Everything You Need to Know About the American Quarter Horse

Posted by Allie Layos

The American Quarter Horse built the American West. 

Though the American Quarter Horse has roots in the colonial era, it was the westward expansion of the 1800s that gave the horse breed its true shape. When these “colonial Quarter Horses” were bred with American Mustangs, descended from the Spanish horses of early settlers with a Thoroughbred blood line, the offspring were born with a natural instinct for working with cattle. The breed also benefitted from the Morgan, Arabian, and Standardbred horse breeds. These horses quickly became the backbone of ranches throughout the American West.

Cowboys relied on the American breed and the ranch horse helped bring up farms from Texas to Oklahoma to Colorado to California and westward across the United States. The horses would work in the week and the cowboys would compete in horse racing on the weekends; a competition that eventually became known as the rodeo.

Quarter Horses are also known for their speed over short distances, or races of a quarter mile or less. Some Quarter Horses have been clocked at 55 miles per hour.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed in 1940, and today it is the largest breed registry in the world, with almost three million registered horses. Today’s hardy Quarter Horses are still used on ranches, but are also used as a race horse, rodeo horse and cow horse, show horse, and Western pleasure mount for trail riding.

Due to their muscled and compact bodies, this popular breed excels in the Western disciplines of reining, cutting, barrel racing and more, but can also compete successfully in English events such as jumping and driving.

The Quarter Horse breed comes in nearly every color, the most common colors being sorrel and chestnut. Other colors include: bayblackbrownbuckskinpalominograydun, red dun, blue dun, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlinocremello, and white.

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General Appearance

The Quarter Horse is a solidly built horse that usually stands between 14 and 16 hands, although some Halter-type and hunter-type horses may grow as tall as 17 hands. They typically weigh around 1,075 pounds.


Quarter Horses are known for their strong, stocky build, and well-muscled hindquarters. They have broad chests and thick necks, with legs that are sturdy but not coarse.



The most common color is a brownish red color called sorrel, but Quarter Horses can come in many color, including bay, black, brown, buckskin, palomino, grey, dun, and more. Today, even spotted colors are accepted into the registry, as long as both parents are registered.


The head of a Quarter Horse is small and short but refined, with a straight profile.


Quarter Horses make excellent mounts for riders of all abilities and disciplines because they are calm, durable, and willing to please, but are also quick and agile.


There are a number of health concerns that affect the American Quarter Horse, including Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, Malignant hyperthermia, Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia, Glycogen Branching Enzyme Deficiency, Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy and Lethal White Syndrome.

Body image via Busby Quarter Horses

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Everything You Need to Know About the American Quarter Horse