What Is An American Quarter Horse? (A Complete Guide)

What Is An American Quarter Horse?

The American Quarter Horse, or the Quarter Horse, is the most popular horse breed in North America. They can easily outrun other horses in races of a quarter-mile or less, which makes it an excellent choice for sprinting short distances. 

These horses are well-known as a racehorse and are also a popular choice for rodeos, horse shows, and as a working ranch horse.

This horse has a rich history and plenty of characteristics that make it an extremely renowned choice amongst all horse owners today.

The Origins Of This Beautiful Breed

The American Quarter Horse was bred for specific purposes that led to it being given this distinctive name.

This breed of horse was bred for racing and was initially made to sprint on dirt tracks called ‘race paths,’ which often stretched out for a quarter of a mile in the wilderness. This is where the name ‘American Quarter Horse’ originated from. 

They are known for their dominance over other breeds in quarter-mile races and their physical abilities. They originated in Virginia in the United States and played a huge role in the westward expansion of the settlers. 

The Quarter Horse, being very agile, could easily tread over rough terrain, and this attribute was considered to be invaluable by cowboys, farmers, and people who needed reliable transportation across these lands. 

What Breeds Make Up The Quarter Horse?

The Quarter Horse was bred by combining native ponies and Thoroughbred stallions. The ponies were known to have originated in Spain and England and were used in colonial America in the 1600s. The Spanish and English horses were also known to have Arabian, Iberian, and Barb ancestry, although they were predominantly considered European. 

Many consider their origins to have been from an English Thoroughbred called Janus, the breed’s founding father that was present in Virginia in the 1700s. 

What Size Are They?

Horses are measured in ‘hands,’ wherein one hand equals 4 inches. The average horse has a height of 15.2 hands. Comparatively, the American Quarter Horse is known to be shorter, with a broad and stocky appearance. The average height of the Quarter Horse ranges between 14.3 and 16 hands, which is about 57 to 64 inches.

How Much Does A Quarter Horse Weigh?

As for weight, an average Quarter Horse would weigh anywhere between 950 and 1,200 pounds, or 431 and 544 kg

The reason they are known to be shorter is because of their short legs. These horses have a muscular and fleshy upper body, which makes them look shorter, but not weaker by any means. 

Since they are used to cut cattle from herds, abilities such as quick starting, turning, and stopping are essential. Their muscular body and shorter legs make it easy for them to maintain a good speed for short distances.

We have created a guide on how tall the average horse measures along with a breed comparison table that you can read here.

Quarter Horse

What Do They Look Like?

These horses are stunning to look at, and their owners will agree to the same. They have a muscular and strong neck, a deep chest, and a sloping shoulder. This horse also has a relatively small head, which is complemented with wide eyes and pointed ears. Their ears are always alert, which is a definitive characteristic to look out for. 

From afar, they may not seem like the largest of horses, which is because of their short stature. While they have muscular and firm legs, their feet are known to be too small for the animal’s size. Such features make them look chunky, but does not compromise on their performance in any way.

This breed of horse has a compact and muscular silhouette, which is unmistakable to the trained eye. The horse has a steady and firm stance, which enables it to fulfill a variety of roles, making it the most popular choice amongst breeders. 

What Colors Are They?

These horses are a versatile breed that comes in a wide range of colors and shades. You will find them in solid colors, roans, grullo, palominos, buckskins, grays, blacks, and duns.

Most often, you will find the Quarter Horse to have a brownish-red sorrel color to its appearance. Yet another common trait in Quarter Horses is the appearance of white markings on the face and legs.

The American Quarter Horse Association Registry accepts horses with spotted patterns to be Quarter Horses only if the horse owner can prove that the horse’s sire (male parent) and dam (female parent) are both registered Quarter Horses. 

What Are They Used For?

These horses are extremely versatile, which makes them the perfect choice for a variety of tasks. This type of horse does exceptionally well as a working, family, and show horse. They are very comfortable being on the trail as well as moving about on the farm. 

Back in the day, they were known to perform well at maneuvering cattle and pulling wagons. These activities were restricted to how horses could help their owners manage the farm. 

As of today, they are popular in rodeo events and are praised for their star qualities. They excel at events like reining, where the rider guides the horse through spins and a pattern of circles, as well as team penning, where the riders herd cattle into their pen. 

Quarter Horses are known to have muscular and agile legs, which helps them with quick and calculated movements when it comes to gathering strays from herds. This gives them a ‘cow sense,’ which is a popular term in the world of horse breeding that is used to indicate the ability of a horse to interact well with a cow. A cow horse is also called a cutting horse, which means that they can use these skills in competitions as well. 

The strong legs of these horses are of great use in stock horse events such as barrel racing.

Since these horses are particularly named after their ability to quickly run a quarter-mile, they are very popular in sprint racing. A Quarter Horse race forms a separate category, and as such, many race tracks are prevalent across North America. Many of them can run at speeds up to 55 miles per hour, as was recorded in many of these short and intense races. This makes them the ideal running horse. 

Find out more on horse speeds by reading our guide which you can read here.


Horse owners opt to have a Quarter Horse for a variety of reasons. While some prefer to keep them as a pet horses, others like to make the best use of the horse’s skills and train it for competitions. There are certainly other people who like to breed American Quarter Horses as a hobby as well. 

A horse owner need not have both the stud and the mare to enable breeding. If a horse owner has just a stud, then they can rent out his services to mare owners who are looking to breed their mares. If the stud owner finds a suitable match, then they can have the mare brought over to their establishment. If the mare is ready to breed, she can spend a few days with the stud. Bringing the stud over to the mare is not a very good idea, as long-distance travel can tire out the stud. 

Horse owners can also have both the stud and the mare and use them both for breeding purposes. It is important to have good knowledge of the horse’s bloodlines and what can be expected. Breeders are often thrilled to see what the outcome of the breeding is, and how the foal would be like. If the foal has the good traits of either the stud or the mare, such offspring can sell for very high prices. 

One thing is for sure- breeders are required to follow and abide by the same sound practices that are used in the breeding of other animals. 

Quarter Horse


We have already spoken about their cow sense, which makes it one of the most popular choices for a cutting horse. Besides this, they are a popular breed because of their high versatility. These horses are agile and sure-footed, even when they run at high speeds

They are known to have several positive qualities, such as their gentle nature, liveliness, speed, beauty, and loyalty. These horses are suitable for all levels of horse riders and owners and are very easy to train. Almost all Quarter Horse owners will agree that this breed is also the friendliest of all horse breeds, which makes it comfortable for people to be around them. 

Quarter Horses are a popular choice at Western Pleasure events, which assesses a horse’s manners and ease of riding. 

The average life expectancy of a Quarter Horse would be between 25 and 35 years


Owners of this breed must ensure that their equines get a healthy and balanced meal regularly.

Their diets should include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water in well-adjusted quantities. They are known to sustain themselves on a diet of fresh grass, rolled oats, hay, and grains like barley and bran. Owners can give them treats in the form of carrots and apples, but in moderation. 

They generally eat close to two percent of their body weight every day. So, a Quarter Horse that weighs about 1,000 pounds would need to eat between 15 and 20 pounds of food on a daily basis. 

What Is The Difference Between A Quarter Horse And Thoroughbred?

To the untrained eye, all horses look similar. But in reality, the American Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred variety have quite a few differences. 

Firstly, when it comes to physical traits, you will notice that these two breeds vary only slightly. The Thoroughbred horse is usually 62 to 68 inches tall, whereas the Quarter Horse is about 56 to 64 inches in height.

The weight of a Quarter Horse remains average at 1,200 pounds, but the weight of a Thoroughbred can range between 800 and 1,200 pounds. Overall, the Thoroughbred horse looks more athletic and leaner, whereas the Quarter Horse looks much more muscular and wider. 

In terms of speed and performance, one of the most interesting traits of these horse breeds lies in their ability to adapt to a race. Quarter Horses stay consistent while racing, which means that if it begins on a fast note, they can very well win the race. Similarly, if it has a weak start, it may not be able to catch up at all. 

Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, can easily pick up their pace during the course of a race.

This is why they are preferred for shorter sprints, whereas Thoroughbreds are the ideal choice for long-distance races.

With regard to personality traits, these two breeds are very different. Quarter Horses are known to be friendly and easy-going, which makes them a great choice for beginners as well. Thoroughbreds are usually hot-tempered and don’t get along well with strangers. Only experienced riders and owners will be able to handle a Thoroughbred horse effectively.

Read our in-depth guide on American Quarter Horse vs Thoroughbreds here.

About The American Quarter Horse Association

The American Quarter Horse Association, AQHA for short, was founded in 1940. It was created by a group of horsemen from the south-western region of the U.S. in a bid to maintain the breed and improve pedigrees of Quarter Horses through registration. The AQHA maintains studbooks for all the Quarter Horses in America. 

As of today, the association has over six million horses registered, making this breed the most popular horse in the world. Two of the star horses that go by the names of Peter Mccue and Steel Dust were very instrumental in the formation of the AQHA. 

A number of ranches across North America, including the King Ranch, have been positively benefited through the role played by the AQHA in maintaining the Quarter Horse breed. 


The American Quarter Horse is undoubtedly one of the most well-known horse breeds throughout the world. Genetically, these horses have excellent traits that make them highly versatile and capable of carrying out numerous activities.

They are also exceptional racers in short sprint tracks. They are friendly and make for wonderful companions. This American breed will surely continue to reign as a popular choice amongst horse lovers all over the world.

There’s a whole world of horse breeds out there to explore! Discover and find out more information by checking out our horse breed guides.

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