The History of AQHA

The rich history of the Association and this iconic horse breed is just as bountiful as America itself.

Since 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association has been paving a way for passionate horseman and horsewomen to come together in the name of the American Quarter Horse for the breed’s preservation, celebration, and advancement. The rich history of the Association and the breed of horse is just as bountiful as America itself. From humble beginnings to our record-breaking present, the American Quarter Horse Association has grown into the largest breed association in the world.

On March 15, 1940, the first official AQHA Convention was held in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Fort Worth Club during the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show (now called the Fort Worth Livestock Show and Rodeo).  AQHA pioneer Bob Denhardt gathered 75 driven and generous breeders and owners to inaugurate the Association and designate shareholders. At the time, these shareholders were the primary decision-makers for the Association and its endeavors.

“All Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter mile in twenty-three seconds or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse Performance under ranch conditions.”

 – AQHA Executive Committee meeting minutes from April 22, 1940

During March of 1941, the association’s first registered horse came in the form of a stocky and hardy ranch stallion named “Wimpy." The King Ranch stallion won the grand championship at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth, TX, also earning him the AQHA registration No. 1.

During that same time, the American Quarter Racing Association named Clabber the first world champion Quarter Running horse and racing stallion in 1940-41. Clabber was nicknamed “Iron Horse” for his supreme athleticism in Quarter Racing at the time. The Association also saw its first Pari-mutuel race for Quarter Horses later in 1947 at the Hollywood Park (Ruidoso Downs). Since then, the track at Ruidoso, New Mexico has become a mainstay of Quarter Horse racing and is home to the All American Futurity, the first horse race in the world to offer $ 1 million to its winner.

Though these milestones in Quarter Horse history were tremendous, the successes of these different breed disciplines were continuing to broaden the rift between the “Bulldog” men – those who liked chunky horses and focused on conformation and the type – vs. the racing breeders who placed emphasis on performance instead. During the 1946 AQHA convention, these disagreements grew to be so hostile that the opposing men came close to blows with one another in a near fist fight. Shortly after, outgoing president Lee Underwood suffered a heart attack and Albert Mitchell of New Mexico was elected as president. With these unfortunate events behind them, the stakeholders were ready to move towards a better tomorrow for the Association.

In 1948, AQHA published the first issue of The Quarter Horse Journal. With this positive momentum, stakeholders at the 1950 AQHA Convention unanimously voted for AQHA to become a membership-controlled organization, open to the world. This change of jurisdiction has allowed AQHA to grow to the largest breed organization in the world to-date.

First, read how the Quarter Horse breed came to be

Noteworthy Dates in AQHA History

1910-1927 – Defining a Breed

  • William Anson was the first to formally describe the “Quarter Horse” as an established type. 

  • His "Breeding a Rough Country Horse" article appeared in The Breeders Gazette in May 1910.

  • Anson published a second, similar article in 1922. The second article attracted the attention of Dan Casement.

  • Casement's first article on horses, "Steeldusts as I Have Known Them," was published in 1927 in the American Hereford Journal.

1937-1939 – Bob Denhardt Gets to Work

  • Robert "Bob" Denhardt receives in a master's degree from the University of California-Davis in 1937, his thesis focusing on Spanish horses in America.

  • Denhardt accepts a teaching position at Texas A&M University; his friend, Paul Albert, editor of Western Horseman, suggests that Denhardt start to unravel the mystery of the horses called Steeldusts.

  • For three years, Denhardt conducts research and his first article, "The Quarter Horse, Then and Now" is published in the January 1939 issue of Western Horseman.

March 1939 – First Meeting of Breeders

  • Bob Denhardt meets with several breeders in Fort Worth, Texas, during the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show (now called the Fort Worth Livestock Show).

  • He presents his idea for the Western Quarter Horse Breeders Association.

  • Receives encouragement, but not enough support.

March 15, 1940 – First AQHA Convention

  • From 1939 to 1940, Bob Denhardt meets with owners and breeders of Quarter Horses.

  • 75 people meet at the Fort Worth Club on March 15 during the  stock show.

  • Denhardt presents a charter, modeled after that of the National Horse and Mule Association.

  • They issue stocks, allowing shareholders complete control of the organization.

What is a Quarter Horse?

“All Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter of a mile in 23 seconds, or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse performance under ranch conditions.”

– AQHA Executive Committee meeting minutes from April 22, 1940

1940-41 – First World Champion Quarter Horse Running Horse

  • The American Quarter Racing Association named Clabber the first world champion Quarter Running Horse and racing stallion in 1940-41 

  • Nicknamed “Iron Horse.”

March 1941 – Choosing the First Registered Horse

  • King Ranch stallion Wimpy won the grand championship at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth, earning the AQHA registration No. 1. 

  • A rift had already started between the "Bulldog" men – those who liked chunky horses and focused on conformation and type – vs. the racing breeders who placed emphasis on performance.

1946 – AQHA at the Edge of Collapse

1947 – Hollywood Park (Ruidoso Downs)

  • Ruidoso, New Mexico, racetrack held its first pari-mutuel race for Quarter Horses in 1947. 

  • Since then, it has become a mainstay of Quarter Horse racing and is home to the All American Futurity, the first horse race to offer $1 million to its winner.

1948 – AQHA Publishes the First Issue of The Quarter Horse Journal 

  • Fast forward to 2020, and the Journal is now sent to all 225,000 members.

1950 – AQHA Becomes Membership Organization

1952 – First AQHA Champions Named

These horses all met stiff requirements in approved halter and performance events; note that there was a mix of “bulldog” and Thoroughbred blood.

  • Poco Tivio (by Poco Bueno)

  • Little Egypt (by Texas Dandy)

  • Star Jack Jr (by Scoggins Littlestar)

  • Paul A (by Star Deck)

  • JB King (by Harmon Baker’s Star)

  • Skipper W (by Pretty Buck)

  • Pondora (by Pondie)

  • Babe Mac C (by Macanudo)

1956 – AQHA Gives Quarter Horses to President Eisenhower

  • American Quarter Horse Hall of Famers AQHA Past President Lester Goodson and trainer Charles W. “Bubba” Cascio traveled to Washington, D.C., to give Doodle De Do and Sporty Miss to United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

  • Cascio even rode one of the horses in a reining pattern right there on the White House lawn.

1962 – The New Appendix

  • A compromise formed at the 1962 convention went into effect, establishing one numbered registry for AQHA, eliminating the labels “Permanent” and “Tentative.” 

  • The only outcross blood permitted was Thoroughbred: The offspring of a numbered Quarter Horse and a registered Thoroughbred can enter the “new Appendix.”

  • To move from the Appendix to the Numbered registry, a horse must:

    • 1) Earn a Register of Merit in open classes, and 
    • 2) Have a veterinarian vouch that the horse has no undesirable traits.

P, T and X: What do they all mean?

  • “P” = a horse in the Permanent registry (now called “Numbered”).
  • “T” = Tentative, or pending conformation inspection and pedigree approval.
  • “X” = Appendix. 

1967 – Kid Meyers Becomes the First Open Supreme Champion

  • Racing champion Miss Meyers died a month after foaling a colt by Three Bars (TB), leaving owner A.B. Green to bottle-feed the orphan.

  • Kid Meyers became AQHA’s first open Supreme Champion, excelling at halter, in the performance arena and on the racetrack

1968 – The Mixer Horse

  • Oklahoma artist Orren Mixer was commissioned to paint the ideal Quarter Horse, known now as “the Mixer horse.”

1970 – AQJHA

  • The first meeting of the American Junior Quarter Horse Association is held, with an initial membership of 3,000. 

  • Today, this organization is known as the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, with more than 18,000 members.

1972 – First AQHA Youth Finals

  • This precursor to the AQHYA World Championship Show was first held in Amarillo.

  • The show eventually moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, then Fort Worth, Texas, and finally to Oklahoma City.

1973 – Amateur Competition Debuts

  • Amateur competition began with just western pleasure and bridle path hack (hunter under saddle).

  • Reining, hunt seat equitation and horsemanship were added in 1978.

  • All amateur classes (except showmanship) were offered at the 1980 AQHA World Show; showmanship was added in 1988.

November 8, 1974 – One Million Registrations

  • Special ceremony at the office in Amarillo.

  • AQHA Executive Committee decided to hold the millionth certificate, so the next certificate issued after 999999 was 1000001. 

  • AQHA was the first equine breed association to register a million horses.

1974 – First AQHA World Show Held

  • Held in Louisville, Kentucky, then moved to Oklahoma City in 1976.

  • 692 horses were entered in the first world show.

  • 40 states and five Canadian provinces represented.

  • 42 world titles.

1979 – First AQHA Superhorse Crowned

  • Vickie Lee Pine won the first AQHA Superhorse title at the AQHA World Show for her breeder and owner, Howard Pitzer. 

  • By Two Eyed Jack and out of Poco Coed by Poco Pine, she showed in aged mares, heading and heeling.

1982 – First Hall of Fame Inductees

  • Bob Denhardt and Ernest Browning, an Arizona rancher and AQHA past president, were the first two people inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

1983 – Registers 2,000,000th Horse

  • The King Ranch purchased Registration No. 2000000 through an auction to benefit the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

  • Two Million, a filly by Mr San Peppy, was approximately the 6,500th horse registered by the King Ranch.

  • From 1940 to 1974 – how long it took to register 1,000,000 horses.

  • From 1974 to 1983 – how long it took to register another 1,000,000 horses.

September 1984 – New AQHA Headquarters Building 

  • Ground was broken in 1983 for the building along Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas, with the unveiling in September 1984.

1989 – First Horses Inducted Into Hall of Fame

1992 – Best Remuda Award

1996 – Zippo Pine Bar

  • By Zippo Pat Bars and out of Dollie Pine by Poco Pine, Zippo Pine Bar became the breed’s all-time leading sire by AQHA points earned. 

  • Long after his death in 1998, Zippo Pine bar held the lead until 2014, when he was passed by Invitation Only.

2002 – Versatility Ranch Horse 

2003 – Select World Show Offered

2007 – Performance Halter

  • Performance halter was added to the roster of AQHA classes.

  • To date, it’s the only conformation class with a performance requirement.

2011 – Cowboy Mounted Shooting

  • With the help of alliance partner Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, AQHA cowboy mounted shooting classes were first held in 2011. 

  • The AQHA Cowboy Mounted Shooting World Championships were first held in 2012 in conjunction with the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in March.

2012 – Level 1 (Novice) Championships

  • Inaugural events offered in Las Vegas and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

  • AQHA adds the Zoetis AQHA Cattle Level 1 Championships in 2014 in Oklahoma City.

  • Level 1 (Novice) was first added in 1988 with changes made to the program in 2013.

2012 – Ranching Heritage 

2015 – Adequan® Level 2 Championship

More American Quarter Horse History