Horses don’t just have to be an expensive and occasionally temperamental way to get around or hit the trail on the weekend.
Since time immemorial, mankind has relied on beasts of burden to move people and cargo, and we still do so even today where vehicles don’t measure up.
Pack horses have been used for centuries to carry heavy loads over long distances and treacherous terrain with sure-footed certainty.
Some are better suited for carrying loads than others, and though there are many different breeds of pack horse, each has its own unique characteristics.
In this article, we will take a look at 11 of the best-pack horse breeds. We’ll discuss their vital characteristics and temperament and also highlight the attributes that make them good for carrying loads. Let’s get started!
How to Choose the Right Pack Horse for You
Before we get into the list of best-pack horse breeds, let’s first go over what you should consider before making your decision. Here are a few key factors:
Size and weight of the horse. The size and weight of the horse will determine how much it can carry.
A lighter horse may be able to carry more if it is strong enough, and a heavier horse can struggle to carry a load and its own weight.
A larger horse usually has more raw strength, but that strength might not be useful for carrying a load on its back, especially over long distances.
The terrain you’ll be traveling on. Some horses are better suited for certain types of terrain than others.
If you’ll be going over rough ground, you’ll want a sure-footed breed that isn’t afraid of obstacles. Easy, even terrain means other attributes could be more important.
Your budget. Be realistic about what you can afford as some breeds are more expensive than others, both acquisition, and upkeep.
Your level of experience. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want a horse that is easy to handle and isn’t too high-strung.
Rideability. Is the horse only going to be moving cargo? If so, then rideability may not be as important a factor.
But if you’re going to be riding the horse as well, then you’ll want one that is comfortable, and easy to control.
Now that we’ve gone over what to consider, let’s take a look at the best-pack horse breeds.
The 11 Best Pack Horse Breeds
1. Australian Stock Horse
The Australian Stock Horse is a versatile and hardy breed that is known for its athleticism and intelligence.
They are typically bay, chestnut, or grey in color, and stand between 14 and 16 hands high.
Stock horses are prized for their endurance, sure-footedness, and kind nature, and they are often used for work in the Outback or for trail riding.
They are also popular animals for competing in stock horse events such as campdrafting and challenge competitions.
But perhaps their most important attribute is their willingness to carry a rider or packload safely across rugged terrain.
This makes them an invaluable asset to both recreational riders and those who rely on them for work or transportation in remote areas.
So whether you’re looking for a versatile mount for competition or a dependable companion for exploring the great outdoors, the Australian Stock Horse is an excellent choice.
A versatile breed that is known for its intelligence, athleticism, and good temperament.
The Morgan breed was developed in the 1700s in New England, and today they are used for a variety of activities including dressage, jumping, racing, and western pleasure.
Morgans are compact horses with muscular bodies and short, sloped shoulders. They typically stand between 14 and 16 hands high and come in a variety of colors including bay, black, chestnut, grey, and palomino.
One of the most distinctive features of the Morgan breed is their high-set tails that are carried proudly when the horse is in motion.
Morgans are considered to be intelligent and trainable horses with a kind disposition. They are also known for their stamina and endurance, which makes them well suited for carrying loads or competing in long-distance events.
One of the least “dignified” but most capable pack animals, donkeys are adapted to carry heavy loads over long distances.
Though not true horses, they have broad, flat backs, and their legs are relatively short and stout. As a result, they can carry up to 25% of their body weight without difficulty.
Donkeys are also known for their sure-footedness and stamina, which makes them ideal for traveling over rough terrain.
In addition, donkeys are generally calm and patient animals, which makes them easy to handle.
They are also relatively inexpensive to keep, which makes them a popular choice for people in many parts of the world.
However, donkeys do have some drawbacks. They are often stubborn and resistant to change, which can make them difficult to train.
In addition, they tend to be very vocal animals, and their braying can be quite loud and annoying.
Nevertheless, the donkey’s many strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and it remains an invaluable pack horse in many parts of the globe.
Mules are often misunderstood and frequently misrepresented. To set the record straight, though mules can be stubborn they are not stupid.
In fact, they are known for their intelligence, brute strength, and stamina in equal measure. But as pack animals, they are second to none.
Mules are hybrids, the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. They typically stand between 14 and 16 hands high and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
They come in a variety of colors, but most have a dark brown or black coat with a light-colored mane and tail. Mules are hardy and can live for 20 years or more with proper care.
They are also relatively easy to train and make excellent, personable companions even when working hard on the homestead or on the trail.
5. American Quarter Horse
The American Quarter Horse is a versatile breed that is well-suited for a variety of tasks.
They are known for their gentle temperament and muscular build and are often used for rodeos and barrel racing.
Though a popular sporting horse, their compact size and powerful hindquarters make them ideal for carrying loads, and they are also among the faster horse breeds out there.
Quarter Horses come in a wide range of colors, but are most commonly either chestnut or bay.
They typically stand 14 to 16 hands high and weigh between 950 and 1,200 pounds. With their versatile nature suited to work and play, horse owners adore them.
It’s no wonder that the American Quarter Horse is one of the more popular pack breeds in the world.
6. Rocky Mountain Horse
Sometimes everything you need to know is in the name. The Rocky Mountain Horse is a sturdy breed known for its sure-footedness and willingness to please.
They are gentle giants, standing on average 16 hands high, and weighing in at around 1200 pounds.
But don’t let their size intimidate you, as these hard workers are known for their gentle dispositions, and even temperaments. They are intelligent and curious horses, and bond easily with their humans.
Rocky Mountain Horses have a thick mane and tail, and a thicker coat that keeps them warm in the winter months.
They come in many different colors, but the most recognizable is the silver “dapple” color.
The Rocky Mountain Horse is as steady as it is agile, able to carry heavy loads and navigate rocky terrain with ease.
They are strong horses, with a natural instinct to follow the leader. This makes them ideal partners for those looking for a dependable mount.
Whether you’re looking for a heavy lifter or a trail partner, the Rocky Mountain horse is sure to please.
The Appaloosa is a robust and sturdy horse breed, known for its unique spotting patterns and calm, even temperaments.
While they come in a variety of colors, the most striking Appaloosas are those with leopard-like spots on their coats.
These horses are athletic and intelligent, making them popular choices for a variety of disciplines such as ranch work, racing, and eventing.
They are also relatively easy to care for and are known for being good-natured and gentle with children.
In addition to their many positive social attributes, Appaloosas are also very strong horses with a typically deep reservoir of endurance, capable of carrying heavy loads over long distances at a good clip.
This makes them an excellent choice for those looking for a reliable working partner. With their calm dispositions and impressive strength, it is no wonder that the Appaloosa is such a popular breed.
8. Highland Pony
The Highland Pony is a Scottish breed of pony that is known for its hardiness and strength.
They are typically small ponies, with a muscular build and thick coat that helps them to withstand cold weather.
Highland Ponies are also known for their gentle temperament, making them a good choice for children or beginners.
However, their strong bodies and sure-footedness also make them ideal for carrying loads over truly rough terrain.
In fact, Highland Ponies were once used as working animals on Scottish farms and in the hill country, and they are still popular today for trekking and driving.
So whether you’re looking for a trusty farm hand or a capable deep country companion, the Highland Pony is an excellent choice.
The Belgian horse is a massive breed known for its tremendous strength and endurance. Standing upwards of 16 hands high and topping out around 2,000 lbs, Belgian horses are born workers.
They are powerful draft horses, used for pulling heavy loads, and perhaps surprisingly are also popular for riding and driving.
These big boys and girls are mostly chestnut or bay in color, with muscular bodies and thick manes and tails.
They are hardworking and reliable, with the strength and stamina to tackle any task.
And because of their kind nature, they are also easy to train and enjoyable to work with. For the most demanding jobs, the Belgian horse is sure to please.
A mustang is a feral horse that first descended from horses brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors. These horses then escaped and began to form their own herds.
Over time, the mustang evolved into a hardy “breed” that was able to thrive in the harsh conditions of the American West.
Today, mustangs are smaller than their domestic cousins, and have a reputation for being tough and independent.
Tough and hardy, they have been used for centuries by Native Americans as pack animals and are popular today for the same purpose.
Mustangs are well-suited for the work because they are sure-footed and have a lot of endurance. Consequently, they’re an excellent choice for packing supplies on long trips into the wilderness.
Mustangs are truly one of America’s most iconic animals, and their story is one of strength and resilience.
The Percheron is a French draft horse that is known for its intelligence and athleticism. They are strong and sturdy, with muscular bodies and thick manes and tails.
Most Percherons are black or gray, although they can also be bay or chestnut. Percherons are another giant breed, standing between 16 and 18 hands high, and tipping the scales up to 2,600 and they have a reputation for being intelligent and easy to train.
Despite a proud and stoic appearance, they are popular for riding, driving, and even as therapy horses. But their true strength lies in their ability to pull massively heavy loads.
These horses were once used in war to carry armored knights, and today they continue to be popular for farm work and other forms of labor.
With their impressive strength and even dispositions, Percherons make excellent pack animals.
Horses Still Make Fine Pack Animals
Though cars and other modes of transportation have replaced horses for the most part, they are still occasionally used as pack animals.
Strong and sure-footed, they are ideal for carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. In this article, we’ve highlighted some of the best horse breeds for packing purposes.
So if you’re in need of a sturdy steed to help carry your supplies, consider one of these fine breeds.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.