Breed History In The USA

Greek mythology records the epic exploits of a wonderful winged horse named Pegasus. The stories of early Texas cow country speak of another legendary horse. He was called Steel Dust, and like Pegasus, he could fly, but without ever leaving the ground.

Steel Dust came to identify an entire breed of horse

Foaled in Kentucky, a descendent of the great Sir Archy, Steel Dust came to Texas as a yearling in 1844.

His progeny and his legend spread as cowboys drove Longhorns up the trails from Texas and opened the Great Plains to ranching.

The name Steel Dust came to identify an entire breed of horse; they were called “Steeldusts,” the cowboy’s favorite kind.

They were heavy-muscled horses, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile. Steel Dust was an American Quarter Horse. He and his kind would achieve fame in proportions every bit as magnificent as that of the mythical Pegasus.

The breed can be traced to Colonial America

But the story of the Quarter Horse begins long before Texans started tying their ropes hard and fast to the saddle horn.

The origins of the breed can be traced to Colonial America. When the American forefathers weren’t dumping tea in the Boston Harbor and fighting Indians or Redcoats, they did enjoy a horse race.

In the beginning, they ran the English horses with which they plowed and rode every day.

It wasn’t long before the Colonial farmers down in the Carolinas and Virginia began to trade for a faster horse that was being bred by the Chickasaw Indians.

These quick Indian ponies were Spanish Barbs, brought into Florida by early Spanish explorers and colonists. This was the same horse ridden by the conquistador Cortez in the conquest of Mexico; the same that Coronado rode in his search for the golden cities in the American Southwest.

This was a type of horse produced from the cross of the North African Barb and native Spanish stock following the Moorish invasion of Spain, which began in the year 710.

The Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse

There is evidence that the Spanish Barbs obtained from the Chickasaws were crossed with the Colonists’ English stock as early as 1611. Over the next 150 years, the product of this breeding would come to be known as the “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse.” The term “Quarter” refers to the distance, a quarter of a mile, most commonly run in Colonial racing, often on the main streets of small villages.

In England, horse racing was being revolutionised by a stallion known as The Godolphin Arabian. This horse had been imported to England in 1728 and is acknowledged as one of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. Prosperous Colonial planters wondered what the blood of these four-mile racers could do for their own short sprinters.

The prototype of the American Quarter Horse

In 1752, John Randolph of Virginia imported a grandson of The Godolphin Arabian, called Janus.

When Janus was bred to Colonial mares bearing the blood of the Chickasaw horse, the result was the prototype of the American Quarter Horse.

While it can not be said that Janus founded the breed, it can be argued convincingly that he shaped and formed it significantly.

“Compactness of form, strength and power” were the traits associated with the get and progeny of Janus.

These horses echoed a pioneer experience

They were quick, tough and hardy – traits necessary and suited to life on a wilderness frontier. They could carry a man about his business all week long and then race hard on the weekend. The Quarter Horse moved west with the men who craved wide-open spaces, to the Midwest, to Texas and out onto the Great Plains.

The final ingredient in the genetic formula that produced the Quarter Horse was to be found west of the Mississippi River.

It was the Mustang, a free-roaming, far-ranging wild descendent of the Barb, introduced into the American Southwest by Spanish explorers, missionaries and settlers.

These were the horses that made the Plains Indian into the toughest mounted warrior the world had ever seen.

When crossed with the descendents of Janus, and other influential horses, the western Mustang added the last important shot of hybrid vigor to complete the creation of a horse unique to America … the American Quarter Horse.

Defining The American Quarter Horse

The first man to actually attempt to define the Quarter Horse as a distinct breed was William Anson.

He was born in England, grew up around fine horses and was a good polo player. At the age of 21, Anson came to America and established a ranch near Christoval, Texas. He was fascinated by the quick, smart cow horses with which he came in contact and began to trace their origins.

Anson published the first information that linked the western cow horse to its Colonial beginnings. During the Boer War, Anson bought horses all over Texas for sale to the British government. This gave him the opportunity to put together a good band of Quarter Horse mares for himself, which he bred to his Billy horse, Jim Ned, and Harmon Baker, a son of Peter McCue.

The American Quarter Horse Association

On March 14, 1940, Anne and James Goodwin Hall invited a group of influential ranchers and an earnest young history professor for dinner at their finely appointed home in Fort Worth, Texas. The ranchers were in town for the annual Fat Stock Show, a livestock show and rodeo that was the biggest social event of the season.

We don’t know the menu that evening – logic tells us it included beef – but we know that the dinner conversation focused on Steeldust horses, as some called them, or Quarter Horses.

Was Steel Dust himself a myth?

The bulldog-type cow ponies said to be his descendants were becoming increasingly rare. Coke Roberds of Colorado gave  the first real evidence that there was a Steel Dust when he brought out an old folder on Peter McCue’s sire, Dan Tucker, who traced to Steel Dust.

A gentleman named Denhardt who attended the meeting spent all his free time tracking the lineage of Quarter Horse-type cow horses. As he discovered their common ancestors, he became convinced these horses should have their own registry.

On March 15th 1941 a group of influence individuals including Dan and Jack Casement of Kansas and Colorado, Bert Benear of Oklahoma, J.E. Browning of Arizona, and a raft of Texans: George Clegg, Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch, Jack Hutchins, Raymond Dickson, L.B. Wardlaw, W.B. Warren, Walter Hudgins and Jim Minnick met for dinner, they finetuned a proposed charter and the next day, they all bought stock in a new organisation that they incorporated as the American Quarter Horse Association.

We doubted if there were over 300 horses of the type we wanted to be registered in Texas, and probably less than a thousand in the country.

We were trying to preserve a nearly extinct line. … We misjudged what the future would hold for the Quarter Horse.


AQHA has registered more than 5 million horses since its inception in 1940

For more information about the American Quarter Horse Association in the USA please click below