Author: Crystal A. Eikanger
The Quarter Horse is known as the All-American horse and as the world’s most versatile horse. Not only is it the most popular breed in the United States, but it is possibly the oldest horse breed in the US. Named for its amazing speed during a short one quarter mile sprint, the fastest galloping speed by any horse has been achieved by the American Quarter Horse which has been clocked at speeds near 55 mph (88 km/h) in a quarter mile or less. Their immensely powerful hindquarters can propel the horse into a gallop almost from a standing start, and Quarter Horse racing is becoming more popular. The average Quarter Horse usually lives 20 years, but 35 years is not uncommon when properly cared for.
It has been called by many names over the years: American Quarter Horse, Foundation Quarter, Standard Quarter, Racing Quarter, Running Quarter, Quarter Miler, Short Horse and the cowboy’s Cutting Horse.
While the breed originated in the United States and is now distributed worldwide, its ancestry dates back to the Arabian, Barb and Turk horses that were imported to America by early Spanish explorers, conquistadors and traders. These were combined into the Chickaswas breed by Native Americans to form one side of the bloodline, with English horses and Thoroughbreds on the other. Morgan and Standardbred horses have also been used in the breed’s development. But it is difficult to give the exact origins because the blending of bloodlines to produce a short-distance horse started in colonial regions prior to the Revolutionary War. The true beginnings are believed to have been in the Carolinas and Virginia but the principle development was in the southwestern part of the United States, in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, eastern Colorado, and Kansas when in the early 1600s, settlers began importing English horses and breeding them to the native Spanish-based Chickaswas stock to create a tough all-purpose horse.
Of course, naming horses after people was common practice back then and when the horses were sold their names were often changed. This led to confusion when attempting to verify pedigrees. Nowadays a horse’s name must be acceptable to the American Quarter Horse Association and must not exceed 20 characters. Quarter Horse names may be reused only if certain criteria are met as per AQHA rules.
And no particular attention was made to keep them as a distinct breed, either. Fast horses were raced in any suitable open space with many races being run as “match races” after a private wager between owners or riders. Any of these fast horses that also made good cow horses were crossed to existing mares. Many of these mares had Spanish, Arabian, Morgan, or Standardbred backgrounds.
In 1889, Traveler, a horse of unknown pedigree, was shipped to Texas in a carload of horses but it is believed that he originated in Kentucky. Traveler was apparently not considered valuable and at least once changed hands in a craps game. He and his descendants were mated to some excellent mares, and many Quarter Horses today can trace back to him along the paternal side.
Currently there are two basic varieties of the breed. The Foundation Quarter, Standard Quarter or old-fashioned “Bulldog” type is the smallest, shortest, stockiest, most muscular variety, yet extremely agile and sure-footed. Used for ranch work, trail and pleasure riding, they average 14 to15 hands and weigh 900 to 1,100 lbs. The Racing Quarter, Running Quarter is taller, leaner and looks more like a well-muscled Thoroughbred due to the added Thoroughbred genes. These average between 15 to 16 hands, weigh 1,000 to 1,250 pounds and tend to be in solid colors with limited white markings.
American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the largest equine breed registry in the world, and founded in 1940, has registered more than 5 million American Quarter Horses with the current population estimated at 3.2 million animals.
The breed is usually recognized by a short muzzle, broad forehead with a straight profile and large jaws. It has small fox-like ears and large, wide-set eyes. The neck has a slight crest. Their backs are short with good withers and a sloping croup. The barrel is deep with well-sprung ribs and the hooves are well-rounded, with deep open heels. The following 13 colors are accepted by the AQHA: brown, chestnut, gray, dun, red dun, bay, buckskin, black, grullo, red roan, blue roan, and palomino, with sorrel being the most common and limited white markings.
The walk, trot, canter, and gallop are the Quarter Horse’s natural gaits. Some individuals have long, leggy movements with a lot of knee action, while others take shorter steps.
As for disposition and personality, this horse is the most willing, laid-back, quiet and even-tempered of all the breeds, and has a gentle nature. They are quick and agile, level-headed and sensible, sure-footed and steady with good stamina. Their unflappable nature has made them suitable for mounted police units in cities. Intelligence, reliability, adaptability and willingness to please their owners make the Quarter Horse very easy to train in all ways. The breed seems to have an innate “cow sense” and can anticipate the moves made by cattle which makes them indispensable for herding and cutting.
There is one downside to the breed however, a genetic oddity known as Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP). This is listed as a genetic defect in AQHA’s rules, along with Parrot Mouth and Cryptorchidism. HYPP is inherited as a dominant trait and is characterized by intermittent episodes of uncontrolled muscle tremors (shaking, trembling or twitching) or profound muscle weakness, and in severe cases, may lead to collapse and/or death. To date, HYPP has been traced only to descendants of a horse named IMPRESSIVE, #0767246.
They are indeed an all-purpose horse with uses ranging from racing, herding, and rodeo, to show jumping, dressage, carriage and pleasure riding.
About the Author
Crystal Eikanger writes for www.HorseClicks.com, classifieds of Quarter Horse and other breeds, horse property, saddles and horse tack.