Quarter Horse Racing
The American Quarter Horse was originally bred for sprinting short distances – usually anything up to a quarter mile - but this breed has also been found to make a good working horse on cattle ranches and to be a superior show horse in rodeo events, such as barrel racing, where its exceptional agility and bouts of speed enable excellent performances. It is widely believed to be one of the world’s fastest short distance horses and has been clocked at 55 mph. With such an amazing capability for speed, it is not surprising that quarter horse racing is such a popular sporting activity in the United States.
Quarter horse racing has long been popular amongst horse enthusiasts in the United States of America. It began in Virginia, shortly after the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. Horse racing was as popular as ever in this time of the country’s history but the money and effort required in laying out a full mile of track meant that organised racing was beyond the limits of many. It also meant that many people had no access to the sport as the few tracks that had been made were usually too far away to be reached. This resulted in a compromise – a straight track of a quarter mile (400m) could often be easily flattened in virtually any environment and it became the standard racing distance. The tracks were plentiful and anyone could compete or attend the races and wager. It wasn’t long before horses started to be bred to run this short distance and often this new ‘quarter miler’ or ‘quarter horse’ could out run the classic thoroughbred – making it even more popular. Before long, racing standards were set and quarter horse racing had become a permanent feature of horse racing in the US.
The American Quarter Horse is usually easily distinguished by a small, refined head with a strong, incredibly well-muscled body. It has a broad chest and powerful hindquarters and may be anything from 14 to 17 hands in height. The stock type of quarter horse is usually more stocky than the racing variety which is taller and more smoothly muscled. Their general appearance is slimmer and often they have a thoroughbred-like appearance. Yet they retain the speed, stamina and power which is characteristic of the breed and which will catapult a quarter horse to the front of the race. Quarter horse races generally take place over short distances which may range from 220 to 870 yards. In this distance, the average quarter horse will outstrip a thoroughbred whose body characteristics would most likely render him champion in a longer race.
History of the Quarter Horse Breed
American quarter horses trace their lineage back to colonial days when English thoroughbred horses as well as settlers began to arrive on the Atlantic coast of what was then the Thirteen Colonies. Inevitably, the English horses were cross-bred with the tough, nimble horses used by the Native Americans. These horses were descendants of Spanish horses brought to the New World by Cortez and other conquistadors. The result was a horse with a deep, strong chest and powerful hindquarters, agile yet remarkably quick when they needed to be. As westward expansion began, cowboys found that the quarter horses had what was called "cow sense", making them ideal mounts for cattle drives and day to day ranch duties. On the weekends, the cowboys would often race their quarter horses on a dirt road or other flat stretch.
Selective breeding over time improved and strengthened these traits to the point where the American Quarter Horse was recognized as an important breed worthy of much respect worldwide. To protect and categorize the bloodlines of valuable quarter horses, a group of ranchers formed the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in 1940. The regulations of the AQHA allow some flow between strict quarter horses and thoroughbreds, allowing the bloodlines to receive beneficial infusions of thoroughbred genes that keep the breed vital and free from inbred diseases. Today, quarter horses are, literally, the workhorses of ranches, rodeos and riding schools.