The American Quarter Horse
- By Michael Russell
It is thought, by some, that the foundation of American
Quarter Horse stock has at its roots Arabian, Turk,
and Barb breeds. Others believe that the breed began
with the acquisition of Chickasaw horses which were
likely of Spanish extraction. Their history seems to
begin around 1690, when horses exported from England
were bred with native horses in America. The result
of this cross was a small, stocky horse which was
extremely fast in the quarter-mile sprint which the
colonists loved to participate in during their
off-time. Even when pitted against Thoroughbreds,
this little horse came in first more often than not.
Thus, the horse became known as the Quarter Horse.
In the 1800s, when the pioneers began to move west,
they wanted a horse that could endure the rigors and
was always willing to work. Their horse of choice was
the Quarter Horse. They quickly found that the breed
was excellent to use when working with cattle.
Cattlemen soon preferred this animal because it
seemed to know ahead of time what the cattle would
do, and naturally moved to direct the herd where the
cowboys wanted them to go. Even after the automobile
was invented, Quarter Horses were still used almost
exclusively on many ranches.
In 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association
(AQHA) was formed. From that year until the present,
Quarter Horse breeders have worked diligently to
perfect the bloodlines. The Association has set forth
strict guidelines with regard to registration of
American Quarter Horses. AQHs are allowed to have
limited white markings on their faces, and below
their knees. If there are white patches or spots
anywhere else on the horse, it is considered to not
be a true Quarter Horse.
The AQHA recognizes 13 colors as acceptable for the
breed. The most dominant color is sorrel, which is a
reddish-brown. The other colors are bay, black,
brown, buckskin, dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red
roan, and blue roan. What is called a gray is what
most of us perceive as white. But, there are no
"white" Quarter Horses.
There are two main body types which are acceptable
for registration as Quarter Horses. The
"stock" type, which is shorter, more
compact, stockier, and well-muscled, yet agile. The
"running" type is lighter and is bred and
trained for sprinting.
Because this breed is very versatile, bloodlines are
built with specific tasks in mind when producing the
offspring. For AQH's shown "at halter", the
line is bred to have a heavier body appearance,
because these horses are incredibly muscled. For
horses used as "reiners" and
"cutters", the build is usually smaller and
the horses possess cat-like, quicker movement and
powerful hindquarters. Those bred for Western
pleasure riding have a level "topline" and
smoother gaits. Those which will be used for racing
have longer legs and a leaner body build and those
bred as show hunters have a similar build to the
runners, but their bloodlines will include traits
which are suited to horses used for hunting purposes.
The whole Quarter Horse breed possesses speed,
stamina, power, and an inherent willingness to
This horse is usually 14 to 16 hands (56 to 64
inches, or 142.24 to 162.56 centimeters) at the
shoulder. The weight can vary drastically, depending
on the purpose for which the horse was bred.
The American Quarter Horse is the most popular breed
in the United States. And there are approximately 3.7
million registered American Quarter Horses worldwide,
making it one of the most populous breeds in modern
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