Last Updated on January 21, 2022
If someone mentions fast horses, we automatically think of Thoroughbreds! But there are many other incredibly fast breeds of horse, including the American Quarter Horse. But why is a Quarter Horse called Quarter Horse?
Let’s find out everything we need to know about this incredible breed of horse, including where they got their name!
What Is A Quarter Horse?
One of North America’s most popular horse breeds, the Quarter Horse is loved by horse fans around the world. This versatile and low-maintenance breed of horse is hugely admired for a variety of reasons and has become the breed of choice for many horse owners.
The American Quarter Horse is a medium-large breed of horse, standing between 14 and 16 hands high. It has a sturdy build, with a thickset body and strong legs. However, it is not as heavy as a draft horse and is light enough to still be very athletic.
This popular breed has very distinctive coat colors, with sorrel being the most common color. They can also be found in coat colors including roan, palomino, gray, buckskin, dun, and solid colors such as chestnut and bay. They often have white markings on the face and legs.
In terms of temperament, this is a gentle and kind breed of horse. They are easy to train and enjoy spending time with humans. They are also very intelligent and can learn to solve problems and complete puzzles!
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Why Is It Called A Quarter Horse?
It does seem a bit of an odd name when you think about it – why is this breed called a Quarter Horse? It is definitely not because they are a quarter of a horse – these little powerhouses are a whole horse and more!
The name actually comes down to the distance they were expected to run at its top speed – a quarter of a mile. In fact, this was a stipulation of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Executive Committee in 1940:
“All Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter of a mile in twenty-three seconds, or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse Performance under ranch conditions.”
The first Quarter mile horse races were held in Virginia in 1674. Early colonists were passionate about horse racing, and this speedy little mount was developed to fulfill the need for a sprint racer.
It was common for Quarter mile horse races to be run in village streets and across level pastures. Large bets were often placed, including property such as plantations. Quarter mile races were also used to settle fights and disagreements.
Quarter mile racing is still a hugely popular sport to this day, although the stakes are more likely to be cash prizes rather than land!
Why Are Quarter Horses So Fast?
Quarter Horses are so fast because of their physical characteristics. They are not a particularly big breed of horse, at between 14 and 16 hands high. This is much smaller than other fast horse breeds such as Thoroughbreds.
However, what this breed lacks in size it certainly makes up for in physique! They have very muscular bodies, with powerful hindquarters and strong limbs. This enables them to propel themselves forward incredibly rapidly, meaning they can achieve high speeds in just a few strides.
If you compared them to humans, then they would be the 100 meter champion of the world! They are very impressive when it comes to a sprinting start, and can reach high speeds very quickly.
However, this little sprinter cannot maintain this top speed for long distances. They can run for many miles, but at a slower speed than their sprint start. Quarter Horses have excellent stamina levels and can cover miles of the ground every day, but at lower speeds than a flat-out gallop.
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Where Do Quarter Horses Come From?
This horse breed dates back to the 1660s, making it one of the oldest recognized horse breeds in the United States. They originated as a cross between imported English horses, and Spanish horses brought over by colonists. The Quarter mile racing horse has been influenced by a variety of bloodlines, most notably the noble Thoroughbred.
These speedy mounts soon became very popular, and by the late 17th century were being raced over quarter-mile courses. However, over the centuries racing over longer distances became more popular, with Thoroughbred racing coming to the fore in the early 19th century.
However, this wasn’t the end for this versatile breed! As one of the fastest horse breeds in the world, they became very popular as stock horses. The speedy acceleration and ability to spin and turn in tight circles were invaluable for herding cattle across open land.
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What Makes A Quarter Horse So Special?
The main reason for the popularity of one of the oldest American horse breeds is its versatility. This is a horse that can turn its hand (or hoof!) to pretty much anything!
Their size is suitable for both adults and older children to ride, so they make a great family horse. If you want a horse to meander along miles of hillside trails, this is the breed for you! However, that is not all that this breed is capable of.
The speed and agility of the Quarter Horse have led to their popularity in Western riding styles. They are highly successful in competitions such as reining, penning, roping and barrel racing. And of course, Quarter Horse racing is still a hugely popular pastime!
The Quarter Horse is sure-footed and very agile and can cope with difficult terrain. They are also easy to care for and can thrive even in colder climates.
So, as we have discovered, the Quarter horse is capable of some incredible top speeds, which is where it got its name! The word ‘quarter’ refers to a quarter of a mile, which is the distance these fast horses were raced over. Although they cannot match a Thoroughbred for speed over a longer distance, the Quarter horse would win this short sprint every time.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about Quarter Horses – are you a fan of this fast and agile breed of horse? Or perhaps you dream of owning one of these kind and gentle horses? Add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then wenton to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE