Foundation Quarter Horse Bloodlines
"ROOTS: Quarter Horse Foundation Bloodlines"
Fifty years ago, the American Quarter Horse Association was organized to preserve and perpetuate a unique strain of horses which were so superior in type, speed and athletic ability that horsemen came to recognize them as a breed apart even before they had a name. They were called "quarter-of-a-mile runners" and "quarter horses" as early as the mid 1700's.
These horses descended from imported English race horses crossed on native American colonial horses, from which developed both the Jockey Club for the American Thoroughbred and the American Quarter Horse Association. Neither association had a stud book until after the Civil War, but the horses were recognized and categorized by the distances they ran best. Sprinters were designated as short, or Quarter horses; stayers who ran from a mile to four miles became known as Thoroughbreds. Some even ran successfully at both distances.
The stud book for the American Thoroughbred was started in 1868; the American Quarter Horse not until 1940. The popularity of short racing was wide-spread in America since colonial days, and the pedigrees of many of these horses have been documented and preserved down through the years. The best blood was highly valued, even before the Quarter Horse became a breed, and was used for not only racing purposes, but it comprised the highest class of ranch and using horses. Their superiority was unquestioned and thoroughly tested under the rigorous demands of hard-working ranchers who needed a horse with speed, endurance, cow-sense and a trainable disposition. They simply had no equal.
What were the qualities of the early colonial horses that made them so unique? Descriptions of *Janus, a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, given 200 years before the American Quarter Horse Association was formed were still considered to be the ideal type in 1940. He was a little over 14 hands, a beautiful compactly built horse, with strong bones, short back and tremendous muscling, small alert ear, large jaws, etc. Imported from England in 1752, he became the first stallion in this country to popularize the Quarter type horse, as he was a highly successful sire who passed on his likeness and speed with amazing consistency. His phenomenal influence was strongly felt for many generations. Most Quarter Horses today can be traced to this great early sire.
Present-day Quarter Horses who still retain their inheritance of speed and athletic ability are, for the most part, unchanged in type, although a few inches taller than their colonial ancestors. This may be due to improved diet and environment, much the same as man is larger today than his forefathers. However, not all modern registered horses fit this mold. Fifty years of selection within the gene pool by various breeders to intensify certain characteristics has resulted in altering the appearance and performance of some family strains. Breeding for fashion became popular, as opposed to breeding for speed, athletic ability and usefulness as a saddle horse.
In the early 1940's, when the AQHA was in it's formative years, it was believed by many that the foundation horse, the "bulldog" type, was ideal and far superior because he possessed very little, if any, Thoroughbred blood. The Association developed rules and requirements for registration which encouraged the development of the "bulldog" strains and discouraged acceptance of horses of acknowledged Thoroughbred background. Interest was high in the newly formed breed, and many outspoken proponents of the "bulldogs" were very influential in developing certain ideas in the minds of Quarter Horse enthusiasts which were well intended, but turned out to be not entirely accurate.
In documenting the ancestry of early Quarter Horses, one finds a surprising amount of Thoroughbred blood, some of which is admitted to, often only casually, or even purposely denied, in order to be accepted by the Association for registration.
When you realize how a good horse was valued and respected by men in those times, and the huge prices given for superior stock by those of no modest means, it stands to reason that they settled for no less than the best. There was a necessity and pride in having top breeding stock; there was no purpose in perpetuating inferior animals.
Early breeders, such as William Anson, Waggoner Ranch, King Ranch, CS Ranch, etc., all used the best Thoroughbred blood they could find as the basis for their herds. Their broodmares had heavy concentrations of this blood which they so successfully crossed on the first "bulldog" type Quarter Horses. The US Remount service was another source of top Thoroughbred blood which was well established throughout the country at that time.
In the '90's we have the advantage of fifty years of hind-sight, which our early breeders did not have. Did they make a mistake? Not hardly! The test of time has proved they knew exactly how to get the best. What would the Quarter Horse breed be today without the blood of such as *Janus, Sir Archy, Peter McCue, Traveler, and more recently, Three Bars? History gives us strong evidence that the superior Quarter Horse is rejuvenated by periodic infusions of the right kind of genes, most readily available from select Thoroughbred outcrosses. An interesting study of this is presented in "The Real American Quarter Horse, Versatile Athletes Who Proved Supreme" written by my husband, Paul. With stories, photos and extended pedigree charts, he presents a convincing case for the versatile horse, epitomized by the AQHA Supreme Champions, only 44 of which have earned this prestigious title. As a group they are surprisingly uniform in many ways, not excluding their size, disposition and strong Thoroughbred background.