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What Is a Grade Horse?
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What Is a Grade Horse?

If you have ever read horse advertisements online, or been to a horse auction, you may have heard the term "grade" horse used. What does it mean? Are grade horses better or worse than purebred horses? Today, I will answer those questions for you.

What Is a Grade Horse?

A grade horse is a horse of unknown lineage, also known as a crossbred. Saying a horse is a grade horse is an equivalent of a dog being a "mutt". I don't use the term "mutt" in a derogatory way either — some of the best dogs and horses that I have ever owned are not purebred.

Is a Grade Horse Less Desirable Than a Purebred One?

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 of course bred for specific talents. For example, people breed thoroughbreds for racing and quarter horses 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 riding an unregistered horse, as long as the mount is sound and has the skills they need to get the job done. At the end of the day, that is all that matters!

Advantages of a Purebred Horse

As I mentioned above, one main advantage is being able to participate in breed organization's 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. On the other hand, 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 horses 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.

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, it is a guessing game with grade horses that are older and have had many owners. It's hard to have accurate information passes along over the years. I'm not saying someone would intentionally mislead you about a horse's age, but without paper documentation, it's just easy to get mixed up over time.


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 almost always cost more than a grade horse with an equal amount of training. 

There are so many factors that go into pricing a horse for sale including 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 the cheap horse isn't necessarily going to mean the grade horse.

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, but if it is what you really want, it will be well worth it!

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