What Is A Quarter Horse?

The American quarter horse is a well-established staple of the United States and is one of the oldest recognized breeds in the nation.

What Is A Quarter Horse?

From their origins in the 1660s to their present status as one of the calmest, most cooperative horses, these are a popular breed – and this is your chance to learn a little more about them.


Most quarter horses range at between 14 and 16 hands in height and are known for their stocky, muscular physique, deep and broad chests, and short, wide heads, making them ideal for their original job of cutting cattle from the herd.

This was a role that required horses to be able to start, turn and stop quickly, as well as pick up speed across short distances. As a result, quarter horses tend to be quite heavy, with weights ranging between 430 and 545kg.

The breed comes in three main types: short, stocky “stock type quarter horses”, muscular “halter” horses, and taller, leaner hunter or racer types.

There are a wide variety of color types, and the approved list of accepted colors is a lengthy one. Bay, black, buckskin, brown, roan, dun, and palomino are amongst the most popular, but the “classic” shade for an American quarter horse is a brown-red sorrel tone.

Previously, any white-spotted colors were banned by the American Quarter Horse Registry, but this has now evolved to allow horses of all colors to be accepted – the only caveat is that both parents must also be registered.


What Is A Quarter Horse?

Quarter horses are known and celebrated for their intelligence, as well as their calm, docile nature. They are clever enough to be trained with minimal effort, and this makes them popular for riders of all abilities and levels and has earned them a place as a family horse.

Their intelligence also means that they are popular ranch horses – they can respond well to outside stimulus, are super hard-working, and are always eager to please their rider – all important aspects to their success as strong working horses.


The American quarter horse has a long reputation and stands as one of the oldest recognized horse breeds across the US.

The breed can trace its origins back to the 16th century when Thoroughbreds imported to Virginia were bred with the native Spanish horses, creating a horse that was compact, fast, and enjoyed the benefits of both racehorses and workhorses.

The name was derived from the amazing speeds that the breed could reach over a quarter-mile distance. Races were well in place by the late 17th century, when competitions raced quarter horses over quarter-mile courses across Virginia and Rhode Island,

and some of the most significant sires also arose during this period, including an English Thoroughbred, Janus, as well as Steel Dust, and Peter McCue – a sure deemed the most important element in improving the quarter horse.

The early years of the 19th century saw the increased popularity of Thoroughbreds, as they had the ability to run faster over extended distances. Quarter horses did not fall out of favor, however; on the contrary, they gained popularity across the western and southwestern states, and amongst travelers heading in this direction.

Here, the speed and agility of the breed made it the perfect pick for the rapidly developing frontier, and the natural herding ability and good temper made it popular with cowboys in the period.

Quarter horses were also bred with native breeds, particularly Mustangs, to develop “cow sense” – a natural talent for rounding and working with cattle on the frontier.

The quarter horse remained popular across ranches and started to make appearances at races and rodeos across the region – something that has continued into the modern-day.

The 1940s saw the founding of the largest breed registry in the world, the American Quarter Horse Association, and this boasted over 2.5 million horses on its books by the late 20th century. Now, this is the largest organization of horse breeders in the world.

Quarter horses remain popular on ranches right across the United States and are regular visitors to races, rodeos, and shows. In recent years, they have also displayed a strength for dressage and trail riding, and there are now over 3 million registered quarter horses across the world.

Their sweet, smart and docile nature means that they remain popular with ranches and families alike, and their popularity shows no sign of declining.

What Is A Quarter Horse?

Diet And Nutrition

Compared to other breeds, quarter horses are considered to be easy to keep and will be quite happy enjoying a diet of grains, vegetables, hay, and fresh fruit.

Grains, hay, and grass will form the bulk of their main diet, but extra treats such as apples and carrots are also always welcomed! Supplements are a good idea to help your horse stay healthy and well. As a rule, quarter horses should be fed around 1.5-2% of their body weight on a daily basis.

Health Issues And Risks

Unfortunately, quarter horses do tend to be susceptible to a number of genetic issues, with the most common being hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP). This is an inherited condition that can cause muscle weakness and twitching, and which can also result in paralysis.

To help reduce instances of HYPP, the American Quarter Horse Association requires all horses to be DNA tested for the condition.

Quarter horses are also at risk of hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA) – this is a skin condition that is caused by a defect with the collagen in the body, and some may also suffer equine polysaccharide storage myopathy – this is a metabolic condition which can result in lameness, sweating, sore muscles, and muscle tremors.

Final Thoughts

The American Quarter horse is a smart, docile, and amiable breed, one that is capable of reaching high speeds, and enjoys incredible agility. Their good-natured temperaments make them suitable horses for almost all experience levels and abilities, and they are guaranteed to be a great addition to any family or herd.

Catherine McDowl
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