History of all horses in North America

There have been no true wild horses on the American continent for 10,000 years. For some unknown reason they disappeared about that time with no known help from humankind. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean and in the holds of his ships were horses; sleek, hardy little horses. The Spaniards brought the first modern horses to America; they were mostly Andalusians and Spanish Barb’s. Wherever these newcomers settled, the missions, with their large herds of livestock, followed.

In 1539 De Soto's explorers bring 237 horses to north America and conduct extensive inland reconnaissance from Florida to Missouri. Horses captured by native Americans said to result in Chickasaw Horse (>) breed.

Horses aided the Spanish immeasurably in subduing the indigenous people and sacking whatever wealth they might have had. The horse was highly prized by the Native Americans who liberated him from the Spanish.


American Quarter Horse History

Just like the people who settled the new world, the American Quarter Horse evolved from a mixture of different breeds to become the first breed native to the United States of America.The Spanish horses of the conquistadors gone wild as mustangs, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Morgans, Turks, The Hobby and Galloway lines of Ireland and Scotland, Barbs, Cleveland Bays, and other draft type breeds were fused together to make a horse with heavily muscled hindquarters that was stout, fast and agile and could rope, bulldog, cut and drive cattle.These horses were used for the various farm chores like plowing, pulling logs, pulling light carriages, and riding. He was around 14.3 hands and weighed about 1100 pounds, had short muscular legs, huge hindquarters and a quiet disposition.

When the new English horses were bred to the native stock, a compact horse with  began to develop.  The horses were bred to be able to do all of these things.

Some breed historians contend that the true beginning of the Quarter Horse breed was in the Carolinas and Virginia.Nelson C. Nye suggests that the Chickasaws, small blocky horses, probably of Spanish Barbextraction and secured from Indians, were the true ancestors of the Quarter Horse.The colonists were quite interested in short races and the first records of horses racing a quarter of a mile in America show them being done at Enrico County, Virginia in 1674.They were match races (one on one between two horses) and were run down the village streets and country lanes.These races became a great spectator sport and by 1690 the interest in the races and the breed had grown.As the crowds and interest increased, large purses were soon awarded to the winner.At the same time a heavy amount of betting, disagreements and fights occurred as well.Some reports even state that grand plantations changed hands over the outcome of events.


The Thoroughbred influence

1730 Importation of English Thoroughbreds to America begins with stallion Bulle Rock. Imported into Virginia at the age of twenty-one by James Patton, a merchant mariner, and to was owned by Samuel Gist of Hanover County, Virginia. He was sired by Darley Arabian (>) one of the first three stallions who between them would become the progenitors of every living Thoroughbred. The General Stud Book says he was probably a Turk or a Syrian horse, however, the eminent authority Sir Theodore Cook says he was the only authentically pure Anazah Arabian in the stud book. He stood about 15 hands.

In 1756, a Virginia planter named Mordecai Booth imported from England a ten-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred named Janus (>).Sired by Old Janus, he was a grandson of the Godolophin Arabian.Janus was a compact horse, standing slightly less than 14.1 hands.He was well muscled, had one white hind foot, and a specked rump.He was noted for his especially powerful hindquarters.Janus had proven a successful four-mile race horse in England, but a leg injury retired him to stud.Brought to America, he distinguished himself again as a racehorse in the James River area of Virginia.After Janus had outlived his usefulness as a racehorse, he spent the remainder of his life at stud.Janus produced distinguished racing mares, but only when he was bred to quarter racing stock did his brilliance as a sire become evident.Since quarter racing was most popular in southern Virginia and North Carolina, Janus was brought to that area for breeding.There he sired numerous distinguished racers, such as Babram (1766) and Twigg (1778).He died in late 1780 or early 1781.

Another famous and highly influential horse was Sir Archy (<).Sir Archy was bred by Colonel John Tayloe III of MountAiry in Virginia in partnership with Captain Archibald Randolph of Ben Lomond, in CumberlandCounty.His dam Castianira had been imported as a two-year old by Tayloe and had little success on the turf before entering the stud.Her ears were cropped, she was going blind, and tradition says she was less than handsome.However, when bred to the grand old Diomed, she produced the immortal Sir Archy. The remarkable thing about Sir Archy's turf career, of seven starts and four wins, was the impression he made upon those who saw him.Johnson himself said:

"I have only to say, that in my opinion Sir Archy is the best horse I ever saw.

Sir Archy's influence at stud was unprecedented in North America.Year after year he continued to sire exceptional sons and daughters and when his offspring went to stud they did the same.He earned the nickname "The Godolphin Arabian of America", the Godolphin Arabian having made such a profound impact on English bloodstock that it was noted in the General Stud Book.Hervey said: 

"Before nor since, nothing has been known in America to equal the manner in which the Archys dominated both turf and stud for over half a century, beginning with the debut of his first crop of foals, in 1814 and culminating with the last of the sixteen seasons of premiership of his inbred great-grandson Lexington in 1878."

One of the strengths often attributed to the offspring of Sir Archy, like those of his sire Diomed before him, was the ability to withstand intense inbreeding.Sir Archy was bred to his own daughters and to those of Diomed, and his offspring were bred to each other.The excellent race mare Old Flirtilla (1820 by Sir Archy) bred Flirtilla (1828 by Sir Archy), and the line continued to Lady Blessington (1861) and well beyond.

Sir Archy died at Mowfield in June of 1833. Trevathan sums up his impact:

"He got more distinguished racers than any horse in America, perhaps in the world, from all sorts of mares, with all kinds of pedigrees, and some with no pedigrees at all.It might be said with truth that he filled a hemisphere with his get."


The Foundation and Improvement of the Breed

The early improvement in the Quarter Horse-so called because of its great speed at one quarter of a mile-and the early development of the Thoroughbred in the United States were closely associated.  Some sires contributed notably to both breeds.  Many short-distance horses were registered in the American Stud Book as Thoroughbreds when the Stud Book was established, even though they did not trace in all lines to imported English stock.

It is difficult to give the exact origin of the present-day Quarter Horse because the blending of bloodlines produce a suitable short distance horse started in colonial areas prior to the Revolutionary War.This blending of bloodlines and the infusion of Thoroughbred blood was continued in the southwestern range territory as the cow country developed.Cowboys wanted to be well mounted.Ranchers tried to breed the kind of horses on which these men could work cattle and that could also be used in the age-old sport of racing.The Quarter Horse was not raced on carefully prepared tracks but was raced on any suitable open space.Organized races were the exception rather than the rule with many of the races being run as a “match race” after a private wager between owner or riders.

In the Southwest country as in the East, no particular attention was made to keep short-distance horses as a distinct breed.Fast horses whose offspring made good cow ponies were crossed on existing stock of mares.Many times these mares carried Spanish, Arabian, Morgan or Standardbred breeding and some have been referred to as “cold blooded” mares.The naming of horses after persons was a common practice, and often when the horses were sold their names were changed.Such practices have led to no end of confusion in attempting to verify pedigrees after the horses, breeders, and owners were deceased.

It is logical, therefore, to conclude that until the Stud Book was established and the pedigrees were based on fact rather than on memory and assumptions, the Quarter Horse should have been called a type of horse rather than a breed.


The Contribution of Steel Dust

As the people moved west they brought their horses with them. Many horses drove the cattle on this long trek. The people noticed how well the horses could work with the cows and the Quarter Horse made another name for itself as the perfect cow pony.

The first horse of Quarter type that attracted a great deal of attention in the Southwest was Steel Dust (>).He was a blood bay that stood 15 hands high and weighed approximately 1,200 pounds.The origins of Steel Dust span the South.He was foaled in Kentucky, in 1843.His sire was Harry Bluff, a son of Short Whip and a Thoroughbred mare named Big Nance, of Timoleon stock. Tomoleon was by Sir Archy.

Steel Dust was brought into Texas by Middleton Perry and Jones Greene in 1844.They settled down near the present site of Lancaster in what is now DallasCounty. He soon had a reputation for speed and it is clear that the reputation of Steel Dust was such that a lot of Texans referred to his progeny as “Steel Dust Horses” and wanted and obtained colts that he had sired.

The popularity of Steel Dust as a running horse and as a sire of running horses and cow horses caused many horses that descended from him, or were of similar type, to be called “Steel Dust” horses.  This name was quite common until the American Quarter Horse Association was established and the name Quarter Horse was officially adopted.


Some Other Early Sires

Other outstanding stallions were introduced into Texas before and after Steel Dust. Among these were Cooper Bottom by Sir Archy, foaled in Pennsylvania in 1828.  In 1839 he was taken by General Sam Houston to Texas, where his descendants were considered very fast and made excellent cow horses.  In 1849, Old Shiloh, foaled in Tennessee in 1844, was brought to Texas.  He was four generations removed in the male line of Sir Archy.  Lock's Rondo, three generations removed in the male line from Shiloh, was foaled in Missouri about 1866, and was taken to Texas about 1868.  Later he was also used as a sire in New Mexico.

In 1889, Traveler (<), a horse of unknown pedigree, was shipped to Texas in a carload of horses and legend has it that he had originated in Kentucky.Traveler was apparently not considered a valuable horse because he was used on a scraper and at one time changed hands in a crap game.Traveler and his descendants were mated to some excellent mares, and many Quarter Horses today trace to him in male line of descent.  


The Most Influential Sire: Peter McCue

The most famous of all sires in the establishment of the Quarter Horse breed was Peter McCue, (>) foaled in 1895, and bred by Samuel Watkins of Petersburg, Illinois.Peter McCue was registered as a Thoroughbred but evidence was later presented that he was not sired by the horse indicated in his official pedigree but was instead sired by Dan Tucker, who in turn traced his male line through Steel Dust to Shiloh.Peter McCue stood for service in Texas, western Oklahoma, and in Colorado, and most modern Quarter Horses trace to him.Of the 11,510 Quarter Horses that have been registered prior to January 1, 1948, 2,304 of them traced in male line to Peter McCue through his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons.

Traveler was the only horse that approached him in importance of male lines with 749 similar descendants that has been registered up to that date.Of the first nineteen horses registered by the AQHA (all stallions), twelve of them were descended from Peter McCue. 


The Use of Thoroughbred Sires and Mares

The outstanding sires in the Quarter Horse type have not always been horses that traced in male lines of descent to recognized Quarter Horses; some trace to registered Thoroughbreds.  In addition, many of the mares to which Quarter Horses have been mated have been Thoroughbred mares or mares of other breeds, so it can truly be said that the breed has been and still is in a formative period.  Breeders have not objected to Thoroughbred breeding provided the horses were of the correct type.

Eighteen of the first nineteen registration numbers assigned to horses in vol. I of the American Quarter Horse Stud Book were saved for living horses that had proved themselves as outstanding sires of offspring of Quarter Horse type.  Examination of the pedigrees of these horses indicates that many of them carried in excess of 50 per cent of Thoroughbred breeding, and only a very few of them did not carry some known Thoroughbred breeding rather close up in their pedigrees. Read "Do you know their names?" (The Quarter Horse Journal, may 2000).


Noted Early Breeders

George Clegg was born in Cuero, Texas in 1872 and moved to Alice, Texas in 1902.Clegg had mares with  Rondo blood and bought a stallion called Little Rondo from Crawford Sykes.Friends of Clegg the Shelys were breeding a stallion called Traveler who produced Little Joe (<).Little Joe was purchased by George Clegg.

Sam Watkins of Illinois bred Hickory Bill by Peter McCue, who was also bought by George Clegg, who was bred to Cleggs Rondo and Traveler line mares resulting in the stallion the Old Sorrel (>), who became foundation sire of the King Ranch.

Coke T.Roberds bought 9 Steel Dust mares in Oklahoma from his home area.He moved to Colorado in 1908 and bought a Palomino called Old Fred (<) who he saw dragging a freight wagon.Old Fred was thought to have been sired around 1893 and although his pedigree is unknown he is thought to have been a Shiloh - Steel Dust cross.Si Dawson was a neighbor of Roberds who bought Peter McCue.When Dawson died Peter McCue was given to Roberds and crossed on his Steel Dust and Old Fred mares.

From Peter McCue and/or Old Fred crosses (though not all bred by Dawson or Roberds) came such great horses as Harmon Baker, Hickory Bill, Sheik, Old Nick, John Wilkens, Buck Thomas, Jack McCue,Plaudit (<) and Skipper W (>).(Pioneer Breeder, Warren Shoemaker, by Robert Denhardt, Western Horseman, July 1988).

Billy Anson of Christobel, Texas, sold Concho Colonelto Dan Casement in 1911.Concho Colonel, traced back to Steel Dust, was shipped to Unaweep, Colorado to Casements Triangle Bar Ranch.Here he was crossed on Dan and Jack Casement's mares by Ed Springer's Little Joe, who was a descendant of Peter McCue.This breeding program produced Quarter Horses such as

Red Dog, Frosty, Billy Byrne, Deuce and Buckshot.

On the King Ranch around 1914, Bob Kleberg started probably the most famous breeding program in Quarter Horse history.He started with a band of mainly Thoroughbred mares bought by Caesar Kleberg.Here he acquired the Old Sorrel in 1918 and bred him to these mares to produce the likes of Wimpy (>) (Champion of the Fort Worth Show, 1940), Macanudo, Peppy (>), Babe Grande and Charro. King began by mating the native mares that roamed South Texas to imported Thoroughbreds to refine the native stock and to increase its height for navigating through the brush that covers the land.When King died, Robert M.Kleberg, Sr., Robert J.Kleberg, Jr., and Caesar Kleberg succeeded to the King Ranch’s horse breeding program.

They soon discovered that the infusion of too much Thoroughbred blood "produced horses that were too nervous to work cattle successfully, too delicate and thin-skinned to live off the country, too leggy, and too prone to sprains and strains to negotiate the sudden stops, starts, and turns that are necessary" in working on a cattle ranch.What was needed, they decided, was a horse with more traditional "quarter horse" characteristics.

They found it in the Old Sorrel, who the ranch purchased in 1916 from quarter horse breeder George Clegg, and the Old Sorrell proved to be the finest cow horse the ranch owned. The ranch began breeding the Old Sorrel to its best working mares, all with at least a quarter Thoroughbred blood and many with half. From the Old Sorrel's second foal crop came Solis who proved to be a fine all-around ranch horse. Solis, in turn, was bred to Panda, a daughter of the Old Sorrel--half-brother mated to half-sister, the line breeding technique that had proven so successful with the King Ranch's cattle. The resulting colt, foaled sometime in the mid-1930s, was named Wimpy.

John Jackson Hancock was raised near Spanish Fort, Texas and eventually moved to Perryton, Texas, where he ran a band of 35 to 40 broodmares with a roan stallion called Old Deck, a son of little Danger (thought to be by Cold Deck).These mares were of Steel Dust type breeding.Out of one of these mares (thought to be half Percheron) was bred Joe Hancock (<).Foaled in 1923, Joe Hancock was by John Wilkens (by Peter McCue).Bought by Tom Burnett of the 6666s after his horse lost a race to Joe Hancock, he was taken to Burnett's Triangle Ranch. Some of the horses produced from Joe Hancocks sire line are:Red Man and Texas Tom by Joe Tom, War Chief and Little Joe the Wrangler.

Hank Wiescamp (Alamosa, Texas) started breeding Thoroughbred type horses back in 1926.His early sires were Booger and Maple Prince (TB).These were mainly bred to produceremounts for the Army.

The famous stallion King (<) was bred on the ranch of Manual Benevides Volpe, Laredo, Texas and was by Zantanon (>), who was known as the Mexican 'Man O War'.Zantanon was by Little Joe who was by Traveler.In 1937 Win Dubose sold King to Jess Hankin for $800.

Bert Wood of Arizona found Joe Reed II (<) (born 1935) on a visit to Texas in 1941. Joe Reed II was by Joe Reed (>) from Nellene, a half sister to Red Joe of Arizona.He was unbroken and unraced.He had just sired a colt named Leo (>) by Little Fanny (a Joe Reed Daughter).Although injured Wood raced against some of the Nations fastest short distance horses, and he beat the likes of Clabber and Shu Fly.

Joe Reed was bred by the Woods and produced some outstanding horses including Firebrand Reed, Little Sister W, Gusdusted, Joak and Bulls Eye.

In 1941 Hank Wiescamp purchased 92 horses from the estate of N.T. Baca.These horses were bred from A.D. Reed (<) (son of Peter McCue).Most of these horses he sold, but kept 10 to 15 mares which he bred to Booger, Lucky (son of Booger) and Clark Gable (son of Captain Alcock [TB]). About 1941 he acquired Barney Owens, a Quarter Horse type bred by W.J.Francis of Floyd, New Mexico in 1929.Barney Owens was a son of Jack McCue (by Peter McCue) out of Maud (by Shorty).Barney Owens was a dark chestnut who stood about 14.2 HH.He was bred to the Baca mares then to Old Fred mares.He is mainly known for producing good broodmares.


History of the AQHA

Although some written breeding records had been kept, there was no formal registry for the American Quarter Horse in the early twentieth century.William Anson, a Texas rancher began researching the breed in the late 1800’s.He is credited with tracing the origin of the American Quarter Horse to colonial times and preserved the history and pedigrees of the breed.More research on the American quarter horse and its claim to being a distinct breed was done by Robert Denhardt (>).After accepting a teaching position at TexasA&MUniversity, Denhardt began to research Steel Dust horses.Both Anson and Denhardt provided research that formed the basis for a registry.

In March 1939, at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show, Denhardt met with several breeders and presented his idea for a breed association.During the next year Denhardt wrote more articles on the American quarter horse and visited with people involved with the breed.

On March 14, 1940, a group of interested livestock industry leaders gathered in Fort Worth for another meeting that led to the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association.Hosting the meeting in their home were Mr.and Mrs.James Goodwin Hall.Mrs. Anne Hall (<) was the daughter of Thomas L.Burnett and the granddaughter of Samuel Burk Burnett, who founded the Four Sixes ranch.Some of those on hand for the meeting were Robert J.Kleberg, George A.Clegg, Dan and Jack Casement, W.B.Warren, Walter Hudgins, J.H.Minnick, and Denhardt.

The next evening, March 15, 1940, seventy-five people gathered for a third meeting, where a charter for the organization was presented by Denhardt, stock was sold, directors were elected, and bylaws were adopted.Included in the by laws was the mission statement:  

"The purpose of this Association shall be to collect, record and preserve the pedigrees of Quarter Horses in America, to publish a stud book and registry, and to stimulate any and all other matters such as may pertain to the history, breeding, exhibiting, publicity, sale, or improvements of this breed in America." 

The first elected AQHA officers were: W.B.Warren, president; Jack Hutchins, first vice president; Lee Underwood, second vice president; Jim Hall, treasurer; and Bob Denhardt, secretary.Denhardt worked out of his home and so did subsequent executive secretaries until association offices were set up in Fort Worth in 1946 and permanently moved to Amarillo later that year.The bylaws also called for registration requirements based on conformation, pedigree, and performance in both show arenas and races.Before the meeting adjourned, the 75 attendees had drafted the following "Confirmation of the Ideal Quarter Horse"per 1946: 

Head:The head of the Quarter Horse reflects alert intelligence.This is due to his short, broad head, topped by little fox ears and by his wide-set kind eyes and large, sensitive nostrils over a shallow, firm mouth.Well developed jaws give the impression of great strength.

Neck: The head of a Quarter Horse joins the neck at a near forty-five degree angle, with a distinct space between jaw-bone and neck muscle.The medium length, slightly arched, full neck then bends into sloping shoulders.

Shoulders: The Quarter Horse's unusually good saddle back is created by his medium-high but sharp withers extending well back and combining with his deep sloping shoulders so that the saddle is held in proper position for balanced action.

Chest And Forelegs: The Quarter Horse is deep and broad chested, as indicated by his great heart girth and his wide-set forelegs which blend into his shoulders.The smooth joints and very short cannons are set on clean fetlocks and the medium length pasterns are supported by sound feet.The powerfully muscled forearm tapers to the knee whether viewed from front or side.

Back: The short saddle back of the Quarter Horse is characterized by being close coupled and especially full and powerful across the kidney.The barrel is formed by deep, well sprung ribs back to the hip joints, and the under line comes back straight to the flank.

Rear Quarters: The rear quarters are broad, deep, and heavy, viewed from either side or rear, and are muscled so they are full through the thigh, stifle, gaskin, and down to the hock.The hind leg is muscled inside and out, the whole indicating the great driving power the Quarter Horse possesses.When viewed from the rear, there is great width extending evenly from top of thigh to bottom of the stifle and gaskin.The hocks are wide, deep, straight, and clean.

Bone, Legs, And Feet: The flat, clean, flinty bones are free from fleshiness and puffs, but still show a world of substance.The foot is well rounded and roomy, with an especially deep, open heel.

Stance: The Quarter Horse normally stands perfectly at ease with his legs well under him; this explains his ability to move quickly in any direction.

Action: The Quarter Horse is very collected in his actions, and turns or stops with noticeable ease and balance, with his hocks always well under him.

The first AQHA approved show was held in July 1940 during the Texas Cowboy Reunion at Stamford.Another milestone was set during the 1941 South-western Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth, when the King Ranch-bred Wimpy, by virtue of being named the grand champion stallion, was designated as P1 in the AQHA Stud Book. 


Breed Characteristics

AQHA has set forth a strict set of guidelines regarding registration of American Quarter Horses. The most prominent Quarter Horse colors is sorrel (reddish brown), with the others being bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red roan and blue roan.The official gray color is what most people call white, but it's interesting to note that there are no "white" American Quarter Horses. In 2003 AQHA allows horses commonly known as Cremellos and Perlinos to be eligible for registration, provided they meet all other rules of registration.

There were many debates on letting the thoroughbred type horses into the registry. In the early days, the AQHA would only register horses after inspection for conformation and since most judges were looking for the bulldog type horse the others got excluded. Two other registries were even formed to allow them a place to register. This got very cumbersome and so eventually AQHA merged and allowed the horses that were registered in either of these registries a place in theirs.

A registered American Quarter Horse foal is the product of a numbered American Quarter Horse dam and a numbered American Quarter Horse sire.AQHA also offers an appendix registry for foals with one numbered American Quarter Horse parent and one Thoroughbred parent registered with The Jockey Club.

Other identifiable characteristics of the breed are heavy muscling, sprinter's speed, versatility, keen cow sense and a gentle nature.



American Quarter Horse Association
Robert M. Denhardt ,A Story of Two Centuries: Quarter Horses, 1967
Lewis and Clark Journal flora and fauna winter 1805-06
Robert Denhardt, Pioneer Breeder, Warren Shoemaker, Western Horseman, July 1988
Diane Ciarloni Simmons, Joe Hancock, Western Horseman, November 1990
Lisa Dines, The American Mustang Guidebook, 2002 
Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science who kindly supplied the following sources: 
Nelson, C. Nye, Outstanding Modern Quarter Horse Sires, 1948
Dan Casement, Steel Dusts as I Have Known Them, The Hereford Journal, June 1, 1927.
Helen Michaelis, History of the Quarter Horse, The AQHA Stud Book and Registry, 1 (2), 1943
A.O. Rhoad and Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., Development of Superior Families in the Modern Quarter Horse, The Journal of Heredity, 37 (8), 237-258, 1946.   

Compiled and Researched by Christy E.


Department of Animal Science 

Oklahoma State University


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