What Is a Grade Horse?

Updated on July 8, 2019
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

A Grade Horse

A grade horse is a horse of unknown lineage—a crossbred. Saying a horse is a grade horse is the equivalent of a dog being a "mutt." I'm not using the term "mutt" in a derogatory way either! Some of the best dogs and horses that I have ever owned have been ones that were not purebred.

Sweet Tart was a nice grade pony that I owned.
Sweet Tart was a nice grade pony that I owned. | Source

Is a Grade Horse Less Desirable Than a Purebred?

If you are just looking for a safe riding partner or trail horse, a grade horse versus a purebred really doesn't matter. If the horse meets your requirements of non-negotiables but isn't purebred, it doesn't matter!

Some people just prefer certain breeds of horses, which is why they buy purebred horses. Some purebred horses are bred for specific talents, for example, a thoroughbred for racing, or a quarter horse for cutting cattle.

If you want to compete in a discipline that has a breed organization you would like to be involved in, like AQHA for example, you will not be able to participate in those unless your horse is a registered horse.

Many people who participate in disciplines that are specific to a certain breed have no problem with riding an unregistered horse. As long as the mount is sound and has the skills they need to get the job done, that is all that matters!

Romeo appears to be a paint or quarter horse but came with no papers, so he is considered a grade horse.
Romeo appears to be a paint or quarter horse but came with no papers, so he is considered a grade horse. | Source

The Advantages of a Purebred Horse

As I mentioned above, one main advantage is being able to participate in breed organizations' competitions. There are shows specific to quarter horses, off-track thoroughbred's, Arabians, etc.

If you want to participate in a discipline that a certain breed excels in, getting one of those purebreds allows you the opportunity to compete in those breed-specific shows. Whereas, if you chose a horse of unknown lineage, you won't be able to do those show circuits. There are tons of shows and disciplines open for any breed. So, if you find your dream horse and he doesn't have registration papers, you should not let that deter you if he really fits your needs.

Another advantage of a purebred horse is that if you get a mare, she can have value as a broodmare. This benefits the owner of a purebred horse that gets injured and is no longer sound to ride. If she is a quality registered horse, she still has some value as a broodmare. Whereas a grade horse generally would not be used for breeding purposes.

Another fun advantage of having a purebred horse with registration papers is being able to research their lineage. It is fun to see pictures of your horse's parents and read about their competitive accomplishments! That is one thing that you definitely will not be able to do with a grade horse since you most likely will not know who their parents are. It is a fun thing, but not enough of a factor that should sway your decision when buying a horse.

Chaps and Buddy are both registered paint horses.
Chaps and Buddy are both registered paint horses. | Source

How Old Is He?

The main disadvantage that many see with a grade horse is that without registration papers, it is hard to verify a horse's exact age. Obviously, you can get a generalized idea of an age range by looking at their teeth, but you may not be able to tell exactly, especially with horses that are older.

Many times with grade horses that are older and have had many owners, you may not get an accurate age on them (simply because of the fact that things get mixed up and time flies by). Not that someone would intentionally mislead you about a horses age. Sometimes, with no paper documentation, it is just easy to get mixed up over time.

Cool is a jockey club registered thoroughbred.
Cool is a jockey club registered thoroughbred. | Source


To say that purebred horses always cost more than grade horses would not necessarily be accurate. The cost of a quality grade horse that has a strong competitive record can be more costly than a registered horse in some situations. Generally speaking, a well-trained purebred horse will cost more than a grade horse with an equal amount of training. Not always though!

There are so many factors that go into pricing a horse for sale. Things like how fast they need to sell the horse or if it has any physical limitations. The expensive horse is not always going to mean purebred. Just as cheap isn't necessarily going to mean the horse is grade horse.

Zelda was a registered Oldenburg. She was less expensive than a lot of my other horses because she was not broke to ride when I got her.
Zelda was a registered Oldenburg. She was less expensive than a lot of my other horses because she was not broke to ride when I got her. | Source

Some of My Best Horses Have Been Grade Horses

Some of my best horses have been grade horses. When I search for horses for my lesson program and for pony rides, safety is my priority, not breed. If it meets all my non-negotiables, and I feel it will be a good fit in my program, lack of registration papers will not deter me from buying it.

If you are a new rider or first-time horse owner, having a safe and positive experience is first and foremost. If that horse happens to be a grade horse, so be it.

If you have your heart set on a purebred of a certain breed, there is nothing wrong with that at all. It is just personal preference, really. Not to mention if you only want a certain breed that is going to reduce the number of choices when horse shopping, it may take longer to find the perfect horse at the perfect price. If it is what you really want though, it will be well worth it!

These are some of my lessons horse most of which are grade horses!
These are some of my lessons horse most of which are grade horses! | Source

© 2018 Ellison Hartley


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