Everything You Need to Know About the American Quarter Horse

Posted by Allie Layos

If you've ever wanted a horse with cow sense, a trusted trail partner, a sprinter, or a great halter prospect, chances are you looked at the American Quarter Horse. This versatile breed of horse is known for its power and speed, but also for its great mind and good nature. The Quarter Horse has a rich history right here in America, and is regarded as the horse that built the American West.

Today, you'll find Quarter Horses trail riding, competing in show rings, working on ranches, racing, and more. It's no wonder that this incredible breed is so popular.

History of the American Quarter Horse

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 bloodline, 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 and Quarter Horse racing has remained a competitive and exciting industry.

Quarter Horse Characteristics

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, grullo, and white.

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

The Quarter Horse Today

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. AQHA held the first American Quarter Horse Association World Show in 1974 and inducted the first two people into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1982. Competing at the AQHA World Championship is a top goal for many equestrians who love this breed.

Today's hardy Quarter Horses are still used on ranches, but are also used as racehorses, rodeo horses, cow horses, show horses, and trail riding mounts.

Hover over the image for more information.

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

Do you own a Quarter Horse? Show us a picture in the comments below!

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Everything You Need to Know About the American Quarter Horse