They say you cannot believe everything you hear – which might be especially true when you’re talking about horses! Here are five falsehoods you may have heard about the American Quarter Horse we all know so well.
Lie #1: The American Quarter Horse is the most popular breed in the world.
It is true that the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is the largest breed registry in the world. However, Quarter Horses are outnumbered by Thoroughbreds. Over 100,000 Thoroughbreds are registered each year, while the AQHA registers less than 70,000 horses worldwide. The Thoroughbred does not have a unified registry though. The International Stud Book Committee oversees separate Thoroughbred registries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. The Jockey Club is the registry for Thoroughbreds in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Lie #2: Steel Dust was a Quarter Horse.
The founding members of the AQHA sought to preserve the bloodlines of the “Steel Dust Horses.” Steel Dust was a fabled stallion that could drive Texas Longhorns through any terrain and run a quarter mile faster than any breed. While the AQHA claims that Steel Dust was a Quarter Horse, he may have been entirely Thoroughbred. He was sired by the Thoroughbred stallion Harry Bluff, by Short Whip and out of Big Nancy. The dam of Steel Dust is of unknown lineage, but she is described by many historians as a “Kentucky Thoroughbred mare” (https://atlas.thc.texas.gov/). Furthermore, most depictions of Steel Dust show a very refined stallion.
Lie #3: The Quarter Horse is the fastest breed at a quarter mile.
This statement may be true today, but not historically. Several Thoroughbreds beat Quarter Horses going a quarter mile. Thoroughbreds such as Piggin String, Woven Web, and Brigand even won Champion Quarter Running titles against Quarter Horses. Beduino is perhaps the most famous of these fast Thoroughbreds for his defeat of Come Six in a match race in Mexico.
Beduino’s accomplishments were significant, but Little Lena Bars turned Quarter Horse racing upside-down. Little Lena Bars set track and world records at nearly every distance between 220 to 440 yards. Her dominance prompted retaliation from the AQHA. They deleted all mention of times and records set by Thoroughbreds and banned the breed from entering major races. They could not ban the breed entirely though. Some of the most successful Quarter Horse racehorses of all time have been 7/8ths or more Thoroughbred.
Lie #4: The All American Quarter Horse Congress is the largest single-breed horse show in the world.
Quarter Horse Congress is one of the largest horse shows, but it is not a single-breed show. Thoroughbreds registered with the Jockey Club are eligible to compete in both the Western Pleasure and the Hunter Under Saddle Futurity classes. There are also several classes at Congress that are open to all breeds.
Lie #5: You need to have a Quarter Horse to be successful in western disciplines.
Indeed, Quarter Horses are probably the most competitive breed in western disciplines. The AQHA has shaped the competitive western industry and set the standard for racing, judging and showing, but it doesn’t necessarily take a Quarter Horse to be successful – if you have the right horse and good training. Thoroughbreds have proven themselves competitive with purpose-bred Quarter Horse barrel racers, ranch horses, western pleasure and all-around, and even reined cow horse. While it might take just the right Thoroughbred to break the Quarter Horse mold in the western world, we have featured plenty of horses that prove it is possible.