"The Sire" by Orren Mixer
Foaled in Kentucky, a descendent of the great Sir Archy, a horse named Steel Dust came to Texas as a yearling in 1844. The name Steel Dust came to identify an entire breed of horse; they were called “Steeldusts,” the cowboy’s favorite kind. They were heavy-muscled horses, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile. Steel Dust became one of the founding sires of the American Quarter Horse.
The origins of the Quarter Horse can be traced to early Colonial America. Even hundreds of years ago, it was human nature to enjoy a horse race. In the beginning, they ran the English horses with which they plowed and rode every day.
It wasn’t long before the Colonial farmers down in the Carolinas and Virginia began to trade for a faster horse that was being bred by the Chickasaw Nation. These quick ponies were descendants of horses brought into Florida by the Spanish. This was a type of horse produced from the cross of the North African Barb and native Spanish stock following the Moorish invasion of Spain, which began in the year 710.
There is evidence that the horses obtained from the Chickasaws were crossed with the Colonists’ English stock as early as 1611. Over the next 150 years, the product of this breeding would come to be known as the “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse.” The term “Quarter” refers to the distance - a quarter of a mile - most commonly run in Colonial racing, often on the main streets of small villages.
While Thoroughbred blood fell into favor across the Atlantic seaboard, the short horses echoed a pioneer experience. They were quick, tough and hardy – they could carry a man about his business all week long and then race hard on the weekend. Quarter Horses moved with their owners to the Midwest, Texas, and out onto the Great Plains.
One other great stallion put his stamp on the Quarter Horse during this period. His name was Sir Archy, sired by the imported stallion Diomed, and foaled in 1805. Sir Archy’s sons and daughters would be the most important influences in the development of Quarter Horses during the next half century. One of Sir Archy’s sons was the great Copper Bottom, brought to Texas in 1839 by General Sam Houston. Both Steel Dust and Shiloh, foundation stallions of the modern Quarter Horse, trace back to Sir Archy. Two other stallions which would contribute to the short-horse bloodlines around this same time were Printer and Tiger.
The final ingredient in the genetic formula that produced the Quarter Horse was to be found west of the Mississippi River: the Mustang. These wild horses added the last important shot of hybrid vigor to complete the creation of a horse unique to America: the American Quarter Horse.
As the cattle range industry grew in prominence, good horses were as important to a successful ranch operation as water and grass. Quarter Horses could do the job, and they bred true. These race and ranch roots provided the foundations upon which the American Quarter Horse stands.
The breed's official governing body, the American Quarter Horse Association, was founded in 1940 and is based in Amarillo, TX.
The American Quarter Horse has unique features that make it specially suited for a variety of tasks.
Quarter Horses are heavily-muscled and compact, and are bred to run a short distance over a straightaway faster than any other horse. A good Quarter Horse should feature a broad chest and rounded hindquarters. Depending on a specific horse's intended use, their size and body type can vary greatly. Usually standing 14-16 hands tall, some horses can reach 17 hands and beyond.
There are 17 recognized colors of American Quarter Horses, including the most prominent color of sorrel (brownish-red/chesnut). The others are bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlino and cremello. White spotting is discouraged, but horses may be registered if they are verified with DNA testing.
"Appendix" Quarter Horses are horses that are the result of a cross between a registered Quarter Horse and a registered Thoroughbred. These horses are especially favored in modern racing and English events. Other Quarter Horse breeders focus on preserving the "Foundation" type - horses that closely resemble the earliest Quarter Horses such as Steel Dust in their build.
Today, the Quarter Horse is now the most popular breed in the United States, with thousands of new horses registered with the AQHA each year. In 2020, the association registered its 6 millionth horse. It's no question why Quarter Horses are so popular - they are reliable, hardy, and versatile, ready to excel at whatever challenge they are given. Today you can find Quarter Horses in every riding style and discipline, from the ranch work they were originally prized for to elegant hunter-over-fences and dressage competitions, and even in harness. Their original racing roots still hold to this day as well - although Quarter Horse races may not be as prominent as those for Thoroughbreds, the AQHA continues to nurture this iconic sport that gave the breed its name.
For additional information, contact:
American Quarter Horse Association
1600 Quarter Horse Drive
Amarillo, TX 79104