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Just what is an American Quarter Horse? If you have ever seen a horse in one of rodeo's timed events, been along for work on a ranch or watched a Western on the big or small screen, 9 times out of 10 you have witnessed an American Quarter Horse.
More specifically, the American Quarter Horse is the first breed of horse native to what is now the United States. A melting of various breeds brought to the English colonies in the 1600s, the Quarter Horse evolved to fill the colonists' passion for short-distance racing. One-on-one match races were run down village streets, country lanes or level pastures.
These heavily muscled, compact horses could run a short distance over a straightaway faster than any other horse, and the fastest were called Celebrated American Quarter Running Horses. Over the years, there were different variations of names, but in 1940 a registry was formed to preserve the breed which officially became the American Quarter Horse.
During its history, the breed also became well known for its cow sense (the ability to outmaneuver cattle) and calm disposition. Today, the heavy muscling and sprinter's speed remain characteristic traits, but like so many things modern the breed has been specialized to excel at particular events. There are American Quarter Horses competing in every discipline imaginable, from traditional rodeo events such as roping and barrel racing to the refined English classes of dressage and show jumping. Although competition options are nearly unlimited, the number one interest of American Quarter Horse owners remains riding for recreation.
How can you tell if a horse in the pasture is an American Quarter Horse? Well, if you're not comfortable judging its conformation for clues, it will help to know that American Quarter Horses are allowed only limited white markings on the face and on the legs below the knees.
In addition, there are 13 recognized colors of American Quarter Horses including the most prominent color of sorrel (reddish brown). The others are bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red roan and blue roan. It's interesting to note that the official gray coloring is what newcomers often call white, but there are no "white" American Quarter Horses.
Of course, beyond its appearance, a registered American Quarter Horse foal (or baby) is the product of a registered American Quarter Horse dam (mare or mother) and a registered American Quarter Horse sire (stallion or father). The American Quarter Horse Association also offers an appendix registry for foals with one American Quarter Horse parent and one Thoroughbred parent registered with The Jockey Club.
Assisted by a stable full of corporate sponsors, the American Quarter Horse Association recognizes a whole slew of outstanding athletes each year at events like the AQHA World Championship Show held in November in Oklahoma City; the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championship Show for youth exhibitors which heats up Fort Worth, Texas, in August; and the MBNA America ¨ Quarter Horse Racing Challenge Championships which cap off a season-long series of races.
It's interesting to note that the quarter-mile is still the most popular distance for racing American Quarter Horses, and the best blaze the 440 yards in 21 seconds or less.
AQHA also recognizes American Quarter Horse owners competing with their athletes in more than 15 other associations, and through a unique Horseback Riding Program gives awards to people who log hours spent in the saddle for whatever kind of riding tickles their fancy as long as they're aboard an American Quarter Horse.
In your backyard, chances are you can enjoy one of 2,700 AQHA-approved shows or catch some of the 7,800 sanctioned races held each year. After all, American Quarter Horses are found in all 50 states, throughout Canada and Mexico and in more than 70 other countries. More than 326,000 people belong to the American Quarter Horse Association which offers membership services and benefits along with serving as the official breed registry and record keeper. For youths, under the age of 19, there are membership opportunities in the American Quarter Horse Youth Association. This youth organization celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1995 and now serves more than 30,000 horse lovers around the globe.
Although the athletic prowess of the American Quarter Horse carries many riders to the winner's circle, it is the breed's versatility and gentle nature that have made it the world's most popular horse. A novice rider of any age or a seasoned professional can find an American Quarter Horse that will provide a ride you will always remember.
For more information on AQHA's many programs, to find events in your area or for assistance in purchasing an American Quarter Horse, Call 1-800-414-RIDE