Horse Breeds

The American Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse races are a lot shorter—and faster—than Thoroughbred races. Photo courtesy Eff Schultes/Shutterstock.

The American Quarter Horse needs no introduction. This immensely popular breed is versatile, athletic and beautiful. But maybe you don’t know quite as much about Quarter Horses as you think. Check out these facts and learn more about America’s most popular breed!

  1. American Quarter Horses are faster than you might think. Everybody thinks of Thoroughbreds when they think of horses that display impressive speed. But believe it or not, these horses are actually faster, at least over short distances.

This breed of horses are the sprinters of the horse world, capable of hitting 55 miles per hour—that’s like going down the highway in a car! The catch is that they can only do this for a brief time, and they commonly race over a quarter mile, hence the name “Quarter Horse.” (Thoroughbreds can carry their speed for much longer distances; for instance, the Kentucky Derby is a mile and a quarter—the same as five quarter-miles.)

Photo courtesy Lenkadan/Shutterstock.
  1. They’re wonderful ranch horses. They have long been beloved by ranchers because they’re nimble and quick—perfect for doing demanding work like sorting cattle, roping, and other ranch chores. If you’ve ever watched a demonstration of American Quarter Horses performing cutting work, you know just how amazing and athletic they are.

For the same reason, these horses are a blast to ride and have fun on. The same physical attributes that make them good at cattle work mean that American Quarter Horses excel at events like barrel racing, pole bending, reining, and other athletic games.

The same athletic talent that makes the breed great at cattle work also means they are handy and quick at barrel racing and other games. Photo courtesy Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock.
  1. The American Quarter Horse is America’s first breed. The Americas were vacant of horses at the time of Spanish exploration in the 1500s. But it didn’t take long for early settlers to develop the breed that became our modern American Quarter Horse, combining the existing Spanish horses with English Thoroughbreds.

In fact, the foundation animals of the breed date back to the early 1600s—long before the United States was even a country! They don’t call it the “American” Quarter Horse for nothing.

Photo by Bob Langrish.
  1. Kids love them! If you’ve ever spent time around a horse of this breed, this probably comes as no surprise. But did you know that almost 20,000 youth have joined the American Quarter Horse Youth Association? Members can take part in shows and programs or further their equine education with seminars and scholarships. 
  2. They have a huge fan base. Speaking of the American Quarter Horse Association, did you know that the Association has registered more than 6 million horses since it was founded in 1940? Nearly 80,000 American Quarter Horses were registered in 2020 alone. 
  3. You can visit the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum. In the 1980s, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame was established to honor horses and humans who have made impacts on the breed. Best of all, you can visit the Hall of Fame & Museum—it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

So if you’re ever near Amarillo, Texas, be sure to stop in for a visit. You’ll find timeline exhibits, educational activities, and much more. Can’t get to Amarillo? Check out the virtual museum exhibits on the AQHA website, along with contests, activity sheets, recipes, crafts, and more! 

Quarter Horses come in a rainbow of cool colors, including blue roan (shown), red roan, grulla, palomino and buckskin. Photo courtesy Nicole Ciscato/Shutterstock.
  1. They come in a rainbow of colors. If you want a horse of this breed, you can choose from one of 16 possible colors: bay, bay roan, black, blue roan, brown, buckskin, chestnut, cremello, dun, gray, grullo, palomino, perlino, red dun, red roan and sorrel.
  2. The breed was influenced by Peter McCue, Dan Tucker and Joe Cody. Think these are famous humans associated with the breed? Think again: Peter McCue and Dan Tucker were influential foundation stallions, and Joe Cody was a famous reining horse and breeding stallion.

With its pleasing personality and athletic ability, the American Quarter Horse makes a great mount for any young rider!

This article about the American Quarter Horse appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Samantha Johnson

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. She loves Corgis and shares her home with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Peaches.


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