Horses are majestic animals, and their relationship with humans spans millennia. They have pulled our carts, followed us to battle, helped us manage our farms and herd our cattle. Since the Roman era, they have even provided us with entertainment in the form of horse racing. For many, the exhilaration of watching a race approach the finishing line can be quite something!
In most capacities, it is their weight bearing capabilities or ability to move at pace that have added real value and impact to their relationship with humans. But just how fast can a horse run exactly? does this differ across breeds, and how does it compare to other animals?
What Is The Fastest A Horse Can Run?
An American Quarter Horse can run up to 55 mph in a sprint, but can not maintain this speed for very long. The quarter horse gets its name from the distance that these horses race, which is a quarter mile. The 55 mph record was set in 2005 by a horse named ‘A Long Goodbye’. The usual max sprint pace is around 50 mph.
The fastest that a thoroughbred horse has been recorded completing a full 2 furlong (quarter mile) race, was 43.97 mph. This is the entry in the Guinness book of records, and was achieved by a thoroughbred called ‘Winning Brew’ in 2008. Although A Long Goodbye reached a higher max speed within the same distance, Winning Brew maintained a high speed for longer and was slightly faster over the whole distance.
While thoroughbreds have the stamina to maintain a good pace for longer, the quarter horse is much quicker over a short sprint.
In determining how fast a horse can run, it depends greatly on the distance, the terrain (dirt/turf) and the breed.
How Fast Can A Horse Run Over Different Distances?
- Quarter Mile – Current record is 20.57 seconds, set in 2008
- Half Mile – Current record is 43.20 seconds, set in 2012
- One Mile – Current record on dirt, is 1 minute 45.4 seconds, set in 2022. The current record on turf, is 1 minute 31.23 seconds set in 2010
- Endurance (100 Miles) – Current record is 5 hours 45 minutes set in 2010
What Is The Fastest Horse Breed?
Over a short sprint distance, the fastest horse breed is the Quarter Horse. Over longer distances though, different breeds are faster. So here are five of the fastest horse breeds over various distances:
Quarter Horse – Up to 55 mph over short distance – in racing, they sprint over a quarter mile or 2 furlong distance.
Thoroughbred – Up to 44 mph and can maintain this for around 0.75 to 1.25 miles. In racing, they are the quickest breed up to around two miles.
Arabian – Up to 40 mph over short distance, but have exceptional stamina and can maintain a good pace over long distances. These horses are known for endurance racing in events up to 100 miles in length. At that distance, pace can be expected to maintain around 15-17 mph. In 2010, an Arabian horse called Jayhal Shazal completed a 100 mile race in just 5 hours 45 minutes.
Standardbred – Until 2022, a Standardbred horse had the world record for fastest pace of 1:46.2 over a mile (41.76 mph). The record was broken by another Standardbred with a race time of 1:45.4. So standardbreds are great horses at this distance. They are built like thoroughbreds, but with stronger, more muscular shoulders and hinds.
American Paint Horse – Another breed that is quick over short distances. The Paint Horse has been registered racing 350 yds at just over 41 mph in 17.26 seconds. The Akhal-Teke has a similar pace.
- Andalusians and Mustangs may also be able to reach up to 50 mph in short bursts
- Orlov Trotters and Akhal-Teke horses may be able to reach up to 45 mph in short bursts.
How Fast Can The Average Horse Run?
There are around 350 different horse breeds in total (including ponies), and while the average ‘race horse’ can reach an average of 40-44 mph or more, the gallop of a normal horse is less. The average across breeds is around 27 mph for a gallop, in most cases between 25 – 30 mph. The average canter is around 10 to 17 mph and the average trot speed is around 8 mph.
Belgians, Gypsies, Clydesdale and Morgan horses are examples of those that have an average running pace around the 25 mph mark.
What Is The Slowest Horse Breed?
The slowest horse could be the Tennessee Walking Horse with an average running pace of between 10-20 mph. Or It could be the Black Forest horse with an average pace of around 14 mph. Other contenders include the American miniature horse and the Selle Francais which both average less than 20 mph on their best day.
Why Are Some Horses Faster Than Others?
Size, weight, build and breeding all play a part in the performance of horses when it comes to speed. Some have a great gait and stride, while others have a quicker trot. Some breeds are naturally built for pace, whereas others are built for strength or endurance. The Quarter Horse for example has a shorter stride than the Thoroughbred, and can pick up greater speed, but with the shorter stride it can’t maintain this for long. The Thoroughbred can maintain a good pace for longer with it’s larger, less energy sapping stride.
Breeds such as the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse, are bred specifically for speed, and generations of this breeding makes them much faster than those that are bred for work or historically, for war.
Whether a horse is hotblooded or coldblooded also plays a part in their suitability for speed. Hotblooded breeds tend to have a better build for racing, whereas draft or coldblooded horses are larger and heavier, more suited toward work.
What Was The Fastest Horse Ever?
As far as we know, the fastest horse ever is the current max speed record holder, the Quarter Horse ‘A Long Goodbye’. There is no data to suggest that historically, there were any faster breeds. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Horses today, are bred to race, and there is massive amounts of money involved in this. Breeding is carefully planned out and parentage selected to fine tune the best possible combinations to improve speed and performance.
As this has become a global pursuit, perhaps even an ‘industry’, the speed and athleticism of horses is improving all the time because effort, beyond natural pressures, is put into driving that result.
Can A Horse Outrun A Bear?
Well, the answer to this question depends on the horse, and also on the distance. Believe it or not bears, despite their size, are fast runners and they can maintain their speed for quite some distance. If a horse has warning and can get up to speed, it will likely outrun a bear. But with no warning, the average horse would struggle.
We often consider horses for their great speed, and their suitability for racing, and while a good race horse will push toward 50 mph, the average horse runs around 30 mph. A bear on the other hand, can reach up to 35 mph. For an animal of that size and build, it is a scary speed. Bears are also pretty agile and can maintain this speed going up or down hill, and over rough terrain.
On the flat and in open space, a horse has more than a fighting chance, but in a wooded or rough area, a bear may have the advantage. Luckily, bears tend to favour toward conserving energy, and are unlikely to run at full speed over long distances.
Other animals that can outrun a horse include wolves, with an average speed of 35 mph, and Lions which can run up to 50 mph. Horses in regions where Lion’s live, have a good chance of surviving if they notice the approaching threat, as they can maintain a good pace for long distances. But over a short sprint, the lion has the advantage.