Draft Horse vs Riding Horse – What’s the Difference?

Equines can be divided into several types including riding horses, miniature horses, ponies, and draft horses. Here, we’d like to outline the difference between draft horses and riding horses. That’s why there’s a bunch of equestrian activities suitable for riding horses and drafts respectively.

Let’s get right down to brass tacks to find out the main characteristics of the draft and riding equines.

cowboy is checking his horses

Draft Horse vs Riding Horse Compared

As horses belong to various categories, draft and riding horses have some distinguishing features. A riding horse is an equine that is tacked up to be ridden by a rider. Unlike draft horses that are commonly used as workhorses.

You may also face the term “harness horse” that refers to carriage equines that are driven, not ridden. Companions with lighter built are used to perform in related equestrian disciplines.

man is plowing the ground with draft horses

Draft Horse Explained

So how to differentiate a draft horse from a riding one? Draft equine is a heavy horse that is typically used for farm labor. Thus, such animals are related to large horse breeds that are durable and able to carry a heavy workload. They are extremely strong, patient, and obedient that makes them a perfect companion for a farmer.

As for draft horse characteristics, they may vary in different horse breeds. However, the point is that they are quite tall and bulky. The height ranges from 15 to 19 hands. For instance, the Russian Heavy Draft Horse is typically 15 hands high, while the Percheron is 18 hands high being one of the tallest horse breeds.

Speaking of equine breeds, let’s check the common draft horse breeds.

Draft Horse Breeds

1. Fjord

Fjord adult and baby horses are running

Weight: 1,100 lbs.

Height: 15 hands.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse is considered little but mighty. The breed comes from Norway, however, the horse is a well-known farm animal worldwide. The Fjord is easy to distinguish as it comes in a dun color. It’s claimed as one of the oldest horse breeds that have been used in farming, driving, and riding.

The Norwegian Fjord has a small body with short limbs. The arched neck and body are muscular, the head is of medium size. The ears are small, the eyes are big, the forehead is flat. Despite the compact size, the breed is highly enduring and capable of carrying weight.

2. Percheron

Gray Percheron horse is running on the pasture

Weight: 2,600 lbs.

Height: 18 hands.

The Percheron breed originated from France. Such horses usually have black or gray hair with white markings on the head and legs. The equine is known for its intelligence and strong willingness to work; it’s favorite as farm helpers. Besides, you may find the Percheron performing as a harness horse.

The head is big and straight, the ears are small, the eyes are big, and the forehead is wide. The neck is arched and muscular. The limbs are short, the chest is broad. The Percheron breed is easy to train as they’re quick-witted.

3. Shire

Shire horse is jumping

Weight: 2,600 lbs.

Height: 18 hands.

The Shire horse is deemed as one of the largest horse breeds in the world. Generally, you may find the equine in black, gray, or bay colors. Being bred in the UK, the Shire is popular in the USA, Canada, and Australia too. Like any other draft horse, the Shire breed is commonly used in farming as well as horse shows.

The head is long and broad, the eyes are big. The neck is arched and strong. The shoulders are wide, the chest is broad. There’s feathering at the bottom that covers the hooves. The Shire horse is friendly, sturdy, and willing to work.

woman is performing horse jumping

Riding Horse Explained

A riding horse is an equine that is used under the saddle. Such animals usually perform in a variety of equestrian sports as well as recreation. Riding horses can be found at riding lessons or equestrian tours. Equines are trained to carry a horseman on their back and respond to the commands.

Riding horses are naturally not as tall as draft horses. The height ranges from 14 to 17 hands tall. The average weight hits the 1000-1300 lbs range. Thus, riding horses are smaller than draft horses, they are capable to withstand the human’s body though. Both Western and English horsemen can find the best riding horse according to their needs.

Riding Horse Breeds

1. American Saddlebred

Cowgirl is riding an American Saddlebred

Weight: 1,100 lbs.

Height: 16 hands.

The American Saddlebred is a well-known breed in the USA and overseas. They come in a wide range of colors and have a classic look. The horse is commonly used to perform in various equestrian activities to show off its determined gait.

The head is shaped and straight and the neck is long and arched. The shoulders are sloping, the back is short and muscular. The American Saddlebred stands out by its long high-leveled tail. It’s grasped as a spirited animal, friendly, and fast.

2. Arabian

Arabian horse is running on the field

Weight: 1,000 lbs.

Height: 15 hands.

The Arabian Horse was bred in the Arabian Peninsula; previously it was commonly used as a warhorse. Nowadays the equine is used to partake in races, shows, and sometimes in working. It’s a favorite of dozens of Western and English horsemen all over the world because of its highly versatile skills.

The head is shaped and small, the eyes are big, the neck is arched and long. The nostrils are wide and the muzzle is small. The Arabian Horse has a long croup and a high-leveled tail. The popular coat color includes bay, gray, chestnut, and black. Such animals are quite strong, fast, and easy-going.

3. Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred horse is jumping on hind legs

Weight: 1,000 lbs.

Height: 16 hands.

The Thoroughbred breed is commonly used in horse races. The equine was developed in the UK that ended up spreading the breed all over the globe. The Thoroughbred has been crossbred with other breeds in order to create new equines like the Quarter Horse.

The head is chiseled, the neck is long. The chest is wide, the back is short, and the limbs are long. The Thoroughbred breed can be in different colors including bay, black, gray, brown, and chestnut. The Thoroughbred horse is loved for its agility, fast speed, and courage.

Harness racing with a thoroughbred horse

Can You Drive a Riding Horse?

Yes, you can. As we already mentioned, riding horses are rather strong and may express a willingness to work. Hence, you may try them to carry the weight. You know your companion better than anyone else. Thus, only you know the real power of your horse and whether it’s capable of being driven.

That means don’t overdo with the workload when trying to drive a riding horse. Of course, don’t expect that the Thoroughbred will carry a horde of passengers at once but the breed is strong enough to pull a carriage. By the way, the Thoroughbred breed can be used as a harness horse with no worries.

The thing is that if you’re looking for a horse to carry heavyweights, a draft horse is obviously a better option. As such animals have a solid physical built to work for long hours. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a companion to participate in equestrian competitions like harness racing, strong riding horse breeds may hit your needs.

family is enjoying trail horse riding


In the battle of draft horse vs riding horse the winner is hard to be chosen. Both of the equines have excellent distinctive features suitable for a range of purposes. Riding horses are great to perform on horse shows while draft horses deal with heavy workload flawlessly. Additionally, you can use an equine on both fronts if you know your companion is powerful enough.

Treat your horse well to improve its well-being and prolong the lifespan. Feed your hooved pal with healthy yummies and provide food supplements like mineral and salt blocks.