Born to breed, to rule the racetrack, dominate the rodeo and blaze the trails that no man-made vehicle could venture through. That is the nature of the American Quarter Horse since the seventeenth century, the first native horse to North America. These horses are strategically bred following strict regulations that allow for a horse to bear the title of an American Quarter Horse.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) determines the regulations of this ancient breed. Central to the world of this globally renowned breed of horses, the AQHA requires that anyone who wants to breed, race or simply have their horse bear this prestigious title must register with the association.
AQHA oversees the largest quarter horse breeder society in the world and has over 3.2 million horses registered worldwide and 300,000 equestrian members. Founded in 1940, the association was developed by a group of horsemen who wanted to preserve the pedigree of this particular breed of horses. Now based in Amarillo, Texas, AQHA is a prominent international organization that is dedicated to preserving this famous pedigree of horses.
The AQHA World Show is one of the most prestigious shows that an American Quarter Horse may be allowed to enter. This is the largest AQHA sponsored event and is held in November of every year. The association allocates points to horses that win or place in the horse shows and on the racetrack. The points awarded depend on the horses placing and the number of other horses that participated in the event. Certain levels of points will allow a particular horse to win annual awards and receive lifetime achievement recognition. AQHA keeps careful records of all events and provides resources for its members to keep abreast of events and activities that are available worldwide.
The AQHA’s website Aqha.com, provides registered members information on races, other quarter horse breeders, events, recreation and youth opportunities. AQHA even provides travel discounts for hotels, air travel and car rentals for its members. The association also offers equestrian members an AQHA MasterCard that is managed through the Bank of America. Additionally, members can search for horses that are for sale, riding instructors and monitor the current rankings and polls of registered horses. As an international organization, AQHA has many corporate sponsors that include Wranglers, Bayers, FedEx, MetLife, and Ford, just to name a few, who recognize the value of the equestrian consumers.
Becoming a member and registering a horse with AQHA is not a simple task. AQHA has extremely strict regulations to determine if a horse is in fact an American Quarter Horse. They reference a horse stud book which determines legitimacy. The horse must meet performance standards and be a first generation cross between a registered Thoroughbred and an American Quarter Horse. Once this is determined the horse may compete in competitions. This does not provide full registration, however, until the horse meets certain conformational criteria and is successful in AQHA events. Once the horse becomes fully registered then their offspring will be eligible for AQHA registration as well.
The American Quarter Horse Association is an enormous central foundation for the
preservation of the prestigious American Quarter Horse pedigree. The races, competitions, and recreational opportunities that this breed of horse offers have intrigued equestrians and the general public for centuries. AQHA, as an international organization, will continue to have a huge influence in the world of American Quarter Horses.
The Quarter Horse has been an American icon for generations. Whether it’s on the racetrack or at the Rodeo, the breed has always amazed riders and spectators with its speed and agility The Quarter Horse was an integral function to the cowboy culture of the old west and continues to be the most utilized and prized racing horse.
The Quarter Horse is a breed of horse used primarily for sprinting short distances and rodeo competitions.
It has now become one of the most popular horse breeds in the world with an estimated 3.7 million registered Quarter Horses worldwide. The breed is most commonly utilized for its quick, intricate and delicate maneuvers. Because of the horse’s prowess for sprinting and turning, the breed is most often bred as racehorses, ranch hands, or other event competitors.
The history of the Quarter Horse begins in the Colonial era of the United States—the Quarter Horse is often considered to be the first distinctly American horse breed. When the early settlers brought purebred horses from the old world and began crossing them with native horses from the earlier Spanish conquests, a new, agile type of horse began to emerge. This new horse was quickly recognized for its ability to sprint the quarter mile and was soon the preferred breed for weekend racing.
Before long, Quarter Horse Stallions became an integral part of ranch life on the western cattle ranges. With their ability to run short distances and maneuver with such accuracy, Quarter Horse Stallions became the most popular cattle-ranch horse breed. But a formal breed was not established for hundreds of years. As the breed continued to gain in popularity, stallions became the preferred horse in rodeo competitions and it became common practice to breed them with more traditional Thoroughbred horses.
In 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed by a group of southwestern ranchers as a way to preserve the Quarter Horse Pedigree. The first registered American Quarter Horse, Wimpy, was a descendent of the famous Quarter Horse, Old Sorrel. The AQHA headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas is responsible for the statistics, registration, ownership and performance results of all American Quarter Horses.
The Quarter Horse stallion has specific characteristics that have made it such a versatile and popular horse. A stallion typically stands 14-16 hands high and has one of two body types: the stock type or the racing type. The stock type is a bit shorter, brawny and well muscled; whereas the racing type is a taller, with longer legs, and tends to be much leaner. The most prominent color is sorrel, but they come in nearly all colors.
Because of the popularity of rodeo events and horse racing, the American Quarter Horse has become the most recognized and useful breed. For these reasons, the horse has now become an international breed with registries in foreign countries—Brazil and Australia having the largest populations outside of the United States. With rodeo events now becoming an international affair, it’s common for countries with no previous stock horse industries to upstart their own Quarter Horse industries.
The Quarter Horse is a symbol of American expansion and cultural symbiosis, taking attributes from the Old World and giving them an American twist. It’s no surprise that stallions have featured in many television shows and movie productions. With the foundation of the AQHA, the breed will continue to be a positive and exerting influence on American Culture.
The Rocky Mountain Horse originates from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, and has been enchanting riders for decades with its easy temperament and soothing gait. But it’s not simply the gentle nature and smooth riding of the Rocky Mountain horse that has made it famous. The breed’s ability to withstand harsh winters and lead long, productive lives as farm hands has made it a favorite amongst both farmers and families alike.
The exact origin of the Rocky Mountain Horse is cloaked in oral history.
Around the year 1890, a horse said to be from the Rocky Mountain region of the United States appeared in eastern Kentucky. This horse is often considered to be the father of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. The horse was known for its easy gait and ability to work long, arduous hours on little sustenance. The horse became a favorite amongst the farmers of the foothills because of its ability to perform rugged tasks with ease. But it was also popular amongst families for its tranquil personality and comfortable gait.
The Rocky Mountain Horse was a local treasure for the inhabitants of eastern Kentucky. For decades the horse continued to be a local breed and the predominantly poor farmers in the foothills saw no reason to establish a formal association. As the rest of the country began to modernize with paved highways and powerful automobiles, the horse continued to be an integral function of Appalachian life.
But one citizen of Kentucky began to establish an informal breed of Rocky Mountain Horses. Sam Tuttle of Spout Springs began to nurture these horses for a horseback riding business he started in Natural Bridge State Park. Sam Tuttle solidified the reputation of the breed by providing the public with a chance to experience the smooth gait and tranquil disposition of the breed.
In 1986, a group of owners interested in the preservation of the breed got together to form the Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA). The owners simply wanted to preserve the wonderful traits of the breed that generations of riders had come to appreciate. The RMHA also established a registry of Rocky Mountain Horses and the particular characteristics necessary to the development of the breed.
The RMHA has created a list of necessary characteristics that a horse must possess in order to be registered as a Rocky Mountain Horse. The horse must be at least 14.2 to 16 hands in height with a 45-degree chest. The horse must also have bold eyes and well-shaped ears. All Rocky Mountain Horses must also use a four beat gait, meaning the horse produces four distinct hoof beats with equal rhythm. This four beat gait must be natural and should not require training or unnatural devices. Lastly, the horse must be of solid color (minor facial markings are acceptable) and have the tranquil temperament associated with the Rocky Mountain Horse breed.
The Rocky Mountain Horse breed also has subdivisions of horses, one such breed is the Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse. The Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse must have the same characteristics as the Rocky Mountain Horse, but instead of being a solid color, the horse will be covered with white patches. The Spotted horse also comes in four designs: Tobiano, Overo, Sabino and Tovero. The Spotted Rocky Mountain Horse Association is a subdivision of the RMHA and upholds the same level of standards and breed characteristics.
The Rocky Mountain Horse is a symbol of the hard American work ethic and durability that has helped define and shape our country. But the horse also possesses a personality that has endeared it to riders for generations.
In the movie The Horse Whisperer, Robert Redford’s character Booker encounters Pilgrim, a horse in need of training. Pilgrim is extremely skittish and does not let Booker near him. Eventually Booker is able to get closer and closer to the point where he is able to stroke Pilgrim and lean into his face, whispering something in the horse’s ear.
This scene is a good example of the patience and caring it takes to train a horse to trust.
Real horse whisperers do exist, hiring out their services to those in need of help with a particularly tough horse, such as Pilgrim. Luckily the few horse whisperers out there are not required to train all the stubborn horses in existence. Good results, however, do require a trainer with a solid foundation in basic horsemanship skills.
A lot of dedication is involved in training a horse, especially because even basic training should not begin until the horse is at least two years old. Many wait until the third year.
Basic training of colts and fillies begins with getting them used to a soft halter. At first the halter is unknown and can be scary. Although it does not have a bit, it can be unnerving because of the close proximity to the face. Once the horse is comfortable with the halter, a lead rope can be attached. The lead rope attaches to the halter and is used to lead to horse around, getting him comfortable with having pieces attached to the area around his head. Ultimately the reins are attached.
Horses are very sensitive about their backs, so saddling a horse is perhaps the most difficult aspect of horse training.
Starting off slowly with a saddle pad or blanket gently laid across the back is a good precursor to the saddle. Having an unfamiliar item on his back will trigger the horse’s natural response to buck. This common reaction is why a professional is required to keep the trainer and the horse safe.
After the saddle pad doe not cause any problems, a rudimentary saddle can be used and fitted with a girth. All of these additions are made in a slow process. Throwing too much at a young horse can cause a bad reaction, making the horse nervous around any sort of tack, thus making the training process much more difficult and drawn out.
Once the halter and saddle are able to be placed safely on the horse, the process of teaching the horse how to respond to rider commands begins. Typically lunging is the favored process. The lunge line is a 20 to 40 foot rope attaching to the halter and is controlled by the trainer, who stands in the middle of the arena. The horse is coaxed around in a circle starting at a walk and slowly moving through the four natural gaits, eventually leading up to the gallop.
Western trainers heavily rely on the hackamore, which is a sophisticated training tool. It applies pressure to the sensitive areas around the horse’s nose, the sides of the face and the underside of the jaw by means of a subtle side-to-side rocking motion.
Whatever tools are used to train a horse, the most important is the patient and caring trainer. A proper education for the horse will increase his sensitivity to his rider thus increasing his performance. A good trainer will fully develop a horse’s athletic ability and help him reach his utmost potential.
When most people think of a black and white farm animal, the cow tends to pop into their minds. However, the slightly comical look of a black and white horse does not negate its beauty.
Several different kinds of black and white coat patterns take place in the horse world.
Piebald horses are painted horses with black and white splotches.
Horses with any color other than black are called skewbald. Pintos have a mixture of white and colored areas on their bodies. Pinto is a Spanish word meaning painted.
Painted horses are divided into two categories. Tobianos, the most common, have white splotches across their backs which extend downward along the rest of the body. On overos, the opposite is true; the white extends from the belly and legs upward toward the back, but does not actually cross the back.
Overos also are known for having a “War Bonnet,” or white face.
Another popular horse known for being black and white is the Appaloosa. Appaloosa is a color breed, meaning any horse, regardless of breed, can be considered an Appaloosa as long as it fits the required color pattern.
Appaloosas are divided into three color patterns:
Leopard – a white horse with dark spots all over his body.
Snowflake – a dark horse with tiny white spots.
Blanket – the most well-known Appaloosa pattern, which usually consists of a white blanket with dark spots on the rump.
The breeding of these colored horses is meticulous since certain colors and patterns are highly desirous. Stallions, which have a 95 percent rate of passing their color pattern on to their foals, can fetch a pretty penny to sire.
While breeding horses to attain a desired pattern is no guarantee, it does enhance the chances of getting a striking black and white pattern.
Many people devote themselves to these black and white horses; they appreciate the boldness of their black and white color, which is marvelously unique.
Wild horses are one of America’s national treasures. On par with seeing a soaring eagle or a bear foraging for food, the wild horse commands awe and respect. Wild is perhaps a misnomer as all wild horses in North America are actually feral, meaning their ancestors were domesticated.
Theories state that the early horse did roam North America, however as the continents shifted, they only retained status in Europe and Asia.
According to the book Horse Facts, in the 16th century the Spanish Conquistadors invaded America bringing with them their domesticated horses thus reintroducing the horse to North America. These domesticated ancestors were shipped over from Europe with the intention of providing a means of travel for settlers and general field work. However, many of the animals escaped or were turned loose and were ultimately left to their own devices. Although in a new setting, the abundant room and food the new continent provided allowed the horse to thrive.
America’s wild horse, typically called a Mustang, is a true survivor. They come in all colors and typically are between 14 – 15 hands with a light-weight build. Because they are descended from the horses of Spanish settlers, they are of Andalusian, Arab and Barb origins. Unlike their domesticated counterparts, Mustangs are extremely resilient.
Once tamed, they make excellent horses for any discipline as long as they receive the respect they deserve. In fact, they have so many desirable qualities such as good cow-sense, that they have been bred with numerous other breeds like the Thoroughbred.
The most numerous breed in the United States, the Quarter-Horse, is a cross between a Mustang and a Thoroughbred. Mustangs are great for general use but have excelled in endurance riding.
Unfortunately many of North America’s 47,000 wild horses are in constant danger. As of 2004, the wild horses lost the federal protection they had that prevented them from being rounded up and sold to slaughter. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act of 1971 was lifted allowing the government agency the Bureau of Land Management to routinely round up roaming herds. The lucky captors are sent to auction to be sold to potential buyers who are looking for a challenging new horse; others sadly are sent to slaughter.
The debate is that these wild horses are grazing on land that is meant for cattle. One side says that the loss of the use of the land is debilitating to the cattle industry while the other says that there is plenty of land for both species and that the wild horses do not do the damage reported.
The fight is also on to release back into the wild the 14,000 wild horses currently being held in long-term facilities. A great group that has done tireless work to save these wild animals and adopt the captured mustangs is The Wild Horse Sanctuary (www.wildhorsesanctuary.org). They currently have over 200 wild horses and burros running free on their land. Also, they are very active in getting the government to see the value of these precious animals.
Wild horses have survived for centuries living on land that is more than accommodating. It would be a shame to see this versatile creature disappear from our landscape.
The thoroughbred is perhaps one of the most famous horses worldwide due to its speed. The popularity of horse racing has elevated the thoroughbred’s status to what it is today. Because of their value in the sporting world, thoroughbreds are the most valuable horses in the world.
The breed’s ancestry is difficult to map since many of the original forebears’ names were changed when they were sold to different owners.
The three most influential horses in developing the breed were the Barb, Turk and Arabian. Through the ages, the best and fastest horses were bred for their speed. This speed has created some of the most popular races today which include the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes which constitute the Triple Crown. These races showcase the thoroughbred’s string suit because the thoroughbred can run a mile (1.6 kilometers) in about one and a half minutes. Even more amazing are the legendary race horses. Secretariat’s response went beyond unreal. He won by a jaw-dropping 31 lengths. His time of 2:24 for one and a half miles set a world record many argue may never be broken.
Thoroughbreds are probably the horse most people think of when asked to picture a horse. They come in all colors, but predominantly are brown, bay and chestnut.
They have well conformed bodies with well-sloped shoulders and powerful hindquarters. Thoroughbreds’ refined heads are misleading of their Arabian ancestry as they do not possess the characteristic Arabian dished profile. At an average of 16 to 16.2hh, they are tall with long legs bred for speed making them the ultimate ‘speed racer.’ The clean, hard legs of a thoroughbred have a minimum of eight inches of bone below the knee.
Every kid is sure to have seen a movie featuring a thoroughbred at some point. Great movies such as National Velvet, Seabiscuit and Dreamer are a few horse enthusiast favorites. Because they are so fast, they create a sense of wonder and awe leading to many enchanting stories.
Not to be pigeon-holed as speed demons, thoroughbreds are great all-around horses, too. They excel in jumping and hunting events and compete in three-day events. Though one of the more spirited breeds, they do make good pleasure horses. Adopted retired racehorses must be taught the basics, such as the four gaits. Because a racehorse knows fast and faster, a patient owner and trainer are required. But the result is very fulfilling as many retired racehorses even become schooling and lesson horses. They have very smooth gaits with easy ground-covering strides for flat work.
The thoroughbred is an extremely handsome, spirited and alert horse. It has won the hearts of the world over. Though built for speed, it has so much more to offer!
The first time I rode a horse was at a local zoo when I was about three years old. This memorable first ride was just on the back of a small pony being led around a ring at a pace so slow I am sure I could have saddled the pony to my back for a faster ride.
But it was the most thrilling event to occur in my young life and it started a love for horseback riding which has yet to diminish.
Most everyone has ridden a horse at some point in their life, whether it was a trail ride while on vacation or being led on a pony around a small arena. The feeling of riding the back of a beast whose heart still beats wildly ignites our thirst for danger while at the same time relying on our sense of trust. If it did not, show jumping, barrel racing, dressage or rodeos would not be the crowd pleasers they currently are.
Those who consider themselves horseback riding enthusiasts tend to pick one discipline over the other based on the events most suited to them. Many differences exist between English and Western disciplines, but they provide the same ends: the bond between human and horse. While a healthy rivalry exists between the two, each side believing their method of horseback riding is the preferred method, both schools have a lot to offer.
English and Western horseback riding styles have debated about such technicalities as the most suitable type of horse or events they host: reining, cutting or roping in Western and dressage, jumping and flat equitation for English. However, I believe the biggest difference is also the simplest: the saddle.
Western saddles are probably the more recognizable of the two thanks to just about every Hollywood movie involving a horse. Western saddles are the larger of the two because they are made for comfort to be able to be ridden all day out on the range. It also has the horn on the front, which is not, in fact, for novices to hold onto to keep from falling off; rather it is used by a cowboy to wrap the end of his rope around when roping cattle.
The horn is non-existent on the English saddle because being punched in the stomach by it when jumping your horse would tend to take away some of English riding’s graceful allure. The English horseback riding saddle is small and has built-in padding. It is a very simple saddle with little material to allow for maximum communication through the body from rider to horse.
Western horseback riding events have evolved from typical cowboy events. The name Western comes from a time when pioneers and cowboys were developing the western territory of North American. A cutting horse is desired in the sporting world as much as in the ranching world. Once used solely to keep up with stay sheep or cattle, displaying the same techniques in the arena is a viewer-friendly feat. Barrel racing is another exciting event where a horse and rider run from one barrel to another at opposite ends of an arena, swerving around the barrel so fast and low the rider’s foot can touch the ground as the horse is almost horizontal.
English derives its name from the long love affair Great Britain has had with equestrian events. English events are popular and have a rich history; these events have been part of the Olympics since the early 1900s. While Western horesback riding prides itself on speed, English riding is defined by accuracy. Equitation is an event when the rider is judged. Things such as inconspicuous leg commands and proper diagonals are taken into consideration. Hunt class is the event when the horse is judged. Being on the right lead, alertness and general good behavior are desired.
While both disciplines have their fans, enthusiasts appreciate both. If you are just starting to ride and do not know which you will prefer, check out a few different stables and take an introductory class from both schools.
Do not get scared if you fall off. They say you are not a real rider until you have fallen off at least three times. Plus, with Madonna recently falling off and breaking a couple of ribs, it could be the new vogue thing.
The Many Horse Breeds
Ask any young girl what type of horse breeds exist, a typical answer would be: unicorns, ponies, My-Little Ponies and regular horses. While two exist in stories, the imagination and toy stores, the other two are more accurate. The many breeds actually developed from man.
Curiosity and necessity for passing on certain traits lead humans to constantly cross breed horses. Strong, giant horses, such as the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, were created for long days of field work while Thoroughbreds were desired for their long legs and stamina. Ponies and horses are categorized into more than 150 different breeds and types worldwide but each country certainly has its favorite breeds.
Most of these favorites are determined by the usage of the horse. North Americans prefer the versatility of the Quarter Horse in that it exudes excellence equally in work environments and pleasure riding. As the name implies, the Quarter Horse excels at racing over a short distance – a quarter of a mile. But because of their toughness and stockiness, settlers depended on them during the movement west and ultimately became indispensable in cattle herding. Averaging heights of 14.3 – 16hh (horses are measured in hands with a hand being 4 inches), the Quarter Horse comes in any solid color and has a short and wide head with large intelligent eyes. The breed is well known for its pleasant disposition and gentleness and as a result is used in a wide variety of activities such as leisure riding, barrel racing and ranching. Other American favorites are the Morgan, Saddlebred, Mustang and Tennessee Walking Horse, all desirous for their even temperaments and smooth conformation.
Great Britain has long declared itself an expert in the horse world. Children grow up taking equestrian lessons like American children join Little League. The prized English Hackney horse is world renown as a carriage horse with its small convex head and muzzle, short legs and well-shaped feet. The English also love their draught horses, especially the Shire, Suffolk and Clyesdale. All over 16hh high, they offer a powerful display with strong intelligent heads, broad chests and beautiful wisps of fine feather at their feet – simply beautiful creatures.
Horses are prominent all over Europe. Germany adores the Oldenburg, Westphalian Hanoverian and Trakehner among others. France lays claim to the French Trotter, Camargue, Norman Cob and Percheron while Italy loves the Murgese and Maremmano.
Ireland has the Irish Draught; Sweden has the Swedish Warmblood and Denmark has the Danish Warmblood. Popular sporting events in Europe are Hunting and Cross-Country which require a horse with jumping ability, stamina and willingness to trust its rider completely. The last is not a trait taken lightly by horse people. Knowing that inside every domestic horse still beats the heart of a wild animal, to completely trust its rider is highly prized.
Not to forget the oldest and purest of all breeds – the Arab originates from the Middle East and with its beautiful physique, has contributed to the creation of many of today’s breeds. Arabs have small heads with unique floating action. It is perhaps most well known for its high spirits and silky high tail. It is the originator of the term Hot Blooded!
South America appreciates horses with a smaller build that allows for much agility. The Criollo of Argentina and the Peruvian Paso of Peru are extremely popular breeds.
Australia looks for qualities in a horse that many of the old American west horses exuded. The Australian Stock Horse has the pretty head of the Thoroughbred with the build of an Arab-Quarter horse.
Ponies are differentiated from horses in their stature. Broadly speaking a pony is a small horse meaning no higher at the withers than 14.2hh. Not all small horses are classified as ponies. Ponies should have distinctive pony characteristics such as short legs to a proportional body.
Popular for children to start learning to ride, mostly because of the short distance to the ground for the inevitable first fall for all equestrians, but also because many ponies are bred for their sweet dispositions. Perhaps one of the most beautiful ponies is the Haflinger of Austria. Haflingers are chestnut in color with an extremely long, flowing flaxen mane and tail. The Exmoor is popular in England as a child’s pony for its natural balance and fun physique as well as a wild mane! Great Britain also enjoys the likes of the Shetland, Highland, Dartmoor and Welsh Cob.
Because horses offer many distinctly different qualities, a horse exists for every need. The hard part is determining from which of the wonderful breeds suits the rider the most. However hard the decision is, it is also one of the most fun to make! What ever horse one chooses it will be a loyal companion and a true friend that will have the decency to step on your foot only occasionally and when spooked, at least dump you in a clean area.