Horses are kind of a big thing in Red Dead Redemption 2. Your primary method of transport, your horse is more than just a mount, or an organic vehicle.
It is your ally, your friend, your home away from home, your traveling inventory, your armory, your loyal steed. Many game mechanics - some more complicated than others - relate to horses. If you're interested in what the best horse breeds are, how to bond with them or how stables work, look no further.
Firstly, some general observations. If you have experienced what seems like the permanent loss of your Ardennes War Horse or Thoroughbred, refer to this article. If you want to unlock your special edition or pre-order horse, check out this guide. Keep in mind that if a horse dies, you can replace it for free from the stable it was initially stored in and only from that stable, however you'll need to start the bonding process from scratch. Note that the control tweaks suggested in this guide do not apply to horse controls, only to on-foot controls.
Horse stats are important since you'll spend a lot of time in the saddle. To check the stats of your current horse, lock into it and R1 or RB depending on your system. You'll see key information such as breed, cores - read our cores guide to learn how these work -, how bonded you are, speed, acceleration, coat and handling. Handling isn't exactly the best descriptor of what this stat denotes. It doesn't mean how easily the horse handles, since that is tied to bonding. Instead, this shows the horse's "class", whether it is a racing horse, a standard horse, a heavy horse or an elite horse.
Since fast travel is highly restricted in the game even after you unlock it, getting a good horse and bonding with it is key for your enjoyment of Red Dead Redemption 2. This guide contains all the info you need to know.
The Best Breed
Before we move onto the best breed of horse in the game and how to acquire it, keep in mind that if you take the time to bond with your starter horse, it will be more than suitable for a good portion of the game. Base horse stats are barely different in the first half or so of the game, meaning you should spend the money and time to upgrade your character in different ways and progress with missions instead of rushing to nab a better nag.
However, the best horse overall, if you're really nitpicky, is the White Arabian which you can tame in the wild, or either of the two other paid Arabian horse breeds. The two paid Arabian mares are available only at specific stables. One can be found in the Saint Denis stable after Chapter 4, and the other in one of the Epilogue stables.
The White Arabian horse, which stat-wise is slightly worse off than its purchased brethren, can be found way north. If you visit the western bank of Lake Isabella, you'll have the chance to tame the horse if it spawns, but be warned - this is one of the hardest tames in the game.
How To Bond With Your Horse
Bonding is essential to get the best performance out of your horse. Basically, this is a way to upgrade it. Through bonding, not only does a horse become more loyal, meaning it is less likely to throw you off should you get into a fight while in the saddle, but increases their health and stamina bars too.
There are four horse bond levels to earn by bonding with your steed. These also progressively unlock new abilities like rearing. The higher the bond, the greater the range of your 'call horse' ability will be. The bonding itself isn't too hard to do. You gain points towards your bond by brushing, hitching, patting, calming and feeding your horse, as well as simply riding it for long periods of time. If you keep the same horse for long, the bonding will happen organically.
Stables are, logically, your horse management centers in the game. However, if you are expecting a GTA style garage, get ready to have those expectations dashed. Rockstar has, in their mission to create as realistic a game as possible, created a game mechanic so convoluted that some players are mistaking features for bugs. Once you get the hang of it, it all seems easy, but is it unintuitive. None of this being explained in-game doesn't help.
Stables are unlocked after Chapter 2. Any wild horses you tame before then can't be stored in a stable, and thus will be lost. You can own/store up to 4 horse breeds per stable, and stables aren't linked to one another, nor are they universal. The horses you store at a stable in, say, Valentine, will not be accessible from the stable in Strawberry.
Update: The above statement only applies to Pre-order and DLC horses as explained in this post. Note that Rockstar might fix this bug in the near future. Stable contents and owned horses are universal and all stables are linked in the game.
Stables allow you to buy, sell and equip your horses. Tack, the specialized name for horse equipment, is also key when it comes to horse performance. Grooming services allow for horse customization, you can purchase fortification packages and rename the steed.
You can also purchase a series of consumable horse-related provisions and tonics, many of which provide temporary stat boosts or help refill horse cores. You can also buy Horse Revival tonics which we strongly suggest to avoid the general mishaps of losing a steed.
As opposed to buying horses, you can also get new mounts by taming wild horses, or stealing someone else's. The latter is a criminal offense, and also less rewarding since wild horses sometimes have fantastic stats. To learn how to tame a wild horse, refer to our specific guide on the subject.