At Rising K Ranch, we have mustangs as well as mixed breeds to ride out on the Utah trails here in the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park country. However, our favorite breed is the American Quarter Horse, and we are more and more specializing in raising and showing quarter horses.
While top of the line breeding makes very little difference for most of our trail rides, it makes a great deal of difference when it comes to reining or working cattle. This is because the American Quarter Horse has been purposefully bred for over a century to do just exactly these kinds of jobs.
Though the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) itself did not officially begin until March 14, 1940, the foundation for the Quarter Horse began in the colonial period of America in the 1600’s when colonists would hold local horse races. These horse racing courses were quite smaller than the large courses back in the Old Country, so over time a horse was developed that excelled at short sprints. This horse that would so excel at short sprints, sometimes reaching 55 MPH, was developed by breeding the European Thoroughbred to the horses used by the Indians, such as the Chickasaw Horse. The Indians, of course, had formerly acquired these horses from the Spanish conquistadors, who brought with them Arabians, Barbs, and other breeds from the Iberian Peninsula. For quite some time, then, the primary focus of Quarter Horse Breeding was racing, particularly the quarter-mile race then commonly held.
By the 1800’s Americans were moving ever westward, and found themselves in need of a reliable and hardy mount. Once again, the Spanish horses bred by the Indians as well as living in the wild as feral mustangs played a large part in the making of the American Quarter Horse. The American pioneers came across Spanish stock on the Great Plains and bred them to their more European-style colonial quarter horses. This new “mixed breed” turned out to have just the right physical makeup and ability as well as the right mindset and willingness to be an ideal cowhorse. He was sturdy enough to bear up under harsh conditions of mountains and deserts, strong enough to hold a cow or drag a steer to the branding fire, had cow sense enough to work as something of a cutting horse, and was a fast enough sprinter to herd wild cattle.
It was in the 1840’s that the American Quarter Horse began to be perceived as a true “breed” of horse, for in 1843 that foundation sire Steel Dust was foaled, and in 1844 Old Shiloh, another foundation sire, was foaled. Throughout the rest of the 1800’s, the quarter horse was to become an increasingly popular and useful breed of horse in the American West. With the mixed emphasis of working cattle and weekend horse races, the quarter horse became more and more defined as both a sprinter as well as a working ranch horse. The cattle ranches saw to it that the Quarter Horse grew in its cow sense, and the horse races saw to it that plenty of speed was put into the breed by inserting more Thoroughbred blood. Through these early years of the development of the Ameican Quarter Horse, there was also plenty of Arabian, Morgan, and Standardbred blood added by individual horse breeders, all with their own ideas of the perfectly bred horse.
Finally, in 1940, a group of men formed the AQHA in an effort to keep alive the old traditions and pedigrees of the Western horse. Today, there are over 5 million registered quarter horses all over the world, with 3 million of them still here in the United States of America.
If you ever should find yourself visiting the Bryce Canyon/ Zion National Park country in Utah, I hope you will stop by Rising K Ranch to take a look at some of these amazing American Quarter Horses!