AQHA History: Building America’s Horse

AQHA History: Building America’s Horse

How the American Quarter Horse breed came to be, as told by Linda Davis, the daughter of one of the most influential men in AQHA history.

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Compiled by Andrea Caudill 

Linda Davis was born in New Mexico in 1930, and her life has been entwined in the very fabric of AQHA. Her father, Albert Mitchell, is the Association’s only four-time president and was one of the most influential men in the Association’s history. Linda’s mom died when Linda was 4, and her father and grandmother raised her and her brothers on the Tequesquite Ranch at Albert, which is being recognized in the Journal this year as an 80-year breeder. In 1953, Linda married Les Davis and moved to the CS Cattle Co., which ranches land around Cimarron. The ranch, founded in 1873, is 110,000 acres in the northeast corner of New Mexico, raising cattle and horses to work them. In 2000, the CS was awarded the AQHA Best Remuda Award for its legendary horses. Today, Linda’s family continues to manage the ranch. Even today at age 87, Linda works on the ranch and also volunteers as an EMT with the Cimarron Volunteer Ambulance Service.  

Here, she reminisces about some of her many memories.  

AQHA’s Foundation 

Back in the 1930s, there was the first talking about forming of a Quarter Horse association.  

Back in the ’30s, we had the Depression that the big crash started in ’29, and everybody was struggling and in the same boat. We had the terrible drought from the Dust Bowl. People were droughted out, and it was a tough time. The wind was blowing all the time. The dust was terrible.  

About ’36 or ’37, four or five men started from the general panhandle area of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, started talking when they’d go to Denver to the stock show, or to Fort Worth to the show, or to Arizona at Rillito (racetrack) there on the river bed in Tucson. They’d have these little short races, and they’d get these little kids to ride these horses bareback. They’d dump them out of a pole starting gate and run a lariat across in front of it. The horses would jump. These little kids would whip each other more than they’d whip the horse.  

People started talking about the Quarter Horse. 

About 1940, things got a little better organized, and then the war came along. There was still lots of talk during the war, but you couldn’t travel, and you couldn’t get around. The five or six men kept talking and pushing this idea, and they sort of got organized. They really didn’t hire anybody. You can read in the history books, they have a good set of dates of when they started really getting organized. But they would try to meet at the stock shows every year and keep this idea flowing. 

America’s Horse 

(The founders of this association) just felt America ought to have its own horse. This horse was so spectacular.  

These ranches were developing great horses, but they had no association. You had the Thoroughbreds, but in those days, they came out of England, then to Kentucky. It was still a European.  

(The founders) just strongly felt that the horses they were breeding on these ranches deserved to have recognition and have an association. To try to get some logic and control of the whole thing before it went hog wild. Records and things like that.  

The foundation mares and stallions were all from the general Southwest basin – some out of Kansas, California, Arizona. You had all these ranches that had good broodmare bands. They were trying to get some order and logic of the whole thing. That was what started it. The horses were so unique. They were strictly America’s horse. 

black and white photo shows Tequesquite remuda being herded

Albert K. Mitchell, Linda's father, was committed to raising quality horses. He was concerned most with structural correctness and mental soundness of his horses. They needed the ability to work cattle, work with a rope, and stay quiet. On the Mitchells' Tequesquite Ranch, the broodmare band ranged from 150 to 250 head of registered mares. The pedigrees on Tequesquite mares include such sires as Leo, Three Bars (TB) and Doc Bar. The stallions complemented the mares with Poco Bueno, Jet Deck and Freckles Playboy. Saddle horses for the ranch came exclusively from the ranch broodmare herd. Each year, replacement fillies were kept to maintain a broodmare herd of approximately 25. Some colts were sold each year as either roping, reining, pleasure or ranch horses. The horses were bred with an emphasis on looks, soundness and disposition. (Credit: courtesy of American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame)

Mr. Mitchell 

Albert K.Mitchell was AQHA president from 1946 to 1948, then again in 1950. 

My dad was an amazing man. He was a peacemaker and could get people together to talk. He was a legend in the livestock business in the past century.   

The Arizona group got its tail in a twist, and they wanted an American Quarter Horse Racing Association. They were going to split off. My dad strongly felt that they would cut their throats if there was two associations. One or the other would totally fail. It wouldn’t do what the founders’ vision was, which was to unify everybody. The racing people were going to take off and leave. 

They came to my dad, and he agreed to take it on. He is the only four-year president. He got them to patch it up. He’d punched cows all over the ranches in all this country, and he knew the Arizona people. The Arizona-California group were the ones trying to leave, and he got them pulled together. Once they unified, it was great. They really worked together. That’s the early years.   

It has been a great organization, and it certainly solidified the idea that the founders had of America’s horse. It’s our breed. I’m very proud of the organization.  

a young Linda Davis and father Albert Mitchell
Linda and father Albert Mitchell (Credit: courtesy of Davis family)


AQHA Past President Albert K. Mitchell sits aboard a sorrel horse with a white blaze
Albert K. Mitchell sits aboard a sorrel horse. (Credit: courtesy of American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame)


Helen Michaelis 

The secretary-treasurer for AQHA from March 1942 to August 1946, Helen was instrumental in helping shape AQHA. As a legendary authority on bloodlines, it is said she could spot a fabricated pedigree instantly. She was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1985.  

I remember that everybody was in fear and terror of Helen Michaelis. She was a legendary gal and a wonderful woman. All the guys would tread real light around her. She had a good sense of humor, and it was her mind that got the American Quarter Horse set up, through books and things. She was wonderful. She was the only woman, and all of them were pretty worthwhile guys, but she was just brilliant. She had a knowledge and had studied it. I was a great admirer of hers.  

Quite often we’d end up someplace because my dad always took us along, and she and I would share a room. There was no nonsense. She got us started in the right direction. Being a woman, they expected her to keep track of everything, and she did. While the guys were out meeting and trying to get the Association going, it was Helen who stayed in the background and worked like a dog.  

Helen MichaelisHelen Michaelis (Credit: courtesy of American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame)

She was the one who kept them all together. She had an iron fist, but she had a kid glove on it. She kept these guys moving forward, she would keep pushing and show up at some of the key places. I don’t think any of them realized how valuable she was. She was a treasure.  

More History From Linda Davis

Continue reading this series:

Ranching Traditions
Linda Davis of AQHA Best Remuda Award Winner CS Ranch recalls life on a cattle ranch in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Tequesquite, Bell and CS
After spending a lifetime on some of the West’s most historic ranches, prominent rancher Linda Davis reminisces.