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Norwich Bulletin - 8/30/2009

Horse History - Part One

The American Quarter Horse is the first true all-American breed. It’s supporters claim that this is the most popular horse in the world and to support that claim there are more than four million entries in the American Quarter Horse Association’s register. This horse is used across the United States for short distance riding, rodeos, barrel racing, cow ponies, hunting, and pleasure riding. In otherwords, the Quarter Horse is a versatile horse that is used in many walks of life.

Early Settlers crossed the English imports and the stock of horses of Spanish origin already in America and this became the foundation of the Quarter Horse, a compact steed with massively muscled quarters. They were used for farm work, herding cattle, hauling lumber, in light harness and under saddle. The sport loving English settlers also raced them on quarter mile stretches, which is what eventually led to the breed’s name.

In the early 1600’s the Arab and Turkish horses were brought to North America by Spanish explorers and bred to English mares, which produced a more compact horse that could run short distances faster than any other horse. The actual beginning of the breed can be traced to 1611, when a select group of stallions from Spanish breeds were shipped from England. The resulting cross resulted in a horse that helped settle the West. In fact, they were the pony express horses, as well as the horses that carried preachers and doctors to the homes of the settlers.

But where the Quarter Horse really excelled and found its true home, was on the West’s sprawling ranches where they worked with their cowboys, cutting cattle, roping and branding calves, performing necessary ranch chores and then, come the weekend, they became part of the entertainment as part of the all American rodeo.

The very first Quarter Horse of note was Steel Dust, foaled in Illinois in 1843, and sent to Lancaster, Texas a few years later. He was a blood bay that stood fifteen hands high and weighed about 1,200 pounds! The popularity of Steel Dust as a running horse and as a sire of running horses, as well as cow horses, kept him very busy as a sire. In fact, it was quite common to hear the horses being called “Steel Dust” horses until the name Quarter Horse was officially adopted.

There were several outstanding stallions that helped make the breed what it has developed into today. In 1839 Cooper Bottom, foaled in Pennsylvania in 1828, was taken by General Sam Houston to Texas, where his descendants helped form what the breed is today. Cooper Bottom and Old Shiloh were two popular sires and these lines found their way to Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri and New Mexico. But probably the most famous of all the sires in the establishment of the Quarter Horse breed was Peter McCue.

Although he was first registered as a Thoroughbred, evidence was presented that he was sired by a descendant of Old Shiloh. He provided stud service in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, and most modern Quarter Horses trace back to him. In fact, 2,304 of the 11.510 Quarter Horses registered prior to January, 1948, traced back to Peter McCue through his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons. He was a very busy horse during his siring days and was a very important part of the establishment of the Quarter Horse as a breed.

Today the Quarter Horse is known as the world’s most versatile horse and its popularity continues to grow. There are more than one million American Quarter Horse owners throughout the United States and in many other countries. The American Quarter Horse Association was founded in 1940 in Amarillo, Texas, and the popularity of this horse continued to grow. Not only were they found on ranches and rodeos, but they made their way into show arenas, as trail horses and in backyards across the country.

Today, one of the best known breeding establishments of Quarter Horses is the King Ranch, in Kingsville, Texas. In 1915 Old Sorrell was foaled and in the thirty years of his life, he proved to be such an outstanding cow horse and sire of cow horses that a line breeding program was developed at the King Ranch to maintain his name in the pedigree of future Quarter Horses.

And so the Quarter horse is still the most popular breed in our country. There are sixteen recognized colors; the most prominent color of sorrel, as well as bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red, blue or bay roan, perlino and cremello. Before you ask, I have absolutely no idea what many of these colors look like.

What I do know though is that no matter how modern we have become with our cars and our big machinery, the Quarter Horse still has a job on the ranches and continues to touch our hearts much in the same way it did over three hundred years ago.

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