Horse Breeding: Quarter Type

AQHA judge Jim Heird, Ph.D. talks about the importance of “type” in a breeding horse.

Halter Classes

Rule 448 (b) “The purpose of the class is to preserve American Quarter Horse type by selecting well-mannered individuals in the order of their resemblance to the breed ideal and that are the most positive combination of balance, structural correctness, and movement with appropriate breed and sex characteristics and adequate muscling.” -2009 AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, 57th Edition

“When we say ‘type,’ we mean those characteristics that distinguish the American Quarter Horse from any other breed,” says Jim Heird, Ph.D., AQHA judge. When you evaluate “type” or “breed character,” you evaluate those qualities in a horse that make it true to its breed.

If you plan to show your horse in breeding classes, it helps to know what characteristics are most often found in the winner's circle. AQHA's “Form to Function" report gives you clear instruction on how to evaluate a horse’s conformation, setting you up for success in the show pen.

“It’s those characteristics that everyone recognizes as being a Quarter Horse,” Jim explains, “the muscles, the defined jaw, the bones, the athletic ability. Those are the things that distinguish our breed.” Jim thinks it is especially important for modern Quarter Horse owners to use type when evaluating conformation. “Because our breed has become so versatile, it’s sometimes hard to know what exactly a Quarter Horse is supposed to look like,” he explains. “For example, just take a hunter horse and compare it to a cutting horse or a reining horse. Our conformation class is our place to preserve that type.” Still, breed and sex character can be difficult to define. “It’s easy to say this horse is straight or this horse is crooked. But it’s hard to define what breed character and quality is,” Jim says. “Heads are proportional,” he continues.”The skull is a long bone, just like the cannon bone. You can’t look at a 14.1-hand horse and automatically say he’s got a short pretty head compared to a 16.2-hand horse. It’s the placement of the eyes and ears, the shape of them, the size of the nostril, etc., that could very well make the little horse look ugly.”

Jim points out that many qualities that we tend to call faults in a horse’s head aren’t really genetic defects. Though many qualities we call faults are based on what is pleasing to a human eye, some are faults no matter what we think of them aesthetically. Features such as parrot mouth, an undershot jaw and small nostrils have direct consequences that would interfere with the horse’s ability to survive in the wild. “I don’t think it is horsemanship and being around horses (that tells you when a horse is good-looking or not)” Jim says. “I think it’s just listening to what your eye tells your heart and your brain.”

You'll have a much easier time picking out conformation faults once you've read AQHA's “Form to Function” report. Download a copy today and develop an eye for accurately evaluating horse conformation.

It’s also difficult to define sex character in a horse. “When you judge sex character, you have to understand that we’re talking about femininity and masculinity and seeing that,” Jim says. “You see it when you look at it; it doesn’t need to be defined.” “You look at a horse and ask: ‘Is that mare pretty to you? Is it attractive? Does that stallion look masculine to you?’ ” He also points out that the geldings your breeding program produces should have breed character but not sex character.