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American Quarter Horse Breed Profile: History, Facts, Stats & More

American Quarter Horse Breed Profile: History, Facts, Stats & More

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The American Quarter Horse is a key part of American history and has captured the hearts of people for generations.

American Quarter Horses are one of the most versatile breeds that can learn and succeed in various jobs, and their disposition makes them a safe and sturdy ride. However, there is a lot you need to know about them before deciding if they are the right horse for you and or your family.

The American Quarter Horse is a hot-blooded horse breed that weighs anywhere from 950-1200 lbs. and stands anywhere from 14.3 hands to 16 hands tall. They are compact, yet well-built horses that are best suited for ranch work such as working cattle, but they can succeed in any riding discipline.

Average Height14.3-16 hh
Weight950-1200 lbs.
ColorsChestnut, sorrel, black, bay, palomino, buckskin, gray, roan
ConformationAttractive head, sloping shoulders, short back, strong loin, long hip, muscular stifle, and forearm
TemperamentDependable, calm, agile, intelligent, gentle, eager to please
Average Price$2000-$7000

History of the American Quarter Horse

The beginnings of the American Quarter Horse started with the breeding and domestication of the Spanish Barb, which is the predecessor to the American Mustang.

The Spanish Barb was made by crossbreeding the North African Barb with various horse’s native to Spain.

Spanish explorers brought the Spanish Barb with them to Florida in the early 1500s, and they were used as war and personal riding horses. Colonists also used the Spanish Barb to trade with the Native Americans living in Florida. The Native Americans gladly took these well-bred horses as mounts.

Bay quarter horse is standing in the paddock
Bianca Grueneberg /

In the 1600s, American colonizers traded with the Native Americans as well and crossed their English stock horses with Chickasaw horses from members of the Chickasaw tribe.

The ideal combination of both hardiness and speed resulted in the then called “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse” The horse received this name because colonizers would use these horses to race through the streets of their villages, which were usually a quarter mile long.

In 1712, this faster horse was bred to a Godolphin Arabian grandson named Janus to create the first version of the American Quarter Horse we know today.

Janus passed both his speed and power seen in the breed to his foals. The English Thoroughbred gained popularity as a racehorse after the American Revolution.

One particular English Thoroughbred, Sir Archy, was the sire to Steel Dust and Shiloh, two of the foundation stallions of the American Quarter Horse, along with two other horses named Printer and Tiger.

The blood and genes of the American Mustang, Janus, Sir Archy, Printer, and Tiger blended to make the current Quarter Horse. As time passed, the breed was used not only as a racer but as a working cattle horse.

American Quarter Horse Characteristics and Temperament

The American Quarter Horse breed has several defining characteristics in its physical appearance that distinguish it from other breeds. They are short and stocky, but incredibly muscular. Their hindquarters are some of the strongest of all breeds.

Their build allows them to move both quickly and accurately, which makes them ideal for ranch work and racing.

Chestnut American Quarter Horse trotting in a field
Bianca Grueneberg /

Quarter Horses can run as fast as 55 mph, which is well above the 20-30 mph top speed of the average horse. They are well-mannered and intelligent, making them easy to train for any discipline you need. The American Quarter horse is gentle and calm and is a great mount for all riders.

Here are the Quarter Horse Breed’s unique characteristics:

  • Short back
  • Muscled hindquarters, shoulder, and forearms
  • More speed and agility than the average horse
  • Highly intelligent yet gentle nature
  • Natural cattle herding instincts

American Quarter Horse Breed Standard

The American Quarter Horse Association was established in 1940 to standardize and preserve the breed for generations. The association controls the studbook in which only stallions accepted by the organization are included. The breed standard according to the association is as follows:

  • Attractive head with bright and appealing eyes
  • Refined throat latch, and a well-proportioned yet thin neck
  • Long and sloping shoulder with a deep heart girth
  • A short yet muscled back
  • Strong loins with a long hip and croup
  • Muscular and well-defined stifle, gaskin, forearm and chest
  • Straight and correct legs and feet
  • Balanced with uniform muscle

The AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, where the breed standard is written, has a new edition each year. If needed, organization leaders update the breed standard to reflect current breeding trends and Quarter Horse bloodlines.

What Color is an American Quarter Horse?

The most common colors for the American Quarter Horse are bay, black, sorrel, grey, and chestnut. Rarer colors include grullo, red and blue roan, cremello, perlino, and buckskin.

Beautiful chestnut Quarter Horse standing in a field looking off into the distance
Vera Zinkova /

American Quarter horses must be solid colored to be registered with the AQHA, meaning they must not have paint patterns or any other patterning.

American Quarter horses can have any combination of face and leg markings. These include the star, snip, stripe, blaze, and bald face, as well as stockings and socks.

American Quarter Horse Facts

American Quarter Horses certainly stand out from other horse breeds. Here are some facts you may not know about them.

1. The Quarter Horse is an American Icon

It is one of the oldest horse breeds with origins in the United States. The creation of their bloodline started in the 1660s when Spanish Barbs were crossed with English Thoroughbreds.

Since American Quarter Horses are the most popular horse breed in America, it makes sense that they would have a large population.

Portrait photo of a bay colored American Quarter Horse standing in a field facing the camera
Lenkadan /

Since the founding of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1940, more than 6 million horses have been registered, and around 80,000 registrations are completed each year. Additionally, there are more than 420,000 Quarter Horses in the state of Texas.

3. Quarter Horses are Successful Racehorses Too

Before Thoroughbreds took over the racing industry, Quarter Horses were king. Easy Jet was one of the most successful Quarter Horses in racing, winning 27 of 38 starts and becoming Champion 2-year-old colt, World Champion Quarter Running Horse, and Champion Stallion.

4. Quarter Horses Have Different Body Types

The three main body types for Quarter Horses are as follows:

  • Bulldog type – commonly seen in ranch and farm work, high stamina and sturdy build, most similar to the foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines.
  • Thoroughbred type – refined yet still muscular, placed in either western or racing events depending on build.
  • Halter type – a mix between the Bulldog and Thoroughbred, bred to be shown in the halter discipline.

What Type of Rider is an American Quarter Horse Good For?

The American Quarter horse is a great horse for all levels of riders. Their intelligence, along with a calm and gentle disposition, makes them easy to train as well as perfect teachers for new equestrians.

There are also more high-strung and challenging Quarter Horses for experienced riders to work with, each horse has their own temperament and behaviors.

Nice quarter horse standing in front of flowering plum trees
Zuzule /

American Quarter Horses have the talent to excel in any riding discipline including reining, cutting, pleasure driving, jumping, dressage, and hunter under saddle.

Famous American Quarter Horses

The American Quarter horse is a defining breed when thinking about the history of horses in the United States. They are the perfect blend of power, willingness, and athleticism.

Here are some of the most well-known representatives of the American Quarter Horse:

  • Doc Bar – revolutionized cutting horses as a sire. He sired 485 foals which won over 7000 points in the halter and cutting arena, and 27 of them became American Quarter Horse Association Champions.
  • Dash For Cash – the most successful sire of racing American Quarter Horses to date. He sired 1.353 racing foals that have earned more than $37 million in winnings, and 39 world championships in racing among other accolades.
  • King – one of the cornerstone stallions of American Quarter Horse bloodlines. His conformation was used as the standard when judging American Quarter Horses for more than 10 years. He was the father of 20 American Quarter Horse Association Champions.

What Are American Quarter Horses Used for Today?

American Quarter Horses are some of the most well-built and versatile horses today. As such, they are used in every part of equestrianism and horsemanship such as racing, ranching, trail riding, showing in both English and Western classes, and participating in timed events.

Are American Quarter Horses Good for Beginners?

American Quarter Horses make excellent beginner horses because they are calm and docile. Their even temperament makes them less likely to spook as well which calms the nerves of those first learning to ride.