Fifty years ago, the American Quarter Horse Association was organized to preserve and perpetuate a unique strain of horses which were so superior in type, speed and athletic ability that horsemen came to recognize them as a breed apart even before they had a name. They were called "quarter-of-a-mile runners" and "quarter horses" as early as the mid 1700's.
These horses descended from imported English Thoroughbred race horses from which developed the Jockey Club's American Stud Book, and when crossed on native American colonial horses, the American Quarter Horse Association. Neither association had an American stud book until after the Civil War, but the horses were recognized and categorized by the distances they ran best. Sprinters were designated as short, or Quarter horses; stayers who ran from a mile to four miles became known as Thoroughbreds. Some even ran successfully at both distances.
The stud book for the American Thoroughbred was started in 1868; the American Quarter Horse not until 1940. The popularity of short racing was wide-spread in America since colonial days, and the pedigrees of many of these horses have been documented and preserved down through the years. The best blood was highly valued, even before the Quarter Horse became a breed, and was used for not only racing purposes, but it comprised the highest class of ranch and using horses. Their superiority was unquestioned and thoroughly tested under the rigorous demands of hard-working ranchers who needed a horse with speed, endurance, cow-sense and a trainable disposition. They simply had no equal.
What were the qualities of the early colonial horses that made them so unique? Descriptions of *Janus, a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, given 200 years before the American Quarter Horse Association was formed were still considered to be the ideal type in 1940. He was a little over 14 hands, a beautiful compactly built horse, with strong bones, short back and tremendous muscling, small alert ear, large jaws, etc. Imported from England in 1752, he became the first stallion in this country to popularize the Quarter type horse, as he was a highly successful sire who passed on his likeness and speed with amazing consistency. His phenomenal influence was strongly felt for many generations. Most Quarter Horses today can be traced to this great early sire.
Present-day Quarter Horses who still retain their inheritance of speed and athletic ability are, for the most part, unchanged in type, although a few inches taller than their colonial ancestors. This may be due to improved diet and environment, much the same as man is larger today than his forefathers. However, not all modern registered horses fit this mold. Fifty years of selection within the gene pool by various breeders to intensify certain characteristics has resulted in altering the appearance and performance of some family strains. Breeding for fashion became popular, as opposed to breeding for speed, athletic ability and usefulness as a saddle horse.
In the early 1940's, when the AQHA was in it's formative years, it was believed by many that the foundation horse, the "bulldog" type, was ideal and far superior because he possessed very little, if any, Thoroughbred blood. The Association developed rules and requirements for registration which encouraged the development of the "bulldog" strains and discouraged acceptance of horses of acknowledged Thoroughbred background. Interest was high in the newly formed breed, and many outspoken proponents of the "bulldogs" were very influential in developing certain ideas in the minds of Quarter Horse enthusiasts which were well intended, but turned out to be not entirely accurate.
In documenting the ancestry of early Quarter Horses, one finds a surprising amount of Thoroughbred blood, some of which is admitted to, often only casually, or even purposely denied, in order to be accepted by the Association for registration.
When you realize how a good horse was valued and respected by men in those times, and the huge prices given for superior stock by those of no modest means, it stands to reason that they settled for no less than the best. There was a necessity and pride in having top breeding stock; there was no purpose in perpetuating inferior animals.
Early breeders, such as William Anson, Waggoner Ranch, King Ranch, CS Ranch, etc., all used the best Thoroughbred blood they could find as the basis for their herds. Their broodmares had heavy concentrations of this blood which they so successfully crossed on the first "bulldog" type Quarter Horses. The US Remount service was another source of top Thoroughbred blood which was well established throughout the country at that time.
In the '90's we have the advantage of fifty years of hind-sight, which our early breeders did not have. Did they make a mistake? Not hardly! The test of time has proved they knew exactly how to get the best. What would the Quarter Horse breed be today without the blood of such as *Janus, Sir Archy, Peter McCue, Traveler, and more recently, Three Bars? History gives us strong evidence that the superior Quarter Horse is rejuvenated by periodic infusions of the right kind of genes, most readily available from select Thoroughbred outcrosses. An interesting study of this is presented in "The Real American Quarter Horse, Versatile Athletes Who Proved Supreme" written in 1991 by my husband, Paul. With stories, photos and extended pedigree charts, he presents a convincing case for the versatile horse, epitomized by the AQHA Supreme Champions, only 44 of which have earned this prestigious title. As a group they are surprisingly uniform in many ways, not excluding their size, disposition and strong Thoroughbred background.
In researching pedigrees for this book, and studying pictures of individuals from various influential families, I was quite fascinated by the conformation of the early registered horses. I think we generally have the impression that we have "bred up" the Quarter horse during the past fifty years, but some of these old-time pictures prove that things haven't changed so very much.
Do you see the conformation of your horse among these pictures? Perhaps its bloodlines trace to the same foundations. Remember, there are no new genes. In order to produce the individual you want, you must discover from which lines those particular traits descend, and select for them.
The purpose of this book is to provide the pedigree data needed to trace to the roots of the modern Quarter Horse. It contains information collected over years of researching that is not readily available from other sources.
Prejudice against the "infusion" of Thoroughbred blood in the Quarter Horse has been with us for more than fifty years. However, when the facts are faced, and we look at the true origins of the best specimens of this great breed, we realize that the American Quarter Horse is, and always has been, the colonial horse, the origin of both the modern Thoroughbred and the modern Quarter Horse!
Tracing bloodlines of the modern Quarter Horse back to their colonial origins is a fascinating study, and I've enjoyed doing it for many years. One's interest is kept alive by the mystery that accompanies many of the recorded accounts, some very controversial and contradictory in nature. I'm sure horsemen will never cease trying to unravel the stories and search out just one more precious fact to add to what we have already learned.
Many books and stories have been written about the foundation bloodlines, and where they differ, I have tried to come to the most reasonable conclusion when deciding which to believe. I try to lean toward the official American Quarter Horse Association records, which are generally accurate. However, there are instances where I find the official records to be suspect, and I might then favor another account. (An example would be the AQHA produce record of Della Moore, where they have her credited with being the dam of Miss Beatrice, a foal of 1946. Since Della Moore died in 1930, this is obviously not possible.) -- Note: AQHA records have since been corrected.
At the front of the book are pedigree charts. They include some with bloodlines that are well documented for several generations, but are confusing when given in sentences. Others I find fascinating because they show the amount of inbreeding found in many of the early-day horses. Others offer surprises, such as a "bulldog" type horse whose pedigree carries a lot of Thoroughbred blood. The illustrated section will satisfy your curiosity about the general conformation of horses with various bloodlines.
The appendix contains over 3,000 horses which I have encountered most frequently over the years, and will surely cover the majority of the lines you seek to extend.
I hope you will thoroughly enjoy the information I have put together, and will find it useful in tracing your own horses to their colonial roots.
Andrea L. Mattson