What Is a Quarter Horse?

Early-day breeders debated about type.

Editor’s Note: In the early days of AQHA, there was much dissention among members as to what, exactly, was an American Quarter Horse. Some favored the short, stout cow ponies nicknamed “bulldog” horses, while others were strongly in favor of the infusion of Thoroughbred blood to create a faster, leaner version of our breed. Let’s listen in to the debate as it raged in 1950. This article was first printed in the April 1950 edition of the Journal. There’s an old saying that, “The less you say, the less chance you run of exposing your ignorance.” I respect that proverb a great deal. Nevertheless, I’m willing to risk my reputation for average intelligence in an effort to end this infernal discussion of type. Nothing aggravates me quite so much as the expressions “Racing Type,” “Bulldog Type,” “Ranch Type,” and so on.

There has never been but one type of Quarter Horse since their inception so many years ago. That description is lost through the various interpretations. But there was a time, not so many years ago, when there was no effort made to type the Quarter Horse. He was simply a Quarter Horse, and that was all that need be said.

Learn everything there is to know about foundation sire Peter McCue, from his humble beginnings, his race career, where he lived, his owners and much more in AQHA’s FREE report, The Gospel According to Peter.

There have, of course, been superior, average and inferior individuals from time to time, and they, in turn, have passed on certain family characteristics that have resulted in a normal variation in the breed. As a whole, however, they were Quarter Horses, quick as a cat, sure-footed and stronger for their weight and height than any breed that ever lived. It is strange to me that so few people today realize the difference that flesh can make in the appearance of a horse. They seem unable to realize that an animal pulled down by hard work or exercise, using every bit of his food for energy and none for fat, will be an altogether different-looking animal after two or three months of rest with plenty of good food and fresh water. When I receive an inquiry from someone asking if I can furnish a Racing Type Quarter Horse, I am tempted to reply that I have only Bulldog at present, but that if they will give me 60 days, I will be glad to starve one down to suit them. Of course they can run. If they can’t, then they aren’t Quarter Horses, in spite of how their pedigree may read. Some will run faster than others, naturally, just as they will in any other breed, but if they are good ones, the essential qualities will be present in all of them. The percentage of top performers at any game is small in comparison to the number involved. Now, about this business of type: I have no wish to antagonize anyone, but here is how it seems to me, and I am wondering if perhaps it may seem the same way to others. I believe that every one of us knows what truly constitutes a good Quarter Horse, and I would like for you to calmly ask yourselves, “Am I raising Quarter Horses that I like and believe in, or do I like and believe in the horses I am raising, simply because they are mine?” There’s a whale of a difference, you know. I am wondering if the breeder who consistently refers to his horses as Running Type, is not attempting to excuse rattle-headedness, too much length of leg, too long a back or a lack of muscled weight? On the other hand, is it possible that the Ranch Type enthusiast is trying to excuse sluggishness, lack of speed and action, coarseness or the presence of draft blood? If you suspect that you might fall in either of these classes, there is but one thing to do. Take your loss right now and start raising plain Quarter Horses. There is small satisfaction in kidding yourself.

The Gospel According to Peter FREE report includes a reprinted article from a Chicago newspaper during Peter’s 2-year old campaign, recounting his maiden race.

Let me tell you about the first description of a Quarter Horse that I can remember having heard. I’ve never forgotten it, and in the past 27 years or thereabouts, I’ve found it to fit nearly every horse that could really fill the bill all the way. It was a warm Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1920 or ’21, and a group of men were gathered in the shade along the east side of our long stone barn. I was there in the middle of things with my mouth shut, like a kid was supposed to be then, but my ears were wide open. It beat a ball game all to pieces, and there was nothing I would rather do than listen to this bunch talk and argue horses. Sometimes they’d work up a horse trade or a race, and now and then, they’d draw straws to see who rode out a salty one or two. A small-looking, rather chunky chestnut with trim feet and legs stood dozing in the corral. The bridle was hung from the horn, and the girth was loosened. His name was Biscuit, and he was completely unaware that he was about to become a part of this discussion. Read Part 2 of this story.