We all know that horses are incredibly fast animals, but not all horses run at the same speeds, and not all of them can maintain high speeds for long periods. All horses love to run, however, it’s in their nature. They’re large, well-built, and incredibly energetic animals, but there are certain factors (both internal and external) that can influence their top speeds and their overall stamina levels.
If you’re just looking for a quick answer, I’ll tell you that the top speed that a horse can achieve is 55 mph or 88 km/h. The average top speed of an American Quarter horse is around 50 mph at gallop, and Thoroughbreds can gallop at speeds between 40 to 45 mph.
Moving onward on this topic, I wanted to cover a few more related subjects to find out why can horses run so fast and how did they manage to become some of the fastest animals in the world. Moreover, I want to talk a bit about the fastest horse breeds out there, and how fast can an average horse run.
A few words about a horse’s gait and its different speeds.
Depending on its speed, a horse’s walk is divided into four main gaits.
The first and slowest gait is a regular walk, and the second speed level is called a trot. A trot is a two-beat gait, and it happens when the horse’s front and back legs move in sync. Comparing it to a human, a horse’s trot is very similar to a human’s jog.
When the horse wants to move faster than a trot, it starts doing a canter. This is a three-beat gait that ensures more speed than a trot but less speed than a full gallop.
As you probably already know, a gallop is the fastest of the four gaits. Racehorses gallop on at full speeds during racing events. The previous gaits represent various levels of walking or jogging. Only the gallop can truly be referred to as “running.”
As for average speeds, a horse usually walks at speeds between 3 and 4 mph, and it trots between 8 and 10 mph. The canter can reach speeds of 10 to 17 mph. The gallop, I already mentioned, can reach 55 mph in rare cases, but it’s usually between the 40 to 45 mph range.
What are the main factors that influence a horse’s speed?
The speed of a horse is influenced by many factors, and it varies greatly as a result from individual to individual. Even horses that have the same age, the same breed, and have lived in the same conditions will offer different performance figures.
However, certain factors do influence the speed of horses on a general scale. These include:
- Age of the horse.
- Overall fitness training throughout its lifetime.
- Fitness level and conditioning.
- Overall health.
- The weight of the rider.
- The length of the legs and the dominant type of muscle fibers.
Obviously, older horses or those that have received little to no fitness training will perform worse than younger steeds. The most important factor is breed, though, and it’s a well-known fact that Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are the fastest and the most suited to participate in races and other sporting events.
When it comes to the weight of the rider, this is carefully regulated in the racing world. Horse owners need to make sure that the steed itself doesn’t exceed a certain weight while racing associations look at the weight of the rider and make sure that he or she isn’t too heavy or too light.
Why can horses run so fast?
In my previous article concerning horse sleep and their main sleeping habits I talked about the horse as a prey animal, and how this influenced its sleeping habits during its evolution. The fact that horses are prey animals also influenced their ability to run fast.
Outrunning a predator is a very good defense, and horses made good use of their speed over the years to stay alive and thrive. Then came human intervention, and some horses were bred specifically with speed in mind.
Instead of relying on natural selection, horse breeders choose what type of horses to breed to ensure the best results when it comes to speed and stamina.
It’s also important to note that a horse’s personality also plays a key role in its performance. Not all horses love to gallop every day, and some of them surely resist and fight back if pushed too hard. A good racehorse needs to be physically capable of achieving high speeds and maintaining them, but it also needs to be in the right frame of mind.
An ideal racehorse is powerful, but also willing to use its strength. Does that make any sense? I hope it does.
Can horses become even faster?
Some horses are naturally better at achieving high speeds in short bursts, while others can maintain them for longer. When it comes to sprinting, it would appear that horses are getting faster, with sprint times increasing by as much as 11% over the last 30 years.
Still, in the case of long-distance running, recorded speeds have plateaued. Currently, the famous Secretariat is still the record-holder for long speed racing, as he managed to achieve an average speed of 37.7 mph in several Triple Crown races.
To sum it up, horses seem to be getting faster, but only when it comes to sprinting.
What are the fastest horse breeds?
There are many fast horses, but the absolute fastest recognized breeds ar the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred. While both of these breeds are smart, they each excel at different things.
For instance, Thoroughbreds have incredible stamina and thus perform much better over long distances. However, they can’t reach speeds higher than around 45 mph during sprints. Secretariat was a Thoroughbred, and he won the Kentucky Derby by achieving an average speed of 38 MPH.
A Quarter Horse can reach around 50 mph in a sprint, but it doesn’t have the same ability to maintain high speeds over long distances.
The speed of a horse when compared to other animals.
I mentioned before that horses are some of the fastest animals in nature, and I wanted to back my claim a bit. While the top speed that I mentioned before (50-55 mph) is not achievable by regular horses, even these can reach 30 mph with relative ease if they’re in good physical condition.
Therefore, I wanted to compare the average speed of a horse with the average speeds of other animals. The results of my research are interesting, to say the least.
Let’s set the average galloping speed of a horse at 30 mph. It’s worth noting that donkeys can reach similar speeds, which I found incredible. A Cheetah, which is one of the world’s fastest animals can reach 58 mph in short bursts, while a leopard can reach 36 mph. A lion can run as fast as 50 mph, while a giraffe can reach 37 mph in a short sprint.
Therefore, horses that are bred for speed would be quite difficult to catch in the wild, especially if they’re not taken by surprise.
Horses are incredibly fast animals, but few of them will ever receive the required training to achieve record-breaking speeds. On average, a horse is about as fas as you’d expect it to be, somewhere between 20 to 25 mph at gallop.
If you would like to find out how fast your own horse is, just take it out for a gallop on a simple course and measure its lap times. Measuring sprinting times is even easier, as all you need is a start point and a finish line a quarter-mile apart.
Let me know your results if you do decide to engage in this little experiment.