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Why are Quarter Horses so Popular?

Quarter Horses are intelligent, agile, and friendly making them one of the most popular horses in America.

In this article, you’ll find out:

Why Americans Love Quarter Horses

  1. Temperament.  Quarter horses are known for their docile and willing temperament. Their willingness to listen to their rider is unparalleled and makes them wonderful companion horses.
  2. Usefulness. This breed also has an innate ability to understand the movement of cattle- a skill known as “cow sense”. They instinctively know where the cattle will go and what they will do. Even beyond cattle ranches, these clever and adaptable horses excel in many horse sport. 
  3. Availability. The first two qualities made these horses perfect for the ranches that covered the American West in the 19th century, and that early popularity is a big part of why quarter horses are so popular as pleasure horses today! When farming industrialized in the 1900s, America had a surplus of ranch horses. Because these horses adapted well to pleasure riding, quarter horses continued to be bred and sold as the most popular breed.  

Their willing and easy temperament also make quarter horses ideal horses for a beginner rider or as a first horse. Check out our article How To Buy A Beginner Horse as a Novice Rider for tips on purchasing your first horse.

A man places a western saddle on a quarter horse.

Why Call it a Quarter Horse?

The answer to this is quite simple. They were almost unbeatable in a Quarter Mile race. Their unique physique gave them explosive speed over short distances.

Despite how popular they are all over the world, quarter horses were only recognized as an official breed in the 1940s (when they officially received their name), though they have been around since the 1660s! 

Quarter Horses were the first new breed of America: developed when the first European settlers came to America and crossed a thoroughbred stallion called Janus with native horses of Spanish descent. This crossbred horse was strong, compact, and fast, which quickly made quarter horses very popular.

The History of the Popularity of Quarter Horses 

The Best Choice for Early Ranches

The quarter horse helped win the west in many ways, but one of their most important contributions was to the ranches located in Texas. The Texans quickly noticed how good they were with cattle and quarter horses immediately became popular for cattle work. This innate cow sense quickly earned them the nickname ‘cow horse’.

The quarter horse’s ability to cut, sort, and outsmart cattle was responsible for helping the cowboys of the west have success ranching on the plains. 

Breeding Horses to Meet Demand

Despite quarter horses not being recognized as an official breed, the Texans knew a good horse when they saw one, and they wanted more. This early ranch horse became so popular that some ranchers started focusing less on breeding the cattle, and more on developing the breeding lines of their best horses.

These ranchers-turned-horse-breeders bred them into the history books by foresight and an uncanny ability to track bloodlines (before stud books and breed registries even existed!). 

Texan ranchers saw the potential popularity of this breed decades ago, and they made sure the rest of the world would see it too.

An Enduring Favorite Breed

It may seem like a horse bred in colonial times to race a short distance or outsmart cattle is irrelevant to today’s rider, but it’s not. These skills are still highly valued and sort after today. The speed of this horse, with its strong muscles and sturdy build, make them ideal for almost every type of riding.

While this breed is still popular in the western riding scene (cutting cattle, riding in rodeos, and working alongside ranchers) they are also used for other riding styles. These former ranch horses have proven their worth in show jumping, cross country, dressage, hunting, and eventing. You may even see them strutting their stuff in the Olympics!

People like how Quarter Horses Look

American quarter horses are beautiful creatures to look at, and this appearance has shaped how desirable these horses are. Their faces are short and wide, with bright eyes full of life and curious ears telling you what they are thinking. Their appearance is made even more striking by their deep, broad chests that create a solid, muscled appearance radiating power.

Their compact and powerful bodies allow them to stop, start, and turn on a dime. This is part of what makes them a truly remarkable breed. They usually stand somewhere between 14.3 and 16 hands. At 14.3 hands, they are considered small compared to other horses, but standing at 16 hands, they will tower over other breeds.

They also come in a large variety of colors, including black, grey, roan, chestnut, palomino, bay, and buckskin (my personal favorite). In all, there are 17 recognized colors of a quarter horse.

Creating a Sense of Community

Another positive aspect of owning a quarter horse that you may not have thought of is the sense of community. Horse breed associations are made up of members dedicated to interest in a breed. In an organization as popular as the AQHA, there are leadership opportunities, community and education benefits, and even scholarships. You will also gain access to exclusive competitions and events across America.

You can partake in these opportunities by owning a quarter horse and joining the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). The AQHA is a community that welcomes new members with open arms and relishes the opportunity to share this breed with its new members.

Final Thoughts on the Quarter Horse’s Enduring Popularity

This horse breed is, in many riders’ opinions, one the best horses in America (possibly the world), and they have proved themselves time and time again. They may have been bred as racehorses in the days of the settlers, but they have grown to be known for much more.

Whether you are looking for a beginner horse that is willing to listen, or a high-performing eventer that will take you to the Olympics, the Quarter Horse’s popularity is undeniable.

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