What Is a Quarter Horse?

In the early days of AQHA, there was much dissention among members as to what, exactly, was an American Quarter Horse.

Early-day breeders debated about type.

Poco Bueno
Poco Bueno was an early influence of Quarter Horse body types. AQHA file photo.

By Vohn E. Penn in The American Quarter Horse Journal

Editor’s Note: In the early days of AQHA, there was much dissention among members as to what, exactly, was an American Quarter Horse. Some favored the short, stout cow ponies nicknamed “bulldog” horses, while others were strongly in favor of the infusion of Thoroughbred blood to create a faster, leaner version of our breed. Let’s listen in to the debate as it raged in 1950. This article was first printed in the April 1950 edition of the Journal.

There’s an old saying that, “The less you say, the less chance you run of exposing your ignorance.” I respect that proverb a great deal. Nevertheless, I’m willing to risk my reputation for average intelligence in an effort to end this infernal discussion of type. Nothing aggravates me quite so much as the expressions “Racing Type,” “Bulldog Type,” “Ranch Type,” and so on.

There has never been but one type of Quarter Horse since their inception so many years ago. That description is lost through the various interpretations. But there was a time, not so many years ago, when there was no effort made to type the Quarter Horse. He was simply a Quarter Horse, and that was all that need be said.

Learn everything there is to know about foundation sire Peter McCue, from his humble beginnings, his race career, where he lived, his owners and much more in AQHA’s FREE report, The Gospel According to Peter.

There have, of course, been superior, average and inferior individuals from time to time, and they, in turn, have passed on certain family characteristics that have resulted in a normal variation in the breed. As a whole, however, they were Quarter Horses, quick as a cat, sure-footed and stronger for their weight and height than any breed that ever lived.

It is strange to me that so few people today realize the difference that flesh can make in the appearance of a horse. They seem unable to realize that an animal pulled down by hard work or exercise, using every bit of his food for energy and none for fat, will be an altogether different-looking animal after two or three months of rest with plenty of good food and fresh water.

When I receive an inquiry from someone asking if I can furnish a Racing Type Quarter Horse, I am tempted to reply that I have only Bulldog at present, but that if they will give me 60 days, I will be glad to starve one down to suit them.

Of course they can run. If they can’t, then they aren’t Quarter Horses, in spite of how their pedigree may read. Some will run faster than others, naturally, just as they will in any other breed, but if they are good ones, the essential qualities will be present in all of them. The percentage of top performers at any game is small in comparison to the number involved.

Now, about this business of type: I have no wish to antagonize anyone, but here is how it seems to me, and I am wondering if perhaps it may seem the same way to others. I believe that every one of us knows what truly constitutes a good Quarter Horse, and I would like for you to calmly ask yourselves, “Am I raising Quarter Horses that I like and believe in, or do I like and believe in the horses I am raising, simply because they are mine?” There’s a whale of a difference, you know.

I am wondering if the breeder who consistently refers to his horses as Running Type, is not attempting to excuse rattle-headedness, too much length of leg, too long a back or a lack of muscled weight? On the other hand, is it possible that the Ranch Type enthusiast is trying to excuse sluggishness, lack of speed and action, coarseness or the presence of draft blood?

If you suspect that you might fall in either of these classes, there is but one thing to do. Take your loss right now and start raising plain Quarter Horses. There is small satisfaction in kidding yourself.

The Gospel According to Peter FREE report includes a reprinted article from a Chicago newspaper during Peter’s 2-year old campaign, recounting his maiden race.

Let me tell you about the first description of a Quarter Horse that I can remember having heard. I’ve never forgotten it, and in the past 27 years or thereabouts, I’ve found it to fit nearly every horse that could really fill the bill all the way.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1920 or ’21, and a group of men were gathered in the shade along the east side of our long stone barn. I was there in the middle of things with my mouth shut, like a kid was supposed to be then, but my ears were wide open.

It beat a ball game all to pieces, and there was nothing I would rather do than listen to this bunch talk and argue horses. Sometimes they’d work up a horse trade or a race, and now and then, they’d draw straws to see who rode out a salty one or two.

A small-looking, rather chunky chestnut with trim feet and legs stood dozing in the corral. The bridle was hung from the horn, and the girth was loosened. His name was Biscuit, and he was completely unaware that he was about to become a part of this discussion.

Read Part 2 of this story.

58 thoughts on “What Is a Quarter Horse?”

  1. In Spain they crossbreed PRE with Arab and TB for bullfighting and Doma Vaquera. They call them ‘Tres Sangre’ ore ‘3 blood’. They did that for hundreds off years because the TB is fast, the PRE is strong and the Arab is nervous. Her you can see what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk_n1yQlmT0
    Is a Tres Sangre part off the American Quarter horse? Cattle work on horseback came to America with the Spanisch so………..Ore was it that some TB crosses were faster on the quarter mile than full blood TB’s. More muscle. mmmm….Muscle comes from the colt blood middle age Knight horses from spain. Well if Mustang is 70% Spanisch and you cross it with a TB you get a……Quarter horse? Just guessing

  2. I would also love to get rid of the “baby-doll face” in our quarter horses. They just look like chunky Arabs to me. I like a pretty face as much as any horseman, but a quarter horse should not have an Arab head, period.

  3. I agree with Mary, Quarter Horses dont need them “baby-doll faces”, Yeah the Arabs have pretty faces & all, but it dont look that great on a nice, strong, well built Quarter Horse; it just looks wrong. I got a lovely lil’ Quarter Horse out of the San Peppys, Badgers, Conole Freckles, Two Eyed Jack, & a bunch of other great Quarter Horse & she has the prettiest face I’ve ever seen on a Quarter Horse. This lil filly can really MOVE too! I’ll let her run full out through a pasture & my eye’s will start watering, ride her in a pasture with cattle & she’s all buisness, I’m only 14 & I trained her myself, along with my other lil’ filly thats a natural reining horse. Quarter Horses are so amazing & talented to work with.

  4. On the subject of Three Bars, if you really look at him, he is just a little taller version of a quarter horse. Have you ever really studied Secretariat? I think he looks like one fine tall quarter horse. I am sure he could have done so many things and done them great. Just look at his hock heighth and how balanced his whole body is. Maybe if he had only grown to 14.2 or so, just think of the talent he might have had for cutting. Some times we need to add back what is already there to begin with to restrengthen some of the faults that have become a problem with-in our breed. You can only breed the same line of horse so many times before nothing but the bad comes out. In human terms it is called incest and we figured out years ago that it was not good for the human race, so why do we do it to our beloved horses. So if you will read my comment on 12-27-11 all these types of breeds where there to began with. So start reading your history on all the different breeds of horses around the world, and you will see a little bit of all these different breeds in the quarter horse. Not only that, there were no other horses in America, except what man-kind brought with them to the New World. I wonder how many types of horses that was, think about it?

  5. I guess you could say i owned cal’s cachickaboy its a blessing that i could google the old horses name see what a legend he was dad said power chick triple a i’m sure he double a , the one thing i can say bout the quarter horses it gives us lots of heritage , for the most part the horse is a true work of art its amazing what the have done for the human race over many years i know for me they are part of my soul hopefully over more time i’ll be able to communicate with the horse better and tell them i’m thankful they are my friend ,

  6. Last year I bought a Quarter Horse from a friend. She’s stands 14′ 2″ and has a ginourmous butt. Come to find out that her blood lines go all the way back to Wimpy. She’s only five and hadn’t been ridden much at all when I bought her. I want to do both halter and western pleasure with her. I could bulk her up if I wanted to for the halter classes, but then I wouldn’t really be able to compete in the riding classes. I want the best of both worlds for my horse. Enough bulk to do halter, yet not so “fat” that she couldn’t be worked under saddle or look like a giant slug in the area where horses that are loping look more like they are limping. She has a nice trot that would probably be too “fast” in a show, but it’s a good speed for her. I also own a 20 year old Quarter Horse with foundation blood lines that’s still going strong. He can still compete in shows, but his “new” job is helping kids of all ages learn how to ride, and what better to ride than an “old fashion” Quarter Horse. 🙂

  7. is the best i have 2 Quarter horses they are so smart and lern fast everiting you tech them.

  8. Too bad none of this discussion will mean anything to bring back the TRUE versatile,all-around Quarter Horse of yesteryear unless AQHA judges stop awarding blue ribbons to the “specialy” bred horses in the ring. Wat wins this year, everyone is going to be breeding to to try to duplicate so they can win next year. The horses that are prqcticallloping and jogging backwards because they are so slow, are NOT what a QH should be. The hlater horses with hocks as straight as fenceposts and tiny feet, legs, necks, and heads, is NOT what a QH is supposed to be. A horse that is indistinguishable from a Thooughbred, that stands 17+ hands and a trotting stride a mile long, is NOT a QH. AQHA needs to set the standard and stick to it, and hold it’s judges accountable for the trends that are being awarded. There’s no way a cutting bred horse would get looked at twice in a western pleasure class, and a hunter bred QH isn’t going to know what the heck to do with a cow in front of them. That’s not how AQHA should be run, not what people should be given a pat on the back for, and not where I want to go to show my Quarter Horse. The current trends are hurting the breed as a whole and damaging the longevity of each horse as an individual, making it harder for people to aquire a good “winning” horse, or afford to show, as the winners of each discipline can monopolize the market for that discipline because if you don’t have a horse from those “hot” bloodlines you don’t stand a chance at competing well. A REAL QH should be a jack all trades, that can do anything any other horse can do, and do it better.

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