The American Quarter Horse was named not after the unit of money but after the quarter-of-a-mile distance over which it can outpace a Thoroughbred. The breed's huge versatility as well as its good looks have made it immensely popular in its native U.S.A. and it is now recognized worldwide.
The Quarter Horse was developed as a rancher's horse. Agriculture in the U.S. was very different from agriculture in Europe. Crops were grown in a very similar way, albeit often on a bigger scale. In Europe, however, animals were generally grazed in relatively small spaces. This was often a simple reflection of the fact that the whole of Europe could fit into the U.S. many times over. In the U.S. livestock, particularly cattle, were often simply left to roam free over vast distances, requiring a horse with endurance, but capable of short busts of speed and great manoeuvrability.
Interestingly the foundations of the Quarter Horse were imported Thoroughbred stallions, which were crossed with native animals. Native in this sense is a loose term since the Quarter Horse began to be created in the 17th Century, by which point the “New World” had already become known to many nations, several of which had established a presence there along with horses from their own countries, which were interbred with local animals. While the influence of these animals is open to speculation, it is known that one of the key founding fathers of the breed was an imported Thoroughbred stallion called Janus, who was the grandson of the Gololphin Arabian.
By the 19th Century the “Wild West” was slowly being tamed as pioneers took their wagons ever further into unclaimed territory. In addition to the horses which pulled the wagons, many of these adventurers took riding horses, which as time passed were interbred with local wild horses or mustangs. These horses tended to inherit the resourceful intelligence of their wild ancestors and were renowned as excellent cattle horses. At the same time Thoroughbred continued to be used to develop the breed as horse racing became popular in the U.S.
In 1940 the first Quarter Horse society was formed to protect the breed. It took the decision to continue to allow Thoroughbred blood to be used for breeding purposes and, subject to certain criteria, the resulting crosses and their progeny can be registered in the stud book. This decision has been unpopular with some breeders who argue that too much Thoroughbred blood is diluting the true Quarter Horse and so there are also breakaway societies which aim to preserve the traditional horse.
Although technically a horse, the Quarter Horse can be as small as 14HH and generally stands up to 16HH although it is permissible for them to be taller. Different societies have their own rules. They can be any colour, which these days also includes broken colours such as piebald and skewbald and spotted. Due to the different breed standards, the actual physical appearance of these animals can vary widely. The Stock type most closely resembles the original working horse. These are relatively small, compact, sturdily-built animals, which are muscular without being muscle-bound. They have particularly powerful quarters, which is part of the reason they are such good sprinters as well as excellent jumpers. The Halter type is similar but larger and much more muscular to the point that concerns have been raised about the health implications of breeding such muscle-bound horses. Finally there is the racing or hunter type, which is similar to the Stock type but somewhat larger, leggier and leaner. It's easier to see their Thoroughbred ancestry.
Quarter Horses are an interesting breed. In spite of their Thoroughbred connections, most of them are both calm and sensible, making them a good choice for those new to riding. They also tend to be very intelligent, making them easy to train. Having said that, intelligent horses can be taught bad habits as easily as good ones so training young horses is a job which is probably best left to experienced riders and professional trainers. It's also worth noting that Quarter Horses which obviously have a high degree of Thoroughbred influence can be more sensitive and hotter to handle than the more workmanlike animals.
American Quarter Health
Unfortunately there are a number of health issues of concern to Quarter Horse breeders (and potential purchasers). The key disorders are: Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP); Malignant hyperthermia; Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA), also known as hyperelastosis cutis (HC); Glycogen Branching Enzyme Deficiency (GBED); Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy and Lethal White Syndrome. There are DNA tests for all of these except Malignant hyperthermia and Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy both of which are potentially manageable. Those buying younger horses, i.e. any horse under 5 should look for evidence that the animal's parents have been tested free of these disorders and/or have a vet check the animal for them before purchase. Those with older animals who are interested in breeding from them are strongly advised to have their animal checked beforehand. On the plus side, animals which are clear of these disorders tend to be robust.
Caring for a American Quarter
Quarter Horses are hardy creatures but will need some protection against the Great British climate. The Stock types are probably best thought of as half-hardy. They can live out a fair percentage of the time but will need to come in over the colder months. Those with a high proportion of Thoroughbred blood may need more time indoors. They tend to be good doers as horses go, but will probably need feeding over the winter and at other times too if working hard. Like all horses, they will need daily grooming and regular foot care and worming. Even in winter they will appreciate regular turn-out time, in fact, well-rugged-up they will enjoy going out in all but the very foulest of weather. They will also appreciate regular ridden (or driven) exercise as this will give
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