The American Quarter Horse is the most popular horse breed in the world. The AQHA has registered more than 6 million Quarter horses since 1940, thanks to the breed’s trademark character and versatility.

As one of the oldest recognized breeds in the United States, the Quarter Horse has a rich history closely intertwined with that of America. Initially bred for quarter-mile races, the working Quarter Horse eventually found a niche on the western frontier.

Modern Quarter Horses thrive in a wide range of disciplines as pleasure and performance horses. But the breed has an increased risk of genetic diseases and health conditions requiring specialized nutrition and management.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, common health problems, and nutrition requirements of the American Quarter Horse. Keep reading to learn everything owners need to know about caring for and feeding their Quarter Horses.

Quarter Horse History

While the American Quarter Horse Association originated in 1940, the history of the Quarter Horse can be traced long before that to Colonial America. As the young country evolved, the Quarter Horse evolved with it.


Most horses in Colonial America were the descendants of hardy English stock, imported as working animals for settlers in the Colonies.

To produce a faster racehorse, American colonists began crossing the English stock with speedy ponies bred by the indigenous Cherokee and Chickasaw people. [1]

The Cherokee and Chickasaw ponies descended from Spanish Barbs initially brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers. Many of the free-roaming Mustangs of the American West can also trace their ancestry to these Spanish horses. [2]

The resulting cross excelled at sprinting short races of a quarter-mile distance, which earned the breed its name. These races often occurred down the main streets of small villages. [1]

In 1752, John Rudolph of Virginia imported the stallion Janus to improve the stamina of the short sprinters. Janus was a son of the Godolphin Arabian, a foundation sire of the Thoroughbred. [1]

Historic Use

After the American Revolution, the tall, sleek Thoroughbred gained popularity as the preferred racehorse on the newly established manicured racetracks of the Atlantic coast. [1]

The smaller, tougher Quarter Horse left the main streets of east coast villages as settlers moved west. Their hardiness from the original English stock, power from the Chickasaw ponies, and stamina from Janus made them well-suited to carry frontiersmen through the wilderness.

West of the Mississippi, these horses crossed with Mustangs to produce an equine with greater vigour for long working days on the range. The American Quarter Horse found its niche as a versatile cow horse there. [3]

The cattle industry of the American West grew exponentially after the Civil War. The Quarter Horse became essential to ranching operations, and ranchers purposefully bred the horses as dependable mounts for working cattle.

One of the most influential early bloodlines originated from the stallion Steel Dust in Texas. Cowboys revered the intelligence, speed, heavy muscle, and cow sense of the stallion’s descendants, and the “Steeldusts” played a pivotal role in shaping the breed standard. [3]

Breed Registry

The American Quarter Horse Association, or AQHA, is the largest breed registry in the world. This association is the official governing body responsible for maintaining ownership records and cataloging all performance data on Quarter Horses.

The association aims to preserve the pedigree and integrity of the American Quarter Horse while promoting the welfare of its horses. AQHA also provides educational resources for current owners and people interested in Quarter Horse ownership.

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