Ask the average American about Quarter Horses, and if they know anything at all, it`s likely that they know the Quarter Horse is a “Western” horse, ridden generally by cowboys. It`s a huge breed, with five million registered horses, probably more than most or maybe all of the other breeds combined. And while it`s true that the Quarter Horse was developed in the west, as a horse suited to work cattle, it`s equally true that thousands of Quarter Horses are ridden “English”, in eventing, dressage, hunter/jumper, trail. endurance, anywhere that needs a “Steady Eddie” type of horse that`s basically non threatening to the average rider.
Ask the average riding clinician which breed, including cross breds, she sees most frequently in all sections of North America, and I`d be very surprised if the Quarter Horse isn`t numerically at the top of the list. I`ve taught eventing clinics where half of the horses were Quarter Horse types, probably in part because they are so readily available, but also because they tend to come with a sanity button.
The term “hot Quarter Horse” is about as much of an oxymoron as “fast Percheron.” There are some nervous, difficult Quarter Horses, inevitable in a population so huge, but that`s not the norm. What`s more normal is the kind, steady confidence building sort of horse that tolerates some rider mistakes without getting “bent out of shape”, allowing the rider to develop skills which she might never discover on a horse that makes her tighten with nervous apprehension.
The “average” Quarter Horse ranges in height from about 14.2 or 14.3, to about 16 hands. “Appendix” Quarter Horses (so named because with an admixture of thoroughbred blood, they are in an “appendix” to the main registry) can be taller, often depending upon how much thoroughbred has been added to the genetic mix. As their ranch and roping ancestry might predict, they tend to be somewhat stocky horses, and they tend not to have a high head carriage. “How would YOU like to throw a rope off a horse that has his head up in your face?”
This lower head carriage can be something of a hindrance to jumping, where a “hocks under, head up” profile can make things go more smoothly, but many Quarter Horse riders are happy to forego some of the thoroughbred and warmblood physical traits, if they can be assured of the perhaps steadier, calmer emotional traits that the Quarter Horse seems to be endowed with.
Some Quarter Horses, especially the massively muscled types bred for conformation classes, known as “halter classes” have bodies too big for their hooves, leading to a predisposition to navicular disease, and other limb problems. Another problem to be aware of is the disease known as HYPP, associated with the stallion, Impressive. But these are avoidable, I think, with good pre purchase awareness.
We may not associate the Quarter Horse with the upper echelons of some of the English riding sports. Badminton and Burgley and Rolex probably will remain the domain of other breeds and other types, but many of our upper echelon riders got their start on Quarter Horses, just as thousands of American riders climb on Quarter Horses every day, knowing they have a gentle, sympathetic, and accommodating partner.