Frequently referred to as “America’s Horse” the American Quarter Horse earned its reputation as a racing horse in colonial America and as a cattle horse in America’s westward movement. Today, whilst continuing to excel in both of those roles, the American Quarter Horse also excels in equestrian events ranging from polo to jumping and from western pleasure classes to the FEI western discipline of Reining.
It is still used extensively on ranches and, in the world of racing, there is still nothing that can match its explosive burst of speed over short distances. Yet it matches all this with a hardiness and wonderful temperament second to none with a willingness to please that has made it a prodigious show ring performer and a sturdy and reliable recreational riding horse. No other breed has such versatility and such temperament and there can be no better equine athlete, competitor and friend. No wonder its popularity has dwarfed that of other breeds.
Origins of the Breed trace to the early 1600s along the eastern seaboard of the “New World”. In that developing community there was a high demand for horses for both work and recreation. This demand could not be satisfied solely by the horses brought over from England and Ireland by the arriving colonists and the European horses were soon being cross bred with the native American ponies that were the descendants of Arab, Barb and Turk breeds shipped to the Americas by Spanish explorers and traders.
There was always much to do in the developing society but there was still time for fun and racing over hastily prepared straight quarter mile tracks provided one of the easiest forms of entertainment. It wasn’t long before the compact heavily muscled horses resulting from the selective cross breeding started to exhibit their astounding acceleration and ability to run these short distances faster than any other horse. Circumstances had thus contrived to bring together this magic breeding mix with the colonists passion for racing and selective breeding of the faster horses soon started to produce a definitive type. The fastest of these were called “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horses” and the “Quarter Horse” had arrived.
The Breed did not stop there, however, and still had far to go. As the new country grew so did the demand for horses and same attributes that made the Quarter Horse a success on the race track also made it a success as a working animal. Hardy and reliable it quickly became the mainstay of the migration westwards and its agility and speed soon showed it to be invaluable for the task of herding cattle. Training, further selective breeding and inherited traits soon developed a “cow sense” in the Breed and its prowess in cutting and roping soon made it an indispensable part of ranch life. By the time of the classic era of wagon train migration across the plains and the great cattle trail drives northwards from Texas to the railheads, the West and the Quarter Horse had become inextricably linked.
This place in history would never be forgotten but the development firstly of the railroads and then the automobile and mechanised farm machinery in the 20th century ultimately threatened the continuance of the Breed. Fearful of just such an outcome a group of enthusiasts met together in 1940 at Fort Worth in Texas to form a registry dedicated to collecting, recording and preserving the pedigrees of American Quarter Horses. That meeting created its own part of history and established what was to become the largest equine breed registry in the world — the American Quarter Horse Association which now boasts more than 4 million Quarter Horses registered worldwide. The Association is based in Amarillo, Texas and remains devoted to preserving and promoting the Breed.
In 1974, with a few Quarter Horses being imported into the UK, a group of enthusiasts set up the British Quarter Horse Association in order to promote and monitor the breed with a stud book registry for both pure and part bred animals. Shows and events were held and the breed started to become known. Many of these early British devotees are still working with the breed today. In 1997 the name was changed to the American Quarter Horse Association-UK. This is the only Quarter Horse Association in the UK affiliated to AQHA. The number of members is now over 850 and rising fast.
The Breed is now firmly established in Britain. Numbers of Quarter Horses here in the UK, whilst only a minute fraction of the worldwide total, are increasing swiftly and have more than doubled over the last ten years from less than 1000 in 1996 to well over 3000 in 2010. A healthy UK breeding situation has now overtaken imports as the main driver of numbers and along with a growing appreciation of the Breed and its versatility ongoing growth of numbers is assured.
The soft and gentle nature of the Breed make it an ideal family and fun horse and generally bomb proof gentle hack. But the Quarter Horse also excels in competitive riding and is involved in a wide spectrum of equestrian sport ranging from Pleasure and Trail through Le Trek and Barrel Racing to the FEI western discipline of Reining where the Breed predominates both nationally and on the world stage in FEI competitions and the World Equestrian Games. The potential inclusion of Reining as an Olympic sport may soon project the breed into the Olympic spotlight.
Enthusiasts of the Quarter Horse over the whole spectrum of activity come together, in Britain, as the American Quarter Horse Association UK. All are immensely proud of the rich heritage, versatility and outstanding prowess of the Breed — the American Quarter Horse – a big past, a big present and a big future.