This breed is well-known for it's stocky build, heavy muscling and compact appearance. There are two distinct types of Quarter Horses -- the old-fashioned "bulldog" type (the Foundation Quarter Horses) and the "racing Quarter", which looks more like a well-muscled Thoroughbred. They range in size from 14 to 16 hands. They are solid in color, with limited white markings.
The Quarter Horse head is short and wide; with a short muzzle; small ears; large nostrils; wide-set eyes; and jawbones that are set wide apart and well-defined. The neck is full and medium length with a slight crest. The withers are medium high and well-defined, combining with deep sloping shoulders; the back is short, full and powerful across the kidneys; and, the underline should rise cleanly to the flank.
The barrel is deep with well-sprung ribs. Forelegs are powerful and set wide in a deep, broad chest; and, the hind legs are muscled inside and out. The stifle is very deep and hind quarters are heavy and muscular. Cannons are short, pasterns are medium length, hocks are set wide, deep and straight, and hooves are well-rounded, with deep open heels. There has been an alarming trend toward "vanity-breeding" heavily muscled horses with small feet. Fortunately, this trend seems to be diminishing.
Quarter horses are quick, balanced and agile They are collected in action and stand at ease with their legs well under them. They are evel-headed, kind, surefooted and steady.
The history of the American Quarter Horse began in the early 1600's, when English Colonists crossed their imported stallions from the Hobby and Galloway lines of Ireland and Scotland on the native mares gotten from the Chickasaw Indians. The imported horses were noted for the speed and small compact build.
The most noteworthy infusion of imported blood has been credited to Janus, a grandson of the Godolphin Barb, who was bred in England by Anthony Langley Swimmer, foaled in 1746, and imported to Virginia (Eastern US) in 1752 by Mordecai Booth. Edgar's "The American Race-Turf Register, Sportsman's Herald and General Stud Book," published in 1833, described Janus as: a chestnut horse....about 14 hands, 3/4ths of an inch high...Janus had great bone and muscle, round, very compact, large quarters, and very swift...Nearly all his descendants were 'swift Quarter nags'."
Settlers in the colonies entertained themselves by match racing their horses. Since the main streets of their small towns were usually the only straight stretch of leared ground available, this is where the races were held. The main streets were short, often a quarter mile or less; the settlers bred horses who were sprinters; they could start fast and sustain a burst of speed for a short distance. These horses were so adept at sprinting they became known as the "Celebrated Quarter of a Mile Race Horses."
As long distance racing became established in the East, quarter-mile racing moved west with the pioneers. Quarter Race Horses were primarily work horses, their owners common men, and they had little place in the heady world of Thoroughbred racing. The settlers of the west bred their horses to the Spanish mares of the area, who were already known as tough, hardy, independent range horses unequaled for cow-sense and endurance. The crosses produced horses who were compact and heavily muscled, with greater weight and speed and the attributes of their dams.
One of the first native bred stallions to impact the breed was Steel Dust, born and bred in Kentucky and brought to Texas in 1844 by Middleton Perry and Jones Greene, farmers from Illinois. He was described as "a big-jawed, short-backed sprinter standing 15 hands and weighing 1200 lbs." and in his day was unequaled. At the age of 12 he won a quarter-mile race by three lengths over a younger Kentucky import named Monmouth. Other important stallions include Copper Bottom, imported to Texas by Sam Houston; and Shiloh, a contemporary of Steel Dust.
As ranches grew in size and importance, the Quarter Horse became a fixture in the west. Ranches like the King Ranch began to selectively breed cattle which were more commercially profitable and at the same time began upgrading their horse herds. Unfortunately, those who bred and worked with Quarter Horses were more concerned with performance than pedigree and bloodlines became fuzzy. It wasn't until the early 1900's that any serious attempt was made at tracing the Quarter Horse's origins.
The popular stallions of the 1930's, such as Old Sorrel, Little Joe, Joe Hanock, Midnight and Joe Bailey were traced back to such horses as Peter McCue, Traveler, Billy and Shiloh, which were in turn traced back to Steel Dust, Sir Archy and Janus. Out of the diligent work of Robert Denhardt, an avid horse enthusiast, author, researcher and scholar, in researching these bloodlines the American Quarter Horse Association was formed in 1940. The first horse to be registered was Wimpy, listed as P-1 in the Stud Book. Over three million Quarter Horses are now registered, making it the largest horse breed organization in the world.
For more information, contact the American Quarter Horse Association.
This article was kindly provided by Michelle Staples, Staples Stables