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Do I need a 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 (Appaloosa, American Paint Horse and Morgan Horse are a few of the others) but you don’t need one to ride western: it’s the philosophy – the way of going – that counts and if your horse has the characteristics that are needed, its breed is irrelevant.

The American Quarter Horse got its name from its ability to sprint a quarter mile faster than just about any other breed. Back when America was still a colony, their race courses weren’t as long as the traditional English course and breeding a Thoroughbred with native American stock produced a horse that was compact,  could get up to about 45mph in the blink of an eye and hold 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 and it has become a breed synonymous with cattle.

And 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 – they are supremely popular with competitors in the halter classes and if you are going to do nothing else with your horse but show it in hand, a foundation quarter horse is for you.

But, sadly, foundation quarter horses have been bred for their looks rather than their performance and, although traditionalists will start to shout me down at this stage, it is a fact that the foundation quarter horse’s musculature has started to get in the way of outright performance.

What many lovers of the breed will tell you is that you need to reintroduce a Thoroughbred to the line every few generations or so to preserve the traditional characteristics of the breed. “Foundationists” will here be exclaiming that it’s just because of this interference with the purity of the breed that they need to protect it!  But they seem to overlook the fact that the American Quarter Horse was originally a mixture of breeds and over refinement may lose the essential characteristic that gave the breed its name in the first place.

To have a horse that can still start, stop and change direction faster than just about any other breed you need to reintroduce some thoroughbred genes now and again. It produces an “appendix” or “part bred” quarter horse: “appendix” because, not being pure bred, the horse is registered in the appendix to the main quarter horse register but it’s still a Quarter Horse for all that.

But the essential point is that if you have a horse with a quiet but responsive nature that can display nimbleness and a turn of speed, you have all you need to produce a good “Western Horse”.  And there ain’t none better!

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