American Quarter Horses are most likely North America’s most
popular breed. With QH fans worldwide the AQHA is the largest breed registry.
The AQHA states there are over five million registered American Quarter Horses
American Quarter Horses are stout, quick, and compact. Some
have been clocked at speeds of 55mph. They are used in a number of equestrian
disciplines, primarily associated with Western rodeo. They have a natural “cow
sense”, giving them the ability to work well with cattle. Their unique
characteristics and breeding history have earned them the nicknames “America’s
Horse” and “the World’s Fastest Athlete”.
In the 17th century, North American colonists on the eastern
seaboard began to cross imported English Thoroughbred horses with assorted
"native" horses (which were developed from horses left by Spanish
explorers). The resulting horse was small, hardy, and quick, and was used as a
work horse during the week and a race horse on the weekends.
As flat racing became popular with the colonists, the
Quarter Horse gained even more popularity as a sprinter over courses that, by
necessity, were shorter than the classic race courses of England, and were
often no more than a straight stretch of road or flat piece of open land. When
matched against a Thoroughbred, local sprinters often won. As the Thoroughbred
breed became established in America, many colonial Quarter Horses were included
in the original American stud books, which started a long association between
the Thoroughbred breed and what would later become officially known as the
"Quarter Horse", named after the 1/4 mile (0.40 km) race distance at
which it excelled.
In the 19th century, pioneers heading West needed a hardy,
willing horse. On the Great Plains, settlers encountered Mustangs and other
“native” horses. As the colonial Quarter Horses were crossed with these western
horses, the pioneers found that the new crossbred had an innate "cow sense”.
The main duty of the ranch horse in the American West was
working cattle. Even after the invention of the automobile, horses were still
irreplaceable for handling livestock on the range. Thus, major Texas cattle
ranches, such as the King Ranch, the 6666 (Four Sixes) Ranch, and the Waggoner
Ranch played a significant role in the development of the modern Quarter Horse.
The skills needed by cowboys and their horses became the foundation of the
rodeo, a contest which began with informal competition between cowboys and
expanded to become a major competitive event throughout the west. To this day,
the Quarter Horse dominates the sport both in speed events and in competition
that emphasizes the handling of live cattle.
However, sprint races were also popular weekend
entertainment and racing became a source of economic gain for breeders as well.
As a result, more Thoroughbred blood was added back into the developing
American Quarter Horses. American Quarter Horses also benefitted from the
addition of Arabian, Morgan, and even Standardbred bloodlines.
The modern Quarter Horse has a small, short, refined head
with a straight profile, and a strong, well-muscled body, featuring a broad
chest and powerful, rounded hindquarters. They usually stand between 14 and 16
hands (56 and 64 inches, 142 and 163 cm) high, although some Halter-type and
English hunter-type horses may grow as tall as 17 hands (68 inches, 173 cm).
There are two main body types: the stock type and the hunter
or racing type. The stock horse type is shorter, more compact, stocky and well
muscled, yet agile. The racing and hunter type Quarter Horses are somewhat
taller and smoother muscled than the stock type, more closely resembling the
Quarter Horses come in nearly all colors. The most common
color is sorrel, a brownish red, part of the color group called chestnut by
most other breed registries. Other recognized colors include bay, black, brown,
buckskin, palomino, gray, dun, red dun, grullo (also occasionally referred to
as blue dun), red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlino, cremello, and white. In
the past, spotted color patterns were excluded, but now the registry accepts
all colors as long as both parents are registered.