Do I need an American Quarter Horse for Western Riding?
It’s a question that gets asked a lot and the short answer is: “No”.
Certainly, the American Quarter Horse is the largest and best known of the western breeds. There’s also Appaloosa, American Paint Horse and Morgan Horse but you don’t need one to ride western. It’s the philosophy, the way of going, that counts. If your horse has the characteristics that are needed, its breed is irrelevant.
The American Quarter Horse got its name for its speed over a quarter mile. Back when America was still a colony, their race courses weren’t as long as the traditional English course and they bred a Thoroughbred with native American stock. This produced a horse that was compact and could get up to about 45 mph in the blink of an eye. Better still, it held that speed long enough to beat a Thoroughbred over a ¼ mile.
The ability to jump to it coupled with the breed’s innately placid nature made it a good bet for ranch work. Thus, it has become a breed synonymous with cattle https://www.versatilehorse.com/cattle/
It’s that agility which has been so much an attraction to lovers of versatility in their western riding. “Has been”, because these days you have to be very careful where you get your Quarter Horse if it’s still agility you’re after. The “foundation” Quarter Horse is pure bred and you will not find a better example of the breed’s conformation. It’s supremely popular in the halter classes and if you are only showing in hand, a foundation quarter horse is for you.
But, sadly, foundation quarter horses have been bred for their looks rather than their performance. Traditionalists will start to shout me down at this stage. However, it’s a fact that the foundation quarter horse’s musculature can get in the way of outright performance.
Many lovers of the breed say that you need to reintroduce a Thoroughbred to the line every few generations or so. This preserves the traditional characteristics of the breed. “Foundationists” will exclaim that it’s just because of this interference with the purity of the breed that they need to protect it! But that overlooks the fact that the American Quarter Horse was originally a mixture of breeds. Over refinement may lose the essential characteristic that gave the breed its name.
To have a horse that can start, stop and change direction faster than just about any other breed they reintroduce some thoroughbred genes.. This produces an “appendix” or “part bred” quarter horse. “Appendix” because it’s then registered in the appendix to the main quarter horse register. It’s still a Quarter Horse for all that and for more about quarter horses try http://www.aqha.com
But the essentials are a horse:
- with a quiet but responsive nature;
- that can display nimbleness; and
- has a turn of speed.
If you have these, you have all you need to produce a good “Western Horse”. It’s a topic covered in more detail on this site in Peanut’s Blog