Meet the American Quarter Horse

Breed Profile: American Quarter Horse

Two American Quarter Horses standing in a pasture.
American Quarter Horses can carry the gene for HYPP. Image Credit:Ken Gillespie Photography/ First Light /Getty Images

The American Quarter Horse is North America’s most popular breed. With QH fans worldwide the AQHA is the largest breed registry. The AQHA states there are over five million registered American Quarter Horses worldwide. The breed excels as a working, family or a show horse. The American Quarter Horse is one of the most versatile breeds.

Body Type

These hardy horses are medium boned. Their heads are finely chiseled, with a wide forehead and should have a flat profile.

Their legs are sturdy without being coarse, and their shoulders and haunches are heavy and muscular. There are a few distinct types of Quarter Horses, such as the more leggy racing stock, or the more compact reining types. The infusion of Thoroughbred bloodlines has influenced the look and temperament of some Quarter Horses.  Foundation Quarter Horses are bred to remain true to the original Quarter Horse type, used for cattle work on the open range.


Quarter Horses range in size from about 14.3 HH to 15.3 HH. The introduction of Thoroughbred bloodlines has contributed to an increase in height and “Appendix” Quarter Horses that are 16 HH, and more are not unusual now.


The sure-footed Quarter Horse gets its name from the quarter mile races that were held by settlers. These were hardy working horses. Quarter Horses are known for their ‘cow sense.' Once widely used as working cow horses they now excel at rodeo events such as reining, cutting, team penning and speed games.

Their powerful haunches help with quick departs to gather a stray from a herd of cattle, or propel them around the barrels in a barrel race. Quarter Horse,  racing, more like sprints than the Thoroughbred races we normally see,  remains an exhilarating sport with tracks across North America. Speeds of up to 50 mph have been recorded during the short and intense Quarter Horse races.

They are equally at home under saddle or in the harness where they’re steady dispositions often make them the ideal beginner or family horse.

Color and Markings

Quarter Horses come in a variety of solid colors, roans, palominos, greys, grullos, buckskins and duns. Color-coated horses such as spotted coats or pintos are accepted in the AQHA registry as long as it can be proven that both the sire and dam of the horse were registered Quarter Horses. Markings like stockings, stars, strips and blazes are common.

History and Origins

Quarter Horses are a mixture of Arabian, Spanish, and English-bred horses. Because they have a small amount of draft horse breeding, they are known as warmbloods like Morgans or Canadian Horses. There are eleven foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines. These eleven families are the ancestors of all Quarter Horses around the world. Although the breed or type has been in existence since the 1600s, the American Quarter Horse Registry began in 1940. The introduction of Thoroughbred bloodlines has created two distinct types of Quarter Horses. “Appendix Quarter Horses” tend to be leaner and leggier.

Unique Characteristics

Quarter Horses are quick over short distances, sure-footed and agile.

They can make comfortable mounts for trail riding and are dependable for all day farm work. The compact, muscular silhouette of the foundation type Quarter Horse is unmistakable. With its calm, gentle and steady demeanor they are the ideal family horse or horse for the beginner rider. Because they have a steady temperament does not mean they are slow to learn, however. Many Quarter Horses have natural ‘cow sense,' that makes them easy to train for ranch work or competition such as roping and cutting. Once trained, they need very little guidance from their rider. They tend to be ‘easy keepers’ living well off of good pasture or hay.

Champion and Celebrity American Quarter Horses

  • Wimpy was the first stallion listed in the AQHA registry.
  • Racing Quarter Horse Easy Jet proved indefatigable as a two-year-old, winning 22 out of 26 starts. Even after having raced extensively, he remained strong and sound.
  • Impressive is infamous for passing on a condition known as Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis. HYPP causes occasional seizure-like symptoms. All foals known to be descendants of a horse that carries HYPP must be tested. HYPP is a hazard because there are no warnings before a seizure occurs, and can happen while the horse is being handled or ridden.