The Quarter Horse is truly an American breed, reflective of the nation’s changing lifestyle and progress westward. Its earliest ancestors came with the Spanish conquistadors. These horses of various bloodlines were captured by Indians and traded as far as the Atlantic seaboard.
The Spanish-derived Indian ponies, particularly those kept by the Chickasaw, were valued for work by the later English colonists. They were crossed with Thoroughbreds introduced throughout the early 1600s to create the ultimate all-purpose horse—the horse that could plow a field during the week, carry a family to church on the weekend, and provide entertainment in the form of short-distance horse races through town when the occasion required. The all-American horse that excelled at this type of quarter-mile sprinting became known as the C.A.Q.R.H., the Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse.
Long-distance racing with purebred Thoroughbreds became popular in the mid-1700s, making the C.A.Q.R.H., or Quarter Horse, more useful as a work horse than a sport horse. Nevertheless, the type persisted because it was the ideal horse for settling the new lands that were steadily opening up. Wherever the frontier was, whether it was Kentucky or Missouri, there the Quarter Horse was to be found.
But it was in the American West that the Quarter Horse truly came into its own. Here it received a second infusion of blood from its original Spanish ancestors, as it was crossed with mustangs and Indian ponies to increase its natural toughness. To the delight of its keepers, the new and improved Quarter Horse also inherited cow sense, an uncanny ability to outsmart a wily bovine. From that time on, the Quarter Horse was first and foremost the mount of the rancher and cowboy.
From Kansas westward to the Desert Southwest, the Quarter Horse was bred and worked for generations. Even the advent of mechanization could not eliminate its usefulness. No machine had cow sense. The Quarter Horse was all but indispensable to Western culture, equally useful for everyday ranch work and Western competitions such as rodeo.
The Quarter Horse is still frequently crossbred with the Thoroughbred today to produce horses for English-style sports and quarter-mile racing. These horses are technically called Appendix Horses, but they can nevertheless be registered as Quarter Horses, despite the fact that many of them are practically upgraded Thoroughbreds in terms of ancestry.
Today, the Quarter Horse is the world’s most popular horse breed, with over 5 million across the globe. It is also the most popular breed in America. For that reason, it is sometimes called “America’s Horse.”
The Quarter Horse can excel in any mounted discipline. However, the breed has two basic types with several variations, each bred for a different purpose.
The stock type is the all-around Western horse. It can work cattle on the ranch or in the arena, or it can respond to the subtle cues of reining competitions. One variation on the stock type is the Western pleasure type. This variation is bred for the sport of Western pleasure, but it can frequently make an excellent first horse for the backyard rider, as well.
The hunter/racing type generally has more Thoroughbred influence than the stock type. This style of Quarter Horse was born and bred for English competitions, running the gamut from dressage to jumping.
In general, the Quarter Horse is known for its impeccable temperament. It is gentle and kind, looking out for its rider and forgiving most beginner mistakes. This steady disposition also helps it stay calm under pressure. But the Quarter Horse does have spirit and intelligence—it is tenacious in its work and loyal in its relationships.
Different types of Quarter Horses may display slight differences in temperament. Stock types are often steadier, while hunter types are a little more energetic.
Unfortunately, the Quarter Horse suffers from numerous genetic defects, perpetuated through the overuse of wildly popular sires.
Bloodlines descended from the stallion Impressive may carry the gene for hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP). This genetic defect causes the extreme muscling popular in horses bred for halter shows, but it also causes potassium buildup in the muscles. Symptoms range from tremors to collapse and death.
Hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA) may be linked to the stallion Poco Bueno. This is a painful defect in which the skin peels away, particularly on the horse’s back.
Three bloodlines involving over 10% of Quarter Horses carry polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), typically associated with draft horses. This disorder leads to excessive carbohydrate buildup in the muscles. Fortunately, a high-fat, low-starch diet can be used to manage this defect.
Another genetic defect causing metabolic disorders in the Quarter Horse is glycogen branching enzyme deficiency. This problem affects glycogen use and storage and is always fatal.
Malignant hyperthermia (MH) is a genetic disorder that is much harder to detect, despite the fact that horses only need to carry one copy of the gene to suffer from the problem. In this condition, excess calcium in the muscles can cause a chain reaction of metabolic problems, which are often fatal. However, MH may never present symptoms unless the horse is under stress or being treated with anesthetics or other medication.
Health problems in the Quarter Horse besides genetic defects include scrotal hernias and strangulating lipomas, masses of fatty tissue that can cut off circulation in the bowel over time. Also, Quarter Horses with large bodies and small feet, such as the type used for halter showing, can develop chronic lameness if overworked.
- Prices to fit any budget.
- Temperament suitable for beginners.
- Exceptional agility.
- Best cow sense of any horse breed.
- Expense of the top bloodlines.
- Numerous health problems.