The Quarter horse, a breed with Spanish and Thoroughbred influences, is a truly remarkable animal with a fascinating history. Its name was inspired from its ability to spring roughly ¼ times faster than other horse breeds. America’s most cherished breed was created for the purpose of competing in quarter races several centuries ago but it also proved itself useful for other tasks besides riding. According to history, the Quarter horse is also the first registered breed in America.
The founding stallion for the Quarter Horse breed was Janus, a Thoroughbred that was imported to America in the mid-eighties. The breed is actually a result of successful cross-breeding between Arab, Turk and Barb breeds. Ultimately, the Quarter Horse inherited the best from all breeds: finely chiseled heads, stout and heavily-muscled body, good stamina, great disposition and exceptional speed burst.
As the pioneers started moving westward, the Quarter Horse, thanks to its cunning nature and impressive speed, took on a new role: herding cattle on farms. Most ranch owners say that the Quarter horse has “cow sense”, which means a natural instinct to organize cattle.
Today, the Quarter Horse has become the preferred breed for USA riders thanks to its adaptability and gentle nature. In 1940, the American Quarter Horse received recognition as a breed and soon after, the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) was formed. It is not often that you come across a horse that is excellent for pleasure, cattle and racing. Let’s take a closer look at the history, physical characteristics, uses, nature, development and strengths of the Quarter Horse.
Brief History of the Quarter Horse
When the 17th century colonists came to America they encountered an indigenous horse called the Chickasaw. The breed was developed by Native Americans from the ‘Barb, Iberian and Arabia’ breeds that came to South America with the conquistadors. The colonists of the eastern seaboard quickly decided to cross their English Thoroughbred with the Chickasaw. Stallions with strong pedigree, like Janus, contributed greatly to the Quarter Horse gene pool. The result of multiple crossings was a medium-sized horse with strong muscles and agile nature.
In the mean-time, Quarter Horse racing was gaining more and more popularity. The quarter horse proved itself a worthy contester and it quickly gained popularity among the colonists. With the dawn of the 19th century, pioneers started heading west. They required obedient and hardy horses to settle on the Great Plains. In the region that is known today as the Southwestern part of the America they also found majestic wild horses called Mustangs and several other breeds domesticated by Native Americans. After crossing the Quarter Horse with these breeds they obtained an animal that had strong “cow sense”. Among the foundation sires for the present Quarter Horse breed we will mention Traveler, Peter McCue, Lock’s Rondo, Three Bars, Shiloh and Steel Dust.
Even after the invention of automobiles, the American Quarter Horse remained indispensable for handling livestock. English competitions were also gaining economic momentum and breeders decided to start adding more Thoroughbred blood to the mix. The American Quarter Horse Association was also founded in order t preserve the pedigree of ranch horses. Nobody knew that the population of Quarter Horses would grow from 1000 to over 3.2 million and that AQHA would become the largest association for this breed.
At present you can find ranches and associations with quarter horses for sale in nearly all American states like Oklahoma, California, Utah, Columbus Louisiana, Kentucky, Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kansas, New Mexico, Dakota, Washington, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Nebraska, Montana, Oregon, Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Maine, Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Colorad, Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho.
Physical Characteristics of the Quarter Horse
The result of so many crossings was three types of quarter horses. First we have the heavy “bulldog type”, which boasts great stamina, a large barrel, and sturdy legs. Then we have the popular Thoroughbred type, with lean muscles, fine bone and sleek head & neck. Last, there is the intermediate type which is basically a mix between the previous two: it has substantial muscle, a strong neck, good bones, a rather short back and head and full jowl.
These different types of quarter horses have distinct uses: while some are perfect for cattle work on the open field others are adept to reining and English or western competitions. Needless to say, the best quarter horses can reach speeds of 50 mph and they are equally at home in harness and under saddles. Ranch owners and tutors prefer them for beginner courses for their steady temperament and willingness to please. As far as size is concerned, the typical Quarter Horse has between 14.3 HH and 15.3 HH. In exceptional cases, when Thoroughbred bloodlines are more prominent, “Appendix” Quarter horses can reach a height of 16 HH.
Colors and Unique Markings
The beauty of Quarter horses is the fact that they come in so many unique colors including palomino, grey, grulla (also referred to as blue dun), cremello, dun, red dun, buckskin, black, roan, bay and chestnut. Statistics show that the most common coat is sorrel (or chestnut). Sadly, Pinto and Appaloosa markings are not accepted by breeder standards, but it is not unusual for various specimens to have white markings like stars, blazes, strips or socks. Spotted coats are only accepted in the AQHA registry if the owner can show proof that the dam and sire were both registered.
Interesting Facts About the Quarter Horse
- The Quarter Horse is one of the few breeds that are well suited for leisure riding, competitive sports (western rodeos), cow work and field work at the same time.
- The first registered Quarter Horse, Wimpy, sired over 150 foals. This unmistakable stallion with a star and sock on left hind leg has left its mark on future generations of Quarters.
- Only show horses are taller than 16 hands. Most American Quarter horses stand between 14 and 16 hands tall.
- The name “Quarter Horse” comes from the Quarter Mile races organized by the first English colonists.
- It is the second most popular horse breed in the world. The first place is held by the Arabian horse.
- Easy Jet, an infamous racing quarter horse, proved indefatigable as he won 22 out of 26 competitions. Even after a long racing career he remained strong and sound.
- Steel Dust, one of the most popular Quarter horses in history, had a superb career on the race track. Upon retirement from races it foaled dozens of foals and colts and established a great line of Quarter Horses.
- Impressive, a very popular quarter horse sire, changed numerous owners. At one point, an offer of 300.000$ was made for him. His current owner, Fennel Brown, simply replied: “ain’t nobody in this world got enough money to buy this horse.” Impressive sired over 2000 foals despite the outrageous stud fee of 25.000$.
- Genetic Diseases: there are several genetic diseases that concern Quarter horse breeders. The most problematic one is HYPP (Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis), caused by an autosomal dominant gene inherited from the sire Impressive. Its symptoms are twitching muscles as well as substantial weakness and paralysis. HYPP is also linked to high muscle mass, therefore, the halter classes have changed and size requirements were reduced. Other genetic diseases include hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA), which can only be transmitted if both parents carry the gene, malignant hyperthermia, caused by stress and overwork, Lethal White Syndrome, Equine Polysaccharide Storage myopathy (EPSM or PSSM) which can be diet controlled to some extent, and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency (GBED).
- Quarter-mile remains the most popular distance for racing the American Quarter Horse. The record for 440 yards is 21 seconds.
- Gelding Quarter horses are usually used for work, while studs are meant for racing and reproduction.
Appendix vs. Quarter Horse
A common question when it comes to Quarter horse breeding is how one differentiates between a full-blooded quarter horse and a specimen that isn’t completely purebred. AQHA has solved this problem by creating a special numbering and registry system for Quarter-Thoroughbred crosses.
Although these horses are considered Quarters, they are registered in a special system – Appendix. This means that they also receive an Appendix Certificate on top of their registration certificate. At present there are over 600,000 Appendix Horses registered.
The main difference between purebreds and Appendix horses is breeding restrictions. Appendix horses are only allowed to breed with regular numbered horses. They cannot breed with Thoroughbred or other Appendix horses.
Necessary Equipment & Quarter Horses for Sale
Quarter horses require traditional horse tack for domestic and competitive use. Properly fit saddles, halters, bridles, stirrups, harnesses, reins and bits should be more than perfect for equipping this type of horse. DIY equipment can also be used to adorn western gear. In addition to horse tack you will also have to invest in barn equipment and grooming kits.
Riders who enjoy traveling should also consider investing in horse trailers. Although new, living trailers and custom-made trailers from luxury companies such as Featherlite, Bloomer, Sundowner and Hart are expensive, they can be a good investment. For limited budgets there is also the cheap option of used or repossessed vehicles. Experts recommend Gooseneck and bumper trailer hitches for better maneuverability.
Because the Quarter horse is a medium-sized breed, horse owners should measure the size of the horse before deciding the trailer they wish to purchase. It is also important to double check the floor, measurements of storage units, parts, additional features and structure of used trailers before a purchase. While pictures on online stores such as Ebay may suffice for a first impression, the ideal situation would be testing the trailer in person. This is why you should look for trailers for sale near your location.
Quarter horses for sale are easy to find on association websites. Most associations hold silent auctions online, where breeders can bid for the best horses. Alternatively, buyers can search for horses on websites like EquineNow, XtraquarterHorses, HorseDeals etc. Ultimately, the best way to find a suitable horse is by seeing it in person and striking a deal with its breeder. This will make the registration process with an association a whole lot easier.
The All American Quarter Horse Congress
The All American Quarter Horse Congress is arguably the largest single-breed horse show event in the world. In 2014, the event received records-breaking 20.000 entries and over 650.000 participants. The event stretches on two or more weeks, and each day features different shows and competitions for amateurs and professionals (examples: Senior pleasure driving, Junior Hunter Under Saddle & NSBA, Maturity Open Hunter Under Saddle Stakes/NSBA etc.).
If you are passionate about quarter horses and have the possibility to participate in this event you should definitely do it. You can find out the latest American Quarter Horse news and event updates on Facebook or in monthly magazine editions. The All American Quarter Horse Congress also releases updates, results and videos of competing horses on its official website.