One look at the Quarter Horse’s compact confirmation and powerful build, and it’s not difficult to see why the breed is renowned for its speed and agility. A muscular body and well-rounded hindquarters account for its aptitude for rapid acceleration, and a flexible neck facilitates remarkable manoeuvrability and balance. Add to this equation a broad chest and wide throat that allow easy passage for the volume of air required for speed and stamina, and the Quarter Horse is a truly unique package.
A multi-cultural history – The history of the Quarter Horse is fascinating. Early in the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas. They brought with them horses of Iberian, Berber and Arabian stock. These breeds were characterised by their compact, solid build, their speed and their considerable stamina.
Fast-forward to the 17th century and the arrival of the English pioneers, who also brought their horses. This time it was long-legged, deep chested Thoroughbreds, which had been bred for racing over long distances. One of the most famous of these imports was Janus, grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, a founding sire of the Thoroughbred breed.
However, while the Thoroughbred was well suited to conditions back in England, things were a little different in the colonies. When it came to their horses, the pioneers quickly developed a wish list that included an ability to work with cattle, to provide day-to-day transport, and to successfully participate in the short distance sprint races that were becoming increasingly popular as a sport. Add to that a requirement for stamina, intelligence and agility, and it became apparent that if the characteristics of the Thoroughbred were to be combined with those of the horses of Spanish origin, it might produce the desired mix.
Enter the Quarter Horse – The result of the Thoroughbred/Spanish combination was a sturdy, smaller horse possessed of an amazing burst of speed that exceeded the capability of the Thoroughbred over short stretches.
And this was important because the popular sprint races were held on straight roads or flat open land and were generally around a quarter mile (approximately 0.4kms) in length. This fast, agile new breed excelled over that distance, and not surprisingly eventually became known as the Quarter Horse.
But the Quarter Horse was not only a race winner. In the 19th century, pioneers crossed Quarter Horses with mustangs, the wild horses of the Great Plains. They discovered that the new crossbreed had an enhanced natural instinct for working with cattle, and as such quickly become the horse of choice among cattlemen and ranchers.
Arrival in Australia – Reputed to be America’s oldest breed, Australia currently has the second largest population of Quarter Horses in the world – and it all began in the early 1950s when Robert J. Kleberg Jr., president of Texas-based King Ranch Inc., decided to expand the company’s Santa Gertrudis cattle breeding operations into Australia. Where there were cattle Quarter Horses were bound to follow, and in 1954, Vaquero and three other stallions arrived Down Under.
Vaquero, worthy of special mention because he has the honour of being allocated Q1 in the Australian Quarter Horse Stud Book (Vol.1, 1968, Purebred Registry) was only a colt when he was sent to Risdon, the King Ranch stud in Warwick, Queensland. His progeny (a total of 208 have been recorded) included many high ranking performance horses, and numerous other Australian Quarter Horses can claim him as part of their pedigree.
Breed Characteristics – Essentially, there are two types of Quarter Horse: the stock and the hunter/racing type. The stock horse tends to be shorter, more compact, and well-muscled, while the hunter/racer is taller, smoothly muscled and is more reminiscent of a Thoroughbred.
Renowned for their easy-going and willing temperament, the Quarter Horse is suited to a range of disciples. Western cutting, reining, campdrafting and working cow horse events, which continue to grow in popularity, showcase the breed’s immense agility and speed. Their lightning fast stops and turns, while remaining calm and responsive to the rider, are nothing short of spectacular.
But their intelligence and versatility also make them ideal for the more traditional English disciplines such as dressage, three day eventing, show jumping, pony clubbing, polo and polocrosse – and for pleasure riding, the Quarter Horse makes an ideal companion.
Due to their straight legged confirmation, Quarter Horses have a tendency to suffer from navicular disease, an inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone and its surrounding tissues that usually occurs only in the front hooves. Proper care of the hoof will help to reduce the likelihood of this problem.
Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP) may also afflict some Quarter Horses. This genetic defect is characterised by sporadic attacks of muscle tremors and weakness in the larger muscles, plus possible paralysis in the muscles of the upper airway. The defect originated from one particular stallion, some of the descendants of which are here in Australia. Fortunately however, a clinical test that determines which horses carry the gene is readily available. So if you’re about to purchase a Quarter Horse, you’d be wise to test before you seal the deal.
Further information – If you’re interested in learning more about the Quarter Horse, the Australian Quarter Horse Association’s website is a great place to start.