Name of breed: Quarter Horse, or American Quarter Horse.
Country of origin: United States of America.
Breed origins: The foundations for the Quarter Horse’s bloodlines were laid when North American settlers’ Thoroughbreds met the horses brought to Central America by the Spanish, which had spread north and been developed into distinct ‘types’ by Native Americans for their own requirements. There is a great deal of debate surrounding these horses’ bloodlines, and as such, the non-Thoroughbred side of the Quarter Horse equation is still a bit of a grey area. Arabian, Barb, Iberian and Chickasaw stock is known to have had a strong influence on the Quarter Horse, which combines the speed, strength, hardiness and compact build of these breeds. The Thoroughbred stallion, Janus, is considered the foundation stallion of the Quarter Horse line. He serviced mares for 24 years, and his offspring consistently inherited the aforementioned traits.
The two disciplines that directed and popularised the Quarter Horse as a breed were racing and cattle work. America’s pioneer settlers were seriously into horse racing, Janus himself being a celebrated winner. The Quarter Horse gets its name from the quarter-mile race, at which it was unbeatable. A number of physical differences between the Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred were behind this phenomenon. The Quarter Horse’s broader head and wider gullet allow air to travel more freely to and from the lungs, and their powerful hindquarters give them incredible momentum and velocity over short distances.
As the pioneers moved westward and began cattle farming in earnest, the Quarter Horse once again proved unbeatable, with its explosive speed, innate cow sense and incredible agility. Indeed, it seemed that whatever the pioneers fancied taking up – cattle farming, racing, rodeo sports – the Quarter Horse was the best breed for the job. And yet it still wasn’t recognised as an official breed!
Finally, in 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association was established and the first horse, Wimpy, registered in the studbook. Having made a name for itself long before it even had a name, the Quarter Horse became an absolute sensation and was soon being exported all over the world.
Distinguishing features: Quarter Horses are mid-sized horses with a muscular, compact build. They usually stand between 14 and 16 hands high, although some have been known to reach 17 hands. The AQHA recognises 17 colours including all the usual solid colours, palomino, roan, buckskin and dun. On top of this, Quarter Horses should not have any white markings on or above their knees, and white markings on the face mustn’t be too large. The breed has a short, broad head with small ears, a short and strong neck, powerful shoulders and a deep, broad chest. The Quarter Horse has a short back, straight, strong legs and – most famously – high, rounded, extremely well-muscled hindquarters. Quarter Horses’ excellent ‘cow sense’ complements their agility, intelligence and willing nature to make them ideal working horses. However, they are also extremely versatile, and this combined with their docile temperament makes them a popular choice for all manner of disciplines.
Modern day Quarter Horse: Quarter Horses are still used for ranch work, rodeo sports, and even quarter mile races – but they have certainly branched out since the colonial days. They are now popular mounts for pleasure riding, show jumping, dressage, trail riding, cross country jumping, polo, reining, cutting, Western pleasure, equitation and campdrafting, to name but a few. The Quarter Horse has also influenced a huge number of breeds in the United States and abroad, including the Blazer, the Australian Stock Horse and the Azteca. It remains the most popular breed in the United States, and the AQHA is the largest breed registry in the world, with over 5 million horses registered!
Image credits: Del Rio Quarter Horses, photoGAPic, Molly Goossens, Horse & Rider.