The Quest to Discover the Horse

Alyssa Mathews is documenting the amazing world of horses with a quest to ride every breed


Follow the journey of Alyssa Mathews, founder of Discover the Horse project, which follows the quest of one woman’s journey to ride every breed of horse.

Alyssa Mathews and Nash - Discover the Horse
Alyssa Mathews’ beloved Canadian gelding, Ridge Farm Kamanchi Nash, is one of the horses that inspired her quest by showing her how truly special each breed can be. She lost Nash in 2014, and the Canadian horse is still on her list to officially film for the project. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews/

Standing on a remote beach in Ireland, I breathed in the salty air and listened to the sound of the North Atlantic lapping its shores. I felt a wave of nerves as I stepped up to take the reins of the large gray stallion in front of me. My foot reached for the stirrup and I swung my leg up and around to settle in the saddle. Closing my hands softly on the reins, we connected with each other. In that moment, all nerves disappeared. I was home.

Irish Cob at Coopers Hill Equine in Ireland
Irish Cob at Coopers Hill Equine in Ireland. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews/

The Beginning

I grew up in a tiny town in northwestern Wisconsin. No one in my family was interested in horses, yet at 3 years old I was completely obsessed. Thankfully, my amazing parents were supportive even though they had no idea what they were getting into. Horse owners in our community recognized my passion and offered up their horses for excellent riding and learning opportunities.

I understood from very early on that having horses was special and not something to take for granted. They were my responsibility, which meant learning everything I could about the care and training that they needed.

It also meant learning how to earn and save money. At 12, I was paid for my first professional training job, and at 13, I built a website and launched an online horse advertising business that connected buyers and sellers around the United States.

From working with Skyrian ponies at a therapeutic riding center in Greece to riding at the original Stud farm of the Lipizzaner horse, the years went by and I rode every breed I could in every discipline that I could.

Nokota Horses at Custer State Park
Nokota Horses at Custer State Park. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews

The Dream

You know that idea, dream, or goal that always hangs around in the back of your head? The one that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t done yet? Goals like writing a book, starting a business, adopting a dog, traveling to a new country, learning a new discipline or buying that new horse.

For me, the dream was to ride every breed. This idea has changed every aspect of my life. It is now sending me around the world on a journey unlike any other.


We no longer need horses in the way we used to. Many people don’t even realize the influence that horses have had on our past. Horses helped us build and conquer civilizations. They provided ways for us to carry goods faster and over longer distances. They even helped with the spread of languages.

Morgan Stallion at the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm
Morgan Stallion at the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews

The Irish Draught, which is now an endangered breed, was developed because farmers in Ireland had small plots of land and needed one horse that could do it all. The American Saddlebred was used during the Civil War as the preferred mount of choice by Generals. After the war, they inspired the country to reconnect through horse shows. The Nez Perce Horse is a breed developed in the 1990s by the same tribe that originally bred the Appaloosa.

What I have found on a regular basis is that all around the world there are people dedicating their lives to their horses. Yet many breeds are not well known, even within the horse industry and between horse owners.

The Quest to Discover the Horse

“The Quest” was officially launched in September of 2017. I am documenting my journey and every breed along the way. I invite you to come along for the ride.

Irish Draught at Cappa Stud in Ireland
Irish Draught at Cappa Stud in Ireland. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews

Meet the horses and hear their stories, like one of the horses that played Hidalgo in the movie of the same name. See what it’s like to ride each breed. Learn the history of what makes each breed so special.

Peruvian stallion at Meadowbrook FarmIcelandic gelding at Elk Ridge Ranch
(Left) Peruvian stallion at Meadowbrook Farm. (Right) Icelandic gelding at Elk Ridge Ranch. Photos Courtesy Alyssa Mathews.

Some of the breeds even I hadn’t heard of before, including some that originated right here in the United States: the Blazer, Camarillo White Horse, California Vaquero, Georgian Grande and the McCurdy Plantation Horse.

The project is still in its early stages, and yet I’ve been honored by the response and encouragement from the equestrian community. Over 2 million video views and 16,000 horse fans from 45 different countries are along for the ride. Almost 1,500 different horses have been suggested as breed representatives, and more emails arrive daily.

Colorado Ranger Horse at Horizon Hill Ranch
Colorado Ranger Horse at Horizon Hill Ranch. Photo Courtesy Alyssa Mathews

People have welcomed me with open arms on my journey to discover the horse. They have shared their homes, their horses, their lives, their joys and their struggles with me.

No matter the discipline that we ride or the breed that we own, we all have a connection because of these amazing horses—a connection that I’ve felt around the world.

It spans all generations and types of people. We are equestrians, and that is a truly incredible gift.

This article about Alyssa Mathews’ quest to discover the horse originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


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