The Quarter Horse is arguably the most popular breed in the United States. There are over 2.5 million of them nationwide, and many in other countries now too. They have gained popularity for their athletic abilities and easygoing temperaments. Even people who know little about horses can recognize the Quarter Horse.
The fabric of the American West and the cowboy culture includes the Quarter Horse. Books, movies, and other mediums romanticize the horses and cowboys. American Quarter Horses helped build the working cattle lifestyle, transported people, and provided recreation. Amazingly enough, people that bred and owned the breed perpetuated them for years. The American Quarter Horse Association was formed in 1940. They incorporated other Quarter Horse stud books in 1950.
History of the Quarter Horse
The history of the Quarter Horse dates to the early settlers in the American Colonies. Early explorers from Spain had brought Spanish Barb horses and these horses and their descendants remained in Florida. The Chickasaw Indians bred and used these horses. Colonial farmers in Virginia and the Carolinas saw that the Chickasaw Indians had faster horses and traded with them.
The Spanish horses from the Chickasaws were crossed with the horses imported by the English settlers beginning in the 1660s. Colonists used horses for work on their farms, transportation, and recreation. The horses used in the southern part of the United States were making a name for themselves for their ability to run a quarter-mile, the most popular distance raced by colonists. They were fast and people began referring to them as Quarter Horses because of their speed at this distance.
Thoroughbreds gained popularity in the 1800s and overshadowed the Quarter Horse on the racetracks. But the Quarter Horse had other skills that firmly created a place in history and secured the breed’s popularity.
Residents of the east were beginning to explore the Midwest and western parts of the United States. Consequently, the Quarter Horse proved invaluable as a stock horse. They had speed and easygoing temperaments that made them a reliable mount for navigating life on the frontier.
After the civil war, the modern-day beef cattle industry started taking shape in Texas. Early cowboys rounded up wild and feral cattle and drove them north from Texas to the railroads of Kansas. Cow sense and ability to travel slowly over long distances were equally important and made Quarter Horses the first choice for the job. Finally, their workman-like origins and usefulness made them a natural choice on ranches as westward expansion continued.
Quarter Horse breed characteristics are well defined after centuries of breeding. Horses are short and stocky, with extensive muscling and wide stature. The breed ranges in height from 14.3 to 16 hands high and weights vary from 950 to 1,200 pounds. The American Quarter Horse Association registers all solid colors that are black-based and red-based (17 total recognized colors).
The breed does not allow for high white or excessive white markings. This rule also helped in the formation of the American Paint Horse Association. Moreover, Paint horses can have Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred bloodlines. Paint Horses have many of the same breed characteristics as Quarter Horses and an equally enthusiastic fan base of owners, breeders, and riders.
Riding a Quarter Horse
Quarter Horses are popular in barrel racing, ranching, trail riding, showing, and timed events, among other disciplines. Furthermore, they never lost their early origins in the racetrack. Some breeders still focus on breeding horses for those quick sprint races that shaped the breed in the early years. Quarter horses dominate entry lists for Western ranch riding and sports – including rodeo and gymkhana.
All disciplines, including hunt seat and dressage, have Quarter Horses. Finally, they remain an iconic symbol of the American West. The breed has introduced vast amounts of people to horses as well as being lifelong companions for countless others.
The Quarter Horse Today
Fewer horses are now used on ranches or working cattle because of technology and other changes. But the breed’s endearing characteristics make it a favorite of recreational enthusiasts, competitors, and those still using horses for work. Quarter Horses are versatile and popular though and will continue delighting riders and enjoying widespread popularity for generations to come.
Sources: American Quarter Horse Association, Britannica, and Horse Genetics.