Stock horses have been used on farms and ranches for generations, and they’re still indispensable to this day. That’s because they can do things no other animal or utility vehicle can do, whether we’re talking about working cattle or pulling heavy loads on fields.
Today, stock horses are valued for their high intelligence and unique “cow sense,” which allows them to predict the movement of cattle and act accordingly. In competitions, these horses are ranked based on their ability to work cattle. It’s quite a sight to behold!
Today we’re going to talk about the best stock horse breeds for your ranch or farm. These include well-known breeds such as the Mustang, Morgan, Arabian, Quarter Horse, and Quarab, but also lesser-known breeds such as the Florida Cracker Horse and Carolina Marsh Tacky.
One of the most notable free-roaming horses in the United States is the mighty Mustang. While often referred to as a wild horse, the Mustang is a feral horse since it descends from once-domesticated animals. Actually, many wild mustang herds were formed by human intervention. Ranchers just turned out excess stock and the horses banded together in order to survive.
Is the Mustang a good ranch horse? Most definitely – this breed excels in many fields, including competitive endurance, trailing, and ranch work. Back in the day, the Mustang was one of the best ranch horses you could get your hands on. They were quite expensive and incredibly valued on any property. This type of horse usually stands 14 to 15 hands tall, and it has a small and compact build. One of the best words to describe a Mustang horse would be “hardy.”
They are tough horses, and they will do what’s required of them on a ranch or farm. And since many of them spend their lives in the wild, they are able to travel over vast distances and on rough terrain without losing their footing.
The Morgan horse is one of the most adaptable and versatile horse breeds in the world. It is also one of the oldest horse breeds in the United States. If you’re looking for a horse that has the ability to cut cattle and still drive a cart around at a moment’s notice, a Morgan will do you just fine.
Since the morgan is such an old breed, it has multiple bloodlines with different attributes. For instance, morgans from the Working Western Family are particularly well-suited for ranch work. These horses came from Government stallions shipped out west to improve the quality of offspring from local mares. They were also developed via specific breeding programs in Kansas, Texas, California, and Nevada.
It’s important to know what type of Morgan you’re getting if you’re looking for a good workhorse. Those from different bloodlines will still be able to get the job done, but they might not excel at it. As a general stock horse, the morgan has proven its ability over the generations.
The Arabian is one of the world’s most famous horse breeds. It’s one of the oldest and one of the most expensive breeds as well, as it has plenty of unique characteristics. This type of horse is known for its endurance and speed, but not exactly for its pulling power. It won’t make a good draft horse, that’s for sure, but it might surprise you if you ask it to perform intelligent tasks such as cutting or herding livestock.
You see, the Arabian was developed in a desert climate and was prized by the nomadic Bedouin people back in the old days. Today, it’s regarded as a versatile breed that’s able to compete in many equestrian sports, including horse racing, dressage, endurance racing, eventing and show jumping.
However, it’s worth noting that Arabians also compete in cutting and reining, and they are also used actively on ranches by owners who are not interested in competing with them. It makes sense if you think about it: a horse with as much endurance as an Arabian is well-suited at cutting large herds of cattle or chasing down a lost sheep or goat.
If the aforementioned Arabian is too refined for your particular requirements, you’ll definitely want to have a look at the Quarab horse. A very interesting horse breed, the Quarab was formed in the United States using a mix of Arabian, Paint Horse, and Quarter Horse bloodlines.
Quarabs can resemble any of these three foundation breeds, which is why there are three types of Quarab horses available: Foundation, Stock, and Pleasure. Foundation Quarabs represent an even mix between Arabian and stock horse types, while the Stock bloodline has a heavier emphasis on stock horse breeding. As for Pleasure, it resembles Arabian horses the most.
While it performs admirably on ranches and farms as a stock horse, the Quarab can also compete in various Western riding disciplines, including reining and roping. It also performs very well in dressage.
Florida Cracker Horse.
As its name implies, the Florida Cracker Horse is a horse breed developed in the state of Florida, USA. As a gaited horse breed, the Florida Cracker Horse is incredibly elegant, and since it shares many similarities with other Spanish-style horses, it’s is quite hardy and intelligent too.
The Spanish first brought horses into Florida in the 16th century, and their primary use was for herding cattle as their settlements grew and prospered. The name comes from Florida Cowboys, which were known as crackers in the old days. The breed was incredibly popular until the 1930s when it was replaced by American Quarter Horses. As a result, its numbers dwindled over the years, and while it was saved from extinction, the Florida Cracker horse still has low numbers to this day.
Other names for it include Grass Cut, Florida Cow Pony, Florida Horse, Chickasaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Prairie Pony. Today, the horse is about as large as its Spanish ancestors, sitting 13.2 to 15 hands tall. You’ll see Florida Cracker horses in Western riding sports such as team roping, team penning, and working cows.
The American Quarter Horse – a symbol of speed, power, intelligence, and elegance. One of the best horse breeds in the world in terms of endurance and trainability. Some even go as far as to say that it represents the epitome of equine perfection. While I wouldn’t go that far, I have to give merit where merit is due: the American Quarter Horse is fantastic both on the race track and on the field.
The Quarter Horse has three specific body types: Stock, Halter, and Racing. The most relevant for today’s topic is the stock type, which is able to perform quick and agile movements in any direction thanks to its powerful hindquarters. This allows this particular type of quarter horse to excel at reining and cutting.
Quarter horses generally stand between 14 and 16 hands, while some Halter-type and English hunter-type horses may grow as tall as 17 hands.
Carolina Marsh Tacky.
The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a very special horse breed, as it performs admirably as both a stock horse and a showrunner. The Marsh Tacky was also used in military battles during the American Civil War, and it was prized for its ability to work in swampland without panicking.
A well-adapted horse, the Carolina Marsh Tacky traces its ancestry to Spanish horses brought to the island and coastal areas of South Carolina by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Well known for its stamina, this stock horse is sure-footed, smart, and sturdy, and it is able to survive in very difficult coastal environments.
They are very kind and well-mannered horses, which is why they were the preferred mounts by women and children for a while. Nowadays, some of them work the fields, and they assist humans in hunting and herding cattle. They compete in endurance riding with great results, too.
What is a ranch horse expected to do?
In order for a ranch horse to prove its usefulness, it will have to excel at certain tasks. However, not all ranches and farms are the same – not all of them have the same size or the same animals. Most commonly, ranchers take care of herds of cattle and calves. In this case, the horse will need to be adept at the following tasks:
- Roping a cow or calf.
- Rounding up cattle.
- Cutting a cow from its herd.
- Ground tie while the rancher performs another task.
- Hold a cow or calf in place.
- Dragging a calf to branding.
The horse breeds that I presented above are well-suited for ranch work because they have a general predisposition to do so. They either excel at herding cattle, or they can traverse difficult terrain with ease. They have specific characteristics that give them an edge as stock horses.
Still, I should mention that any horse, from any breed, can perform stock work with proper training and discipline, assuming its size and fitness levels are within acceptable parameters. As long as your horse is well-mannered, calm, and willing to learn, you can probably use it for stock work on a ranch or farm without too many issues.
If you want a horse that’s pretty much guaranteed to excel at the task at hand, however, you’ll definitely want to consider a breed that has worked with cattle or livestock historically.