The American Quarter Horse is the most popular breed of horse in the United States. The American Quarter Horse Association AQHA is the largest breed registry in the world. The 2017 AQHA Annual Report indicated that there were nearly three million American Quarter Horses registered worldwide.

What is a Quarter Horse?

A Quarter Horse is a speedy yet versatile horse breed originally developed for racing and ranching. The term ‘quarter’ in their names is a reference to a quarter of a mile distance., which was the length of most horse races in colonial America. In this sense the breed is tied directly to story of America where racing happened on straight stretches including the main streets of small villages, and then later to the important role this breed played in opening up the western territories for settlement.

The Quarter Horse has a reputation for being speedy and maneuverable. This is a breed requirement as per the April 22, 1940, founding meeting of the AQHA Executive Committee wherein they set forth that “…all Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter of a mile in twenty-three seconds, or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse Performance under ranch conditions.”

History of the American Quarter Horse

Quarter Horses are still bred for horse racing and for ranch work usually involving cattle. They’ve been developed for over 500 years and their origins are rooted in colonial America. In the 1600’s as the colonies grew in population, English settlers liked to race horses on short, straight stretches about a quarter-mile in length where they could easily observe the entire race. Regardless of breeding, the colonists crossed Arabs, Barbs, and Light Drafts together with an eye on achieving a ‘quarter-type horse’ capable of exceptional performance on quarter-mile-long tracks rather than the longer thoroughbred racecourses they left behind in England.

In these popular races, the Quarter Horse was developed. Fast horses brought prosperity and these colonial racetracks created the right market conditions for selective breeding. To get speedier stock, planters in Virginia and Carolina in middle to later 1600’s traded for native horses to obtain ‘Chickasaw mares’, which were likely of Spanish descent. One hundred years earlier, Spanish conquistadors brought Iberian, Arabian, and Barb horses to the southeastern US. The heartiest survived and these were improved by indigenous peoples. The wild bloodlines improved Celtic stock, such as the Galloways.

Eighty years later, two particularly influential thoroughbred stallions enter the formation story. The first was Janus, who was foaled in the UK in 1746 and imported to Virginia in 1752, and perhaps even more important was American bred Sir Archy, also a Thoroughbred, who became known as “America’s Godolphin.”

Over the next century, the product of this breeding would become the celebrated ‘American Quarter Running Horse’ much coveted along the Eastern United States where racing was most developed and purses were highest. Then the second phase of the development happened when these colonial Quarter Horses headed west with the American settlers.

Steel Dust, a superb stallion foaled in Kentucky, was a descendant of Sir Archy, and came to Texas in 1844 as a yearling. This horse was legendary in match races, and two years later Steel Dust won his most important race, held in Collin County, Texas, as a three-year-old against a horse named Monmouth. In the decades that followed, the name Steel Dust came to identify an entire breed of horse; they were called ’Steeldusts,’ and became the cowboy’s favorite horse.

Another legend, Shiloh, was foaled in Tennessee in 1844 and brought to Texas in 1849. Shiloh helped establish many Western quarter horse bloodlines. Shiloh was also a descendant of Sir Archy, a thoroughbred stallion descended from the Godolphin Arabian as mentioned above. Interestingly, Steel Dust and Shiloh reportedly raced against each other in 1855. There are differing versions of the race, but most agree Steel Dust was blind by this time. When Shiloh was bred to Ram Cat by Steel Dust, they produced Old Billy and along this bloodline emerged Dan Tucker, the sire of the great foundation sire Peter McCue.

Quarter Horses evolved and improved in the American West when they were crossed with feral mustangs and Native American horses which helped them develop the “cow sense” that made them popular with cattlemen on the western ranches. Throughout the American Civil War there were many first-hand accounts recording their bravery as cavalry horses. Quarter Horses were used by both Confederate and Union forces in just about every mounted action and were prized for their steady performance and reliability under fire.

Wild mustangs, also descendants from Spanish stock, Iberian horses and in particular Arabian horses from Andalusia, entered the mix after the US Civil War as the American West was cleared for settlement. In the 1880s through to the early 1900s, the Quarter Horse breed was further developed on big ranches in Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Arizona, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and California, which is probably why the breed is so closely identified with the American West and Western riding events.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed in 1940 to preserve the pedigrees of these ranch horses. Thoroughbred blood is still allowed into the studbook, but first-generation crosses between TB/AQH, or between a reg. AQH and “appendix” AQH are listed in the appendix registry.

What is a Foundation Quarter Horse?

Foundation Quarter Horses can trace their lineage to the original AQH pedigrees made public in 1940 by the American Quarter Horse Association, and to horses on their index up to the 1960s. During this ‘foundation period’, Quarter Horse breeders didn’t mix thoroughbred bloodlines, so purists believe this is the original undiluted Quarter Horse.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed in 1940 to preserve the pedigrees of the ranch horses. Thoroughbred blood is still allowed into the studbook, but first-generation crosses between TB/AQH, or between a reg. AQH and “appendix” AQH are listed in the appendix registry.

Sleepy Cat, a dun stallion imported by Jac and Allie Streeter of Stavely, Alberta in 1942, was probably the first registered Quarter Horse in Canada. This racehorse could trace its lineage back to Steel Dust, and Sleepy Cat foaled over two hundred offspring during his life in Alberta.

How do you describe a Quarter Horse?

Shawna Sapergia and This Chics on Top, a Quarter Horse mare, finished 14th overall in Reining at the 2020 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The Quarter Horse can be found in two main body types. First is the stock type, and second is the hunter or racing type. The stock type is shorter, more compact and muscled, yet agile, while the hunter/racer is taller with less-defined muscling, similar to a Thoroughbred. Both variations have short, refined, attractive heads, strong bodies with a broad chest and powerful hindquarters. They usually stand between 14 and 16 hands (56 and 64 inches, 142 and 163 cm) high, although some may grow as tall as 17 hands (68 inches, 173 cm).

The stock horse type is well suited for working with livestock, particularly cattle and sheep. These ‘cutting horses’ are smaller in stature. They’re capable of quick, agile movements because they have great balance and powerful hindquarters. Western pleasure show horses are often slightly taller, with slower movements, smoother gaits, and more level toplines, but they still have the powerful hindquarters characteristic of the Quarter Horse.

The race horse type is bred to sprint short distances ranging from 220 to 870 yards, so they have long legs and leaner bodies, but are still characterized by muscular hindquarters and powerful leg muscles. Quarter Horses race primarily against other Quarter Horses, and their sprinting ability has earned them the nickname “the world’s fastest athlete.” The AQH racing type is slimmer, even more closely resembling a Thoroughbred, usually reflecting a higher percentage of appendix breeding. They are shown in hunter/jumper classes at both breed shows and in open USEF-rated horse show competition.

Quarter Horses appear in just about every color. The most common is sorrel, a brownish red, part of the color group called ‘chestnut’ by other breed registries. Other recognized colors include bay, black, brown, buckskin, palomino, gray, dun, red dun, blue dun or grullo/grulla, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlino, cremello, and white. In the past, spotted color patterns were excluded, but now with the advent of DNA testing to verify parentage, the registry accepts all colors as long as both parents are registered.

How fast are Quarter Horses?

Quarter Horses are the sprinters of the horse world. They are faster than the Thoroughbred over short distances, with some being clocked up to 88.5 km/h (55 mph).

What are Quarter Horses used for today?

There are many racetracks throughout North America that feature Quarter Horse racing, but the compact body of the American Quarter Horse makes it well-suited for reining, cutting, working cow horse, barrel racing, calf roping, and other western riding events, especially those involving live cattle.
American Quarter Horse frequently appears in English disciplines including driving, show jumping, dressage, hunting, and other equestrian activities. Quarter Horses make wonderful all-around family horses and they’re legendary multi-taskers.

In addition to breed shows, Quarter Horses dominate many other association events, including those from the National Reining Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association, National Reined Cow Horse Association, National Snaffle Bit Association, National Barrel Horse Association, and others.

What do Quarter Horses eat?

Like other herbivores, American Quarter Horses need more than just fresh grass and hay. Their bodies need a healthy diet comprising of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins and water. That means in addition to grass and hay, depending on their workload they may need grains like rolled oats, bran, and barley and many are fed with supplements and concentrates. Horses’ bodies need vitamin A, D, E, K, and vitamin B complex. Most of these vitamins are present in a grass pasture and in hay and horses obtain vitamin D through exposure in sunlight. American Quarter Horses require minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium chloride (salt). Sodium is usually added to an American Quarter Horse’s diet as a block of salt which it can lick at will. Apples and carrots make excellent treats.

How much do Quarter Horses cost?

Horse Canada’s classifieds are filled with Quarter Horses for sale and eight-year-old Quarter Horses with good experience can be purchased for about $4000 CAN. They cost twice that if they’re trained as barrel racers or have some other special skill. They can cost ten times as much if they’re racers with pedigree at the start of their careers.

The annual cost of owning an American Quarter Horse is estimated to be around $2,400 annually, excluding boarding and other stable costs. The amount considers riding equipment, transportation, nutritional items, veterinary care, farrier bills and other maintenance fees.

For more information, visit:
American Quarter Horse Association/