Thoroughbred horses played an integral role in the development of other breeds. Their conformation, speed, and agility contributed to the talent of modern performance horses. Today, the names of Thoroughbred stallions and mares can be found stamped in the pedigrees of proven racing, barrel racing, cutting, reining, roping, pleasure, and halter horses.
The Thoroughbred is the result of a selective breeding program that began at the turn of the 17th century. Stallions imported from the Mediterranean Middle East were crossed with strong English mares. Their excellence was tested on the race track and became a popular sporting event in Europe. As horse racing spread into North America, colonists sought to make the sport their own. Thrilling quarter-mile races were held as early as 1674 in Virginia. To meet the demand of these short races, some breeding programs shifted to produce a type of Thoroughbred that was suitable for sprinting. Like the sprinters of today, they were muscular, compact, and athletic.
The phrase ‘Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse’ denoted top sprinters in early Thoroughbred stud books. The phrase was later shortened and became the designation of a new breed in 1940 when the American Quarter Horse Association was founded. The first twenty foundation sires registered with the AQHA are all descended from Thoroughbreds. Actulally of the first twenty, Rialto, Chief, Colonel, Sheik, Whiskaway, and Little Richard have Thoroughbred grandparents, and Joe Reed and Oklahoma Star have Thoroughbred parents.
Even after the new breed was established, Thoroughbreds such as Piggin String, Woven Web, and Brigand continued to set track records and earn Champion Quarter Running Horse titles. Then in the 1960s, Little Lena Bars equaled the world record at 220 yards, and set new world records at 250, 300, and 330 yards. She also equaled and set new track records at 400 and 440 yards. Her dominance prompted retaliation from the young AQHA. When the organization realized that nearly all the records in Quarter Horse racing belonged to a Thoroughbred, they deleted all mention of times and records set by Thoroughbreds and banned the breed from major Quarter Horse races.
Despite this pushback, Thoroughbreds remained vital to the Quarter Horse industry. Old-school horseman will tell you that the best qualities of running horses come directly from Thoroughbreds. This is could be the reason why they are just as influential today as they were in the 1940s. We have compiled a list of Thoroughbreds that were important in the development and improvement of modern performance horses. Click on a horse’s name to read more about them. An asterisk denotes a horse that has been inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame.
A Fore Thought
Big Red Bar
Fame We Will
Find A Buyer
Pass Em Up
Riches and Honor
Uncle Jimmy Gray