Draft Horse vs Riding Horse: Comparing Strengths and Suitabilities

If you’re in the market for a horse, it’s important to understand the differences between a draft horse vs riding horse. While both breeds have their unique strengths and abilities, they are fundamentally different in terms of their build, temperament, and suitability for certain tasks. In this blog post, we’ll explore the key differences between draft horses and riding horses to help you determine which breed is best suited to your needs.

Physical Differences

Draft horses pulling a horse carriage

Size and Build

Draft horses and riding horses differ significantly in size and build. Draft horses are generally taller and heavier than riding horses, with an average height of 17 to 19 hands, while some can be as tall as 20 to 22 hands (Source of Horse). In comparison, riding horses typically stand between 14 to 17 hands tall and have an average weight of 1000-1300 lbs (Horsezz).


Regarding musculature, draft horses have a distinct advantage over riding horses. They possess a thicker, more robust musculature to support their larger size and increased strength. This enhanced muscular development enables them to perform heavy labor, such as pulling plows, wagons, or carts.

Movement and Gait

Riding horses generally move more gracefully than draft horses due to their lighter frame and build. Draft horses, with their larger bodies and heavier muscles, have a slower, more purposeful gait. This difference in movement can affect the riding experience, as riding horses tend to offer smoother and more agile rides, whereas draft horses provide a more steady and powerful, but less agile performance.

It is essential to note that the differences in size, musculature, and movement between draft and riding horses can impact their suitability for specific tasks or equestrian disciplines. For example, riding horses are ideal for sports like show jumping, dressage, and eventing due to their elegance, agility, and lighter build. In contrast, draft horses excel in activities that require strength and stamina, such as logging, farming, and pulling competitions.

Breed Examples

Draft Horse Looking Backwards

Draft Horse Breeds

Draft horses are known for their strength, size, and ability to perform heavy work. They typically stand between 17 to 19 hands tall, with some even reaching up to 22 hands tall. Some popular draft horse breeds include:

Riding Horse Breeds

While not as tall as draft horses, riding horses range in height from 14 to 17 hands tall and can weigh between 1000-1300 lbs. They are well-suited to carry human riders and are used in various riding disciplines such as Western and English riding. Some popular riding horse breeds include:

Uses and Roles

Historical Uses

Draft horses have historically played a significant role in agriculture, being used to pull farm implements, plows, and wagons, as well as helping to turn the grindstone for the miller(Source of Horse). They went by a variety of names, including draft horse, dray horse, draft pony, and pit pony. In addition to agricultural work, draft horses were utilized in military operations, serving as reliable transportation for soldiers, supplies, and artillery. Their strength and endurance made them indispensable on the battlefield(Horse Racing Sense).

Modern Uses

Today, draft horses still play a crucial role in various industries. Despite advancements in technology and the rise of mechanized equipment, these gentle giants continue to find work in agriculture, forestry, and pulling carriages for events such as weddings and parades(Horse Racing Sense). Their calm and gentle temperament makes them a popular choice for therapy and equine-assisted learning programs(Horse Factbook).

Owning a heavy horse can also be an advantage in certain riding pursuits, such as competitive driving or dressage. Though they may not be as fast or agile as lighter riding breeds, draft horses can still be trained to perform at a high level in these disciplines, making them versatile equine partners(Horsezz).

Temperament and Trainability

Draft Horse Running in Snow

Draft horses and riding horses differ quite significantly in temperament and trainability. Generally speaking, draft horses are known for their friendly and good-natured personalities. They are often calm and gentle, enjoying the company of humans (source). This makes them suitable for various tasks on the farm and for those who appreciate a kind, gentle disposition in their horses.

Riding horses, on the other hand, are bred and trained for carrying riders, and thus their temperament can vary depending on the specific breed and training. Nevertheless, many riding horses are also calm and dependable, making them great for beginner riders (source). The key factor in their temperament is their response to commands as these horses are expected to obey the rider’s cues promptly and accurately.

When it comes to trainability, draft horses are known for their intelligence and willingness to learn. They have been used as working animals for centuries, which has led to their development as a trainable and hardworking horse. This trait benefits those who wish to use draft horses for various purposes, such as for farming or recreational riding.

Riding horses, by design, are also trainable as their primary purpose is to carry a rider and respond to their commands. The training of riding horses often begins at an early age, and they must understand and obey a range of commands from the rider, such as changes in gait, halting, and turning. Their ability to learn can vary between individuals and breeds, but overall, riding horses are expected to be trainable and responsive to their riders.

In conclusion, both draft horses and riding horses possess qualities that make them desirable options for different purposes. While draft horses are known for their friendly, calm demeanor, riding horses are adaptable to various commands and provide a more varied experience for the rider. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on the specific needs and preferences of the individual.

Care and Maintenance

Young girl riding a horse


Draft horses and riding horses have different nutritional requirements due to their size and workload. Draft horses typically consume more hay, grain, and forage to meet their energy demands. It’s important to provide them with a well-balanced diet, taking into consideration the horse’s size, age, and workload. Riding horses may require less feed overall, but it’s just as crucial to ensure that they receive the appropriate nutrients for their specific needs.


Regular grooming is essential for both draft and riding horses to maintain a clean and healthy coat. Draft horses usually have thicker coats, developed to withstand colder climates (Horse Factbook). As a result, they may require more frequent and thorough brushing to remove dirt, sweat, and loose hair. Riding horses, on the other hand, typically have thinner coats which still demand regular grooming, but the process may be less time-consuming.

Health Issues

Both types of horses require routine veterinary care, including vaccinations and dental check-ups. It is recommended to hire a farrier every six to eight weeks for hoof maintenance (The Humane Society of the United States). Draft horses, due to their substantial size and weight, may be more prone to certain health issues such as joint problems and laminitis. On the other hand, riding horses can also face health issues specific to their breed or the type of work they perform. Regular health check-ups and timely veterinary intervention can help mitigate these issues and maintain the horse’s overall well-being.


When comparing draft horses and riding horses, it is important to remember that each type serves unique purposes and holds distinct advantages. Draft horses excel in physically demanding tasks and heavy workloads, while riding horses are better suited for agility, speed, and equine activities such as horse shows and trail riding.

While draft horses tend to be taller and more massive than riding horses, they can also be suitable for riding and are often praised for their comfort. Light draft breeds, such as the Irish Draft and Dole, are versatile, serving not only as riding horses but also contributing to the improvement of other horse breeds.

Ultimately, the choice between a draft horse and a riding horse depends on the specific needs and preferences of the rider or handler. By understanding their individual strengths and areas of suitability, a well-informed decision can be made.