Quarter Horse vs Thoroughbred: Similarities and Differences

Last Updated on August 4, 2020 by Allison Price

A lot of horses come from the same ancestors. Or they have been crossed together over the years to produce the breeds we know today.

Did you know?

Quarter Horses

Quarter Horse’s name came from its ability to outdistance other horse breeds. It is one of the most popular breeds in the US today. And there are over 3 million Quarter Horses registered. This breed came about through breeding between Thoroughbred… and native horses in the US. And in turn came from horses descended from Spanish stock.

Quarter Horses are being crossed with the Western horses as well as Mustangs. Because of that, they had an innate “cattle sense.” And it makes them perfect for workers on ranches in the modern world.


The Thoroughbred is one of the most well-known horse breeds. Since it is the main breed used for horse racing. This breed is being influenced by oriental stallions such as the Arabian, Barb, and the Turk.

All the Thoroughbreds today trace their roots back to three stallions. They are imports to England from the Middle East.

There are many similarities between Arabian Horses and Thoroughbreds.

Have a read through this article to know which one would suit you best.

The Size

Quarter horses usually stand between 14 and 15 hands. Although some types can reach as tall as 17 hands. These are the types that are being crossed with English hunter type of horses.

The average height of Thoroughbred was about 13.3 hands during 1700s. This breed has increased in height since then. Now, Thoroughbreds vary from 15.1 to 17 hands.


Quarter Horses are usually a brownish red or sorrel color. There are many other recognized colors. And there are recently spots excluded. But this has been updated with DNA testing. As long as both parents are registered, then all colors will be in consideration.

Thoroughbreds have the common color of bay, brown or dark brown. But chestnut, black and gray colors also exist in this breed.


Quarter Horses are compact having a short body and head. Their defining feature is the quarters. This should be heavily muscled, powerful and strong. But the neck is fine and flexible. They have neat wide head and wide gullet which allows wider passage for air to the lungs.

The conformation of the Thoroughbred is generally characterized by fine to medium bone. And a deep chest with well-angled shoulders. Also, a lean body with long flat muscles. The haunches should be lean but powerful for awesome bursts of speed.


Quarter Horse gait is of pretty standard. They have all the paces of other breeds. Nothing stands out about it. Except for the “lope” which is also known as a canter and is sought after for Western riding. They also have a gait between a walk and a trot which is very comfortable on long rides.

The short leg bones of Thoroughbreds give them a long and easy stride. Their paces are smooth and flowing. And they have such immense stores of natural athleticism that it doesn’t take much to speed up.


Quarter Horses have excellent and sensible temperaments. And are not generally reactive to outside stimuli. This makes them calm, safe and excellent mounts. Along with the fact that they are easy to train. They are steady, dependable and clever. These are the best combination you can have.

Thoroughbreds are also one of the hot-spirited horses. But this is tempered by a long relationship with humans. So, they are generally friendly and people-oriented. They are energetic and intelligent but can be strung. And they do not always make the best mounts for beginners.


When it comes to racing, Quarter Horses are fantastic! To the point that they have been clocked at 55mph. This is what they were bred for. But they are also suitable for hunting and jumping. And of course, for pleasure riding. Quarter Horses are super agile. It adds to their calm nature and makes them ideal ponies for young riders.

The primary use of Thoroughbred horses is for racing. But it also excels at other athletic sports such as showjumping, dressage and events. Horses used in Olympics or Grand Prix are Thoroughbreds or crosses.

Differences between Quarter Horse and Thoroughbreds

The biggest difference between these two breeds is in the distances that they run. In the world of horse racing, Quarter Horses are known as the true sprinters of the sport. Thoroughbreds are seen as more of a middle distance and speed type runner.

During a race, Quarter Horses run about 55 miles per hour on average. And Thoroughbreds run only over 40 miles an hour.

Quarter Horses are being measured in yards. And they usually run races between 220 yards to 770 yards. But, as their name indicates, the classic distance for Quarter Horse races is 440 yards. This is equal to a quarter of a mile. Due to this sprint race, Quarter Horse races last from 20 seconds to 45 seconds. This is much quicker than Thoroughbred races.

Thoroughbred races are typically anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes long. Thoroughbreds run between under half a mile to a mile and a half.

Another difference between them is in regards to when their race clock starts. For Quarter Horse racing, the clock begins when the starter pushes the button and the gate opens.

In comparison, Thoroughbreds are given a running start before their clock begins. The run-up distance varies depending on the track and the length of the race. Once the horse race passes the sensor located at the run-up distance, the clock begins. If needed, the clock can be started manually. Then, the race proceeds.


If you are new to the horse world, all horses would look similar. This is the case of the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred. They look pretty similar. But if you take a closer look, you will start to notice the differences. Thoroughbred horses are taller and leaner than Quarter Horses. They are both excellent racers. But Quarter Horses tend to do better in shorter quarter-mile races. Thoroughbred horses are excellent in winning longer races of a mile or more.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!