The American Quarter Horse’s single most valuable characteristic is that of being the most willing, easygoing, even-tempered of all the breeds. Whatever you ask of the Quarter Horse, whether it’s running faster than any other breed for a quarter of a mile, working cattle, covering 50 miles of trails in a day, performing in the rodeo, show horse, dressage or jumping arena, or giving rides to babies, he’ll quietly give it his all.
It’s not surprising that the Quarter Horse is the most popular breed in America. The history of the American Quarter Horse begins long before our country was even born. In the 1690s, American colonists crossed imported English horses to the Chickasaw.
The Chickasaw Indian tribe of the Southeast had developed a short, muscular horse originating from Spanish stock that was brought to the New World. The colonists bred the Chickasaw, a rare breed still in existence today, to the more refined English stock.
These original American Quarter Horses were hardy, fast and docile little horses that worked hard during the week and provided competitors with a speedy mount on short straight-aways on holidays.
Before long the breed became known as the Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse, C.A.Q.R.H. for short. The Quarter Horse was soon pushed out of the limelight by the popularity of the Thoroughbred, but by the early 1800s the demand for a rugged and willing horse to help conquer the newly explored West put the Quarter Horse to work.
The Quarter Horse was hitched to covered wagons and saddled for cross-country treks. Cowboys learned that the Quarter Horse retained the legacy of its Spanish ancestor, the Andalusian, who had worked cattle in Spain for centuries.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) began in the spring of 1940 and today is the largest breed registry in the world. There are two types of Quarter Horses, the standard Quarters, stocky, compact, heavily muscled, necessary for cattle work, powerful hindquarters, a short back, well-muscled neck and a broad, deep chest, measuring in at a low height of 14.3 hands.
Its head is also still short and refined with tiny ears and wide set eyes, although the days of short tails are gone. Running Quarter Horses resemble their Thoroughbred ancestors in conformation, more of a greyhound look, but still with powerful hindquarters, a trademark of the breed, and can measure 16 hands or over.
Quarter Horses come in 13 different colors including bay, chestnut, brown, black, dun, red dun, buckskin, palomino, blue roan, red roan, gray, grullo and sorrel, the most popular. One-third of horses registered in the AQHA are sorrel.
There are more than 3.5 million Quarter Horses registered throughout the world, and more than 314,000 individual members of the AQHA. Recreational riders make up 75-80% of all Quarter Horse owners. The average Quarter Horse usually lives 20 years, though some individuals may live as long as 35 years with proper care.