True Equestrian: Rodeo-favorite Quarter Horses are known for speed and versatility

Photo by Lauren Mueller – Quarter Horses are known for their speed, power and endurance.

By Lauren Mueller, Reporter


There are over 100 horse breeds in the world. There are common breeds, like the Thoroughbred and Arabian, and lesser-known breeds like the Akhal-Teke and Knabstrupper. There is no definitive list of horse breeds, and new breed registries are being formed continuously as it becomes apparent that there are breeds that are localized and endangered.

Of all the breeds, however, perhaps the best-known is the American Quarter Horse. With registered horses in excess of five million throughout all 50 states and 70 countries worldwide, the Quarter Horse is more prevalent than even the Thoroughbred.

The American Quarter Horse Association is the main registry for the Quarter Horse. Founded in 1940 as a nonprofit, the “AQHA” – as it’s known – has been key in establishing this breed. Part of its mission statement reads: “To record and preserve the pedigrees of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the integrity of the breed and welfare of its horses.”

The Quarter Horse is a breed originally used on ranches. Bred for their calm temperaments, willing personalities, and notable endurance, these horses were valued members of the ranching community. They still have a presence there today.

However, the Quarter Horse is no longer confined to ranches. Today, the breed is known as the “most versatile breed,” and can be found everywhere from the jumping ring to the rodeo arena.

But what defines the American Quarter Horse?

According to the AQHA Rulebook, the “ideal” American Quarter Horse is a horse that “is generally considered to be solid in color and possess the following characteristics: the horse should possess eye appeal that is the result of a harmonious blending of an attractive head; refined throat latch; well-proportioned, trim neck; long, sloping shoulder; deep heart girth; short back; strong loin and coupling; long hip and croup; and well-defined and muscular stifle, gaskin, forearm and chest.”

Acceptable colors for the Quarter Horse include bay, black, brown, sorrel, chestnut, dun, red dun, grullo, buckskin, palomino, gray, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, cremello, perlino, and white. Each color is defined in the rulebook. There are no paints, and horses with more than the “accepted” amount of white are disqualified from showing in halter classes.

Mostly, American Quarter Horses are stocky in build and come in more solid colors. They are not overly large horses, standing between 14.3 hands and 16.2 hands, or between 4 foot 9 inches and 5 foot 5 inches at the shoulder. The average Quarter Horse, however, stands at about 15.2 hands or 5 foot 1 inch at the shoulder.

What is most impressive about the Quarter Horse, however, is the temperament. That is what makes it such a versatile breed.

Quarter Horses are known for their gentle, kind and willing personalities. Generations of breeding have created an all-around animal that is more akin to a dog than a horse. They are known to be easy to train and highly intelligent with a “cow sense” not found in many other breeds. Older Quarter Horses are often used as “babysitters” for young children who want to learn how to ride.

But don’t let the gentle exterior fool you. Quarter Horses are not afraid of a hard day’s work, and many of them are happier with a job than as backyard pets. The same breeding that created the kind and willing horse also created the “go-all-day” personality that gives the Quarter Horse incredible endurance and energy to chase down renegade cows and complete barrel racing patterns in under 15 seconds.

The Quarter Horse was given its name for its ability to run a quarter of a mile faster than the next fastest horse. Its speed can be seen on the racetrack alongside Thoroughbreds in the outrider horses. They are used to chase down runaway Thoroughbreds.

Only last year, a Quarter Horse was noted for his role in American Pharoah’s historic victories. His companion horse, Bob Baffert’s “Smokey” is a registered American Quarter Horse, whose name is really “This Whiz Shines.” Before he was a pony horse for American Pharoah, “Smokey” was a champion in his own right. He earned over $1300 in reigning competitions.

The American Quarter Horse thrives today in more places than people would expect. But it is still dominantly a western horse, seen en masse at rodeos and working cows. The breed is undoubtedly most at home on the range.

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