The thoroughbred horse is synonymous with equine athleticism. Although bred primarily for racing, thoroughbreds excel in many equine endeavors, especially eventing, foxhunting and show jumping. Many former racehorses go on to second careers in these disciplines, but they also make good pleasure horses for experienced riders.
Some people mistakenly use the term thoroughbred as synonymous with purebred, as in, "That's a thoroughbred dog." While incorrect, it's easy to understand the error. The thoroughbred stud book dates back to the late 18th century, so the pedigrees of today's thoroughbred's trace back more than 200 years. According to Equinest.com, 84 percent of thoroughbred genes come from 31 original ancestors, with three main sires consisting of the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.
Thoroughbreds range from 15.2 hands in height to 17. Secretariat, arguably the most famous thoroughbred of modern times, stood 16.2 hands and was massively built. Most thoroughbreds have a somewhat smaller bone structure than "Big Red," but it varies according to particular bloodlines. While the average thoroughbred weighs about 1,000 pounds, other healthy specimens might weigh 100 pounds less or 200 pounds more.
The Jockey Club, the official registry of the thoroughbred, allows black, bay, dark bay or brown, chestnut, gray or roan coloring in the breed. The latter is a mixture of white hairs on a red or black base coat. In recent years, the Jockey Club has accepted palomino and white as acceptable colors in the registry. Thoroughbreds can have white facial markings, as well as white leg markings below the knee.
The ideal thoroughbred is a beautiful animal. He boasts a refined head, long neck, well-defined withers, deep shoulder, strong chest, short back and powerful hindquarters. The overall impression connotes elegance with muscularity, with the classic "look of eagles" in the eye. Of course, not all thoroughbreds live up to this standard, but even the lesser members of the breed should not have a "common" appearance.
Thoroughbreds are smart horses with a strong work ethic. As a hot-blooded equine, like their Arab ancestors, they are more sensitive and spirited than cold-blooded or warmblood breeds. These qualities often make them unsuitable for novice horse owners, but those with equine experience appreciate that these high-strung animals make extraordinary partners with correct and careful training.
- Horse Channel: Thoroughbred Horse Stats
- PBS American Experience: Breeding Thoroughbreds
- Oklahoma State University: Thoroughbred
- The Equinest: Thoroughbred Horse
- The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program: Sport Horse
- Secretariat: Secretariat History
- The Jockey Club Registry: Coat Colors of Thoroughbreds
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.