March 8, 2013
Strong-willed men waged some horse-breeding battles in the early days of AQHA.
By Don Hedgpeth in America’s Horse
The conflict and controversy that surrounded AQHA’s early years centered more on men than on horses. Strong-willed men of uncompromising passion dug in their heels in defense of the of the bulldog-type Quarter Horse and would not give an inch in their argument. Those on the other side bet their chips on performance rather than appearance and pointed to a profusion of Thoroughbred skeletons in the Quarter Horse closet.
A more equitable position was taken by William Anson, the first man to make a serious scholarly attempt to trace Quarter Horse history. In 1910, Anson wrote: “Owing to the absence of a studbook, these horses have undoubtedly been bred more for type and performance than for strict bloodlines and pedigrees. Comparatively few can lay claim to pure lineage, but in spite of this, type is very firmly established, and with whatever breed he is mated, the Quarter Horse transmits certain unmistakable racial characteristics to his offspring.”
Quarter Horse breeding has come far over the years, leading to a higher quality of horses. In the “Best Remudas” book by Jim Jennings, you have the chance to read about the first 15 winners of of the Best Remuda award and their high standards for horses.
Those who held the reins at AQHA’s beginning would not buy into Anson’s belief. The first edition of the AQHA Stud Book and Registry carried these comments: “Undoubtedly, the prime purpose to which this Association should aim is the perpetuation of those qualities that are the Quarter Horse’s unique and invaluable traits. To do this successfully requires the scrupulous preservation of the physical characteristics that clearly mark and distinguish this horse from any other breed. It is wholly by virtue of these characteristics firmly fixed by generations of purposeful breeding, that this horse possesses those priceless qualities that make him supreme in his own field. Only a negative and harmful purpose would serve any attempt to refashion the shape of the Quarter Horse in imitation of any other breed, or by admitting to the Association’s record, horses that do not fully conform to the well-established Quarter Horse type in shape, action, disposition and character.”
If your horses couldn’t fit the mold in the 1940s, you had better go elsewhere, and some did. Opposition to AQHA’s intractable stand led to the founding of two rival Quarter Horse organizations during the decade. Melville Haskell wrote on behalf of those who had been shunned by AQHA, along with their horses: “In the Southwest, where short racing attained a high point in popularity, it was soon discovered that the blood of the Quarter Running Horse made a marked contribution to the quality of ranch stock for working cattle. Here was developed the bulldog type of cow horse that makes up much of the foundation stock of the registered Quarter Horse of today. However, experience has shown that when this particular type is bred to an extreme degree without regard for performance, over-muscling occurs, which defeats the very purpose of the breed. Not only does the characteristic speed begin to disappear, but with it goes other qualities of the ideal cow horse. If the Quarter Horse of the future is to maintain the reputation established by the Quarter Horse of the past, performance must never be allowed to become of secondary importance.”
The “Best Remudas” book by Jim Jennings offers 200 pages of amazing photos and stories from the 15 award winners. The winners are selected fro their quality horses as well as how the remuda is an integral part of daily life on a real working ranch.
The battle lines were drawn, and the war would be waged for years to come. Through
the crucible of conflict, AQHA would shape itself into the most effective and forward-looking force ever mustered on behalf of horses. Nothing that comes easily is really worth winning, Excellence may emerge through adversity, and that has most certainly proved true in the tale of AQHA’s trailblazers.