds from champion bloodlines are often very expensive and can cost more than $100,000. Make sure to ask for the horse’s pedigree and inquire about its history, health, and training.

If you’re looking for a more affordable thoroughbred, you can search for retired racehorses, which are often sold at auctions or by private sellers. These horses may be more affordable, but they can also come with unknown pasts and potential health issues. Before bringing a retired racehorse home, make sure to have a veterinarian look them over and ask the seller about their history.

Rescues are another great option for finding a thoroughbred. Rescues often have a wide variety of horses, including thoroughbreds, available for adoption. The great thing about rescues is that they typically have an in-depth knowledge of the horses in their care and can provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.

No matter where you purchase or adopt your thoroughbred, it’s important to take your time and make sure that the horse is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. With the right research and a bit of patience, you can find the perfect thoroughbred to add to your family.


In conclusion, the Thoroughbred horse is one of the most beloved horses in North America, renowned for its speed, agility, and spirit. While this breed is most commonly associated with racing, it is much more than simply a racehorse, as it is also utilized in dressage, jumping, and other equestrian sports. Furthermore, many Thoroughbreds also make wonderful companion animals, providing endless hours of pleasure riding and companionship. No matter what its purpose, the Thoroughbred is a magnificent animal that can bring joy and delight to the lives of its owners.


What is a Thoroughbred horse?

A Thoroughbred is a breed of horse that has been developed and bred specifically for racing. They are considered a hot-blooded breed, which means they are known for their agility, speed, and spirit. Thoroughbreds are usually used in the sport of horse racing, but they can also be used in other equestrian competitions such as dressage and jumping, or simply kept as a companion animal for pleasure riding.

What makes Thoroughbreds good racehorses?

Thoroughbreds are considered to be one of the best breeds for racing due to their athleticism, speed, and stamina. They also have a strong competitive spirit that makes them great for racing. Thoroughbreds are known for their speed and agility, which makes them great for racing on both flat and steeplechase courses. Additionally, Thoroughbreds have a strong work ethic and can handle the long-distance races that are typical in the sport of horse racing.

What should I look for when choosing a Thoroughbred horse?

When looking for a Thoroughbred horse, you should look for one that is sound, healthy, and well-mannered. You should also look for a horse that is well-suited for the type of racing you plan to do. Additionally, you should look for a horse that is well-built and has good conformation. It is also important to find a horse that is registered with the Jockey Club, as this ensures that the horse is a purebred Thoroughbred. Finally, be sure to check the horse’s pedigree to make sure it is bred for the type of racing you plan to do.

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