What is a Quarter Horse?

The American Quarter Horse—known colloquially as, simply, the Quarter Horse—is a breed of horse known for its ability to sprint short distances. This skill is in the name itself; the term Quarter Horse derives from the breed’s ability to outdistance other horse breed in races of a quarter of a mile or less. Race speeds of up to 55mph have been recorded. The American Quarter Horse is one of the most popular breeds in the United States today.


In addition to being one of the most popular horses in America, the Quarter Horse is also one of the oldest. The breed originated in the 1660s; some believe it was a cross between the native horses (Spanish origin) used by the earliest colonists with the English horses imported to Virginia in the early 17th century. Regardless of its genealogical background, by the end of the 17th century, these horses were being raced successfully over quarter-mile courses in Rhode Island and Virginia, thus earning its name.


As with most horse breeds, Quarter Horse breeders should be wary of several genetic diseases. The most prevalent is Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), which is caused by an autosomal dominant gene. This disease is characterized by uncontrollable muscle twitching, weakness, and—in the most severe cases—paralysis. Malignant hyperthermia is also of concern, and Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) is widespread.


Modern Quarter Horses have a small, short, and refined head with a straight profile. Its body is strong and well-muscled, featuring a broad chest and rounded hindquarters. They often stand at between 56 and 64 inches (between 14 and 16 hands) tall, but some may grow to be as tall as 68 inches (17 hands). Quarter Horses come in nearly every color, but sorrel—a brownish red—is the most common. Additionally, spotted color patters have historically been excluded, but the advent of DNA testing has been used to verify parentage; the registry now accepts all colors as long as both parents are registered.


Quarter horses have two main body types: stock and racing/hunter. Stock types are shorter, more compact, stocky, and muscled, whereas the racing and hunter builds are taller, smoother muscled, and more closely resemble the Thoroughbred.


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