Ponderosa Quarterhorse Stud

Home to the bloodlines of Lynx Little Pep, Jessie's Koolibah & Mr Jessie James

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Quarter Horse History

Melville H. Haskell was a racehorse man and breeder from Arizona.

He was a key player in the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association in 1940, and was there when it was all happening. His concise and comprehensive explanation of the development of the Quarter Horse from 1607 when the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia until the formation of the AQHA in 1940 can hardly be improved upon.

The following extract is taken from an article he wrote which appeared in the Quarter Horse Breeder (edited and published by M.H. Lindeman 1959).

"First settlers found a land of dense forests along the eastern seaboard – impassable except on narrow footpaths. The horses they brought with them were used to help farm the clearings laboriously chopped out of the woods. Travel and transportation was on horseback and by pack horse. However, many of the plantation owners – particularly in Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas – brought with them the love of horse racing acquired in England.

Since they had no place to run long races, they ‘matched’ their saddle ponies on the only tracks available – usually down the village streets at distances of a quarter mile or less. The first horses used for racing were the saddle ponies of the farmers and plantation owners, but as interest grew and competition became keen, the fastest mares were bred to the local champions (even as is done today), and the “Quarter of a mile Running Horse” began to take shape. The “Quarter Horse” – to use the abbreviation which has come to designate the heavily muscled sprinter – did not start out as a breed. He is the result of breeding speed to speed for many generations, and his conformation and ability are due to selection and mating designed to produce winners.

His ancestors were horses that got the job done, no matter what their pedigree, so that we see combined the blood of the “Spanish” horses from the early settlements of the southeast, the “Galloway” from England and many other strains. Later on when English racers of “Thoroughbred” blood were brought over, they were used to increase the size and speed of the stocky native ponies. Most notable of the English horses of this period was Janus – not registered in the English Book, but said to be a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, who did so much to establish the Thoroughbred in England. Janus was imported to Virginia in 1752, 7 and the speed and conformation of his many sons and daughters – who spread out through the Colonies – began to give the Quarter Horse the characteristics of a distinct breed.

The English Thoroughbred was not established as a breed until about the middle of the 18th century (with the first studbook published 1791) Shortly, thereafter, Thoroughbred horses began to appear in America, and as more and more land was cleared, it became possible to run races on circular courses at longer distances in the English tradition. The importation of Fearnaught, who contributed size and stamina to the American race horse started the trend toward ‘distance racing’ and the decline of ‘short racing’ on the eastern seaboard. By the year 1800 the distance race was firmly established and the Quarter Horse began to move westward with the new frontier. However, the Thoroughbred made a notable contribution to the Quarter Horses of this period through the blood of Sir Archy, the greatest race horse of his time. Many of the outstanding Quarter Horse sires of the 19th century – and a few of the 20th century- are traced to him. Often his bloodlines appear several times in the pedigree of both sire and dam.

The American Thoroughbred was not recognized as a breed until well into the 19th century – three quarters of a century after the English Stud book was started. Basis for the breed was, of course, the imported English horse but many horses were accepted into the early American Thoroughbred stud books through the mating of English Thoroughbreds to native American racemares, or daughters of American race horses. Obviously, because of the type of racing that developed them, many of these were Quarter Horses. This was acknowledged in the first American Thoroughbred stud books by the use of the following abbreviations after their names: C.A.Q.R.H. (Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse) or .F.A.Q.R.H. Famous American Quarter Running Horse). (The first American thoroughbred studbook was published in 1896)

During the 19th century the Quarter Horse followed the western migration – his popularity kept alive by the fact that he was an “all purpose” horse who could earn his keep and, at the same time, provide sport in matched races where no facilities existed for the running of long races. He moved into Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan and continued to improve in speed and quality as fanciers kept breeding speed to speed in an effort to outrun their neighbours. When the pioneers moved still farther west, they took their good Quarter Horses into Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas – then on to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Here the ‘short horse’ finally came into his own. On the plains of the Great American Desert it was a simple matter to level a couple of parallel paths for the matching of speed – and the racing blood proved to be just what was needed to produce top ‘’cow horses’ when crossed with the mustangs that had come up from the Spanish horses imported into Mexico.

At last the Quarter Horse found his permanent place in the sun as a peer of saddle breeds and one unequalled in the handling of the vast herds of cattle that constituted the principal industry of the west. The fact that he could do his work without, in any way, detracting from his ability as a race horse endeared him to his owner and stimulated his continued improvement as a type if not as an actual breed. This is the period that produced the legendary Steel Dust and Shiloh, as well as many others of slightly lesser fame. By 1900 the Quarter Horse had spread into New Mexico, Arizona and California and the stage was set for the final development of the breed. He had earned a permanent place in the economy of the west (motorized transportation can never take his place in hazing half wild cattle out the rugged mountains, mesquite thickets and cedar breaks), and he still provided sport for the ranchers when ‘matched’ at round-ups, county fairs, rodeos and fiestas.

The early part of the 20th century produced the great short racers Peter McCue, Traveler , Oklahoma Star, Joe Reed and My Texas Dandy – horses who were to have a profound influence on the Quarter Running Horses of today (1956) as well as on the performance horses. With the exception of Traveller, whose breeding is unknown, all these horses were half Thoroughbred or better. During the 1920s and 1930s the automobile and tractor began to replace the horse for many purposes and horse breeding, except for sport, went into a decline caused by overproduction and low prices. Even the ranchers began to lose interest in improving their stock since they could buy usable horses of fair quality so much cheaper than they could produce good ones. There were no new frontiers left to conquer.

At about this time the people of America, having pioneered and settled the land and made it productive, found themselves with leisure time on their hands and began to turn to sport to occupy it. Thoroughbred racing was growing in popularity very rapidly and was being made respectable by proper organization and regulation – the sport of rodeo was spreading throughout the west – and just plain pleasure riding was becoming a factor in the horse business all over the country. It was time for the Quarter Horse to make his bid for everlasting fame and take his rightful place, not only in the economy of the nation, but in its play time as well.

The first step in the perpetuation of the Quarter Horse, as a distinct breed, was the formation in 1940 of the American Quarter Horse Association."