The American Quarter Horse – “The World’s Most Popular Horse”

A staple of the American equine tradition since the Wild West days, the American Quarter Horse was specifically bred for speed, agility, hardiness, and a good work ethic. From its inception, the breed has consistently lived up to (and even surpassed) these qualities, making it, arguably, the most popular breed in the United States.     

When the first colonists made their homes on the east coast of what is now the United States, they brought with them what was then the most popular horse from their homeland, the Thoroughbred. This was a very “fashionable” horse, prized for its regal quality and hot blooded nature. Unfortunately, these qualities didn’t necessarily make for the best “work horse” in a wild and unexplored land, so the colonists began to cross breed their imported stock with the “native” horses, which were largely a mixture of Arabians, Spanish Barbs and Iberian stock that had been brought over by the Conquistadors. The resulting offspring were impressive; Quick, agile, even tempered, sure-footed, and dependable mounts.

“The “Colonial Quarter Horse” was the result; so named for its ability to best even proven Thoroughbred race horses over a “quarter mile” on the weekends, and then go work the rest of the week. “

As the breed base grew, people began to see a certain quality that was evident in nearly all of the stock…These horses were strong, well boned and hardy, but they were also deadly sprinters over short distances. Though the colonists needed good “work horses”, they also had a devout love for horse racing (a tradition brought with them from Europe), and they did not have the means to keep specific horses for each purpose. Weekend races were a popular source of entertainment, and without the well groomed tracks their Thoroughbred imports were used to, the new little “cross breed” they had created dominated on short, dirt roads and uneven ground. In an effort to expand upon the speed of the emerging breed, more cross breeding was done with imported stock. One stallion in particular, a Thoroughbred named “Janus” (a grandson of the famous Godolphin Arabian), was used to intensify a booming breeding program. The “Colonial Quarter Horse” was the result; so named for its ability to best even proven Thoroughbred race horses over a “quarter mile” on the weekends, and then go work the rest of the week.

As the Colonial Quarter Horse moved west, and more crossbreeding was done with Native American bloodstock (most distinctly from the Comanche and Nez Perce tribes), horsemen began to realize that this new derivation of the breed had what many called “cow sense”. Thus, even after industrialization, the Quarter Horse was a necessity on any cattle operation. Nearly every cowboy on every large ranch in Texas was riding a Quarter Horse, simply because they could get the job done. Many of the big ranches began to breed their own horses, expanding upon the “cowiness”, including the famous King, Waggoner, and Four Sixes Ranches. These horsemen played a large role in developing bloodstock that would be the cornerstone of what is known today as the American Quarter Horse breed.

The American Quarter Horse Association was founded in 1940 by a group of ranchers in the southwestern United States who wanted to maintain the bloodstock of the horses that had played such a major role in the development of the west. The first registration number was given to a stallion by the name of “Wimpy”, a descendant of the King Ranch’s foundation sire “Old Sorrel”. The Thoroughbred and American Quarter Horse remained closely intertwined over the years, and infusions of Thoroughbred blood are still seen today in what is known as the “Appendix Quarter”, which is essentially a first generation cross between a Thoroughbred and a registered American Quarter. These horses are listed in the “Appendix” of the AQHA studbook, and though they can be shown or raced, their offspring are not initially eligible for full AQHA registration, though they may earn the status if they meet certain criteria over a period of time. This “Appendix” standard creates a constant infusion of Thoroughbred blood into the AQHA breed, which many feel is beginning to degrade the original “type”, and thus several organizations have been created to promote what is referred to as the “Foundation Quarter Horse” – a horse more closely resembling the conformation and type of the ranch horses that the American Quarter Horse Association was formed to protect.

“Because of the infusion of so many different breed lines, the American Quarter Horse is an extremely versatile athlete, with horses excelling in nearly every discipline from Hunter Jumper to Reined Cow Horse.”

There are two main “types” of American Quarter Horse, the “Stock Type” and the “English/Racing Type”. The Stock Type horse is typically shorter coupled, broader chested and more thickly muscled, especially in the hind and fore quarters, and excels in Reining, Cutting and Rodeo events. The English/Racing Type is usually somewhat taller and leaner built with more smooth muscling, and a closer resemblance to a Thoroughbred (often with Appendix lines), and is more often used for racing, jumping, and other speed events. Because of the infusion of so many different breed lines, the American Quarter Horse is an extremely versatile athlete, with horses excelling in nearly every discipline from Hunter Jumper to Reined Cow Horse. A typically gentle and easy going personality also makes the breed popular with first time horse owners, pleasure riders, and as children’s mounts.

One San Luis Obispo County teenager is making a splash on the show scene with her American Quarter Horse. Jessica Hill has been riding with Patty Knudson in Paso Robles, CA for the last seven years. Last year, she had to retire her 20 year old AQHA gelding, Louie, and was able to purchase a beautiful, seven year old, double registered AQHA/APHA mare named “Kiss N Krymsun” (Kira). Jess and Kira became quick partners, and in their short time together have already successfully competed locally, earning the Green Horse buckle at the SLOQHA awards, as well gotten their feet wet in the larger West Coast show circuit. In 2013, they competed in several open shows in Templeton with SLOQHA, made a good showing at the Midstate Fair in Paso Robles, and qualified for and showed at the Smart Pak Invitational Novice Championship Show in Las Vegas at the South Point Equestrian Event Center.

Though Jessica had a special bond with “Louie”, she has greatly enjoyed the challenge of working with a younger more green horse, and seeing the transformation as they grow together as a team. Jessica and Kira competed in Trail, Western Pleasure and Western Horsemanship in the 2013 show year. For 2014, their goals are to add Hunter Under Saddle, English Equitation and Showmanship to their repertoire so that they can compete for the “all around” awards, as well as qualify for the Smart Pak Invitational Championship Show in Las Vegas for a second time. Having seen these two in action, I have no doubt that they will achieve their goals. Rarely does one see a prettier picture of horse and rider than Jessica Hill and Kiss N Krymsun; these two are certainly great ambassadors for the American Quarter Horse breed.

* All images are of Jessica Hill and Kiss N Krymsun.

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I have been an equestrian most of my life, having gotten my first pony at the age of 5, and 30 years later, I competitively exhibit my Half Arabian Reining horse on both the Arabian and NRHA circuits. There are three passions in my life, riding, photography and writing. Being able to combine all three of these things is a dream come true.

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