The origins of the Quarter Horse can be traced to Colonial America. Farmers in the Carolinas and Virginia began to trade for the faster horses that were being bred by the Chickasaw Indians. These quick Indian ponies were Spanish Barbs, brought into Florida by early Spanish explorers and colonists.
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 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 cannot be said that Janus founded the breed, it can be argued convincingly that he shaped and formed it significantly. A long-course racer himself, Janus stamped his foals with speed over short distances, as well as the ability to pass that speed through successive generations. “Compactness of form, strength and power” were the traits associated with the get and progeny of Janus.
These early Quarter Horses embodied the pioneer spirit. They were quick, tough and hardy – traits necessary and suited to life on a wilderness frontier. They could carry a rider 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. When crossed with the descendants of earlier Quarter Horses, western Mustangs added the last important shot of hybrid vigor to complete the creation of a horse unique to America … the American Quarter Horse.
(Breed History adapted from the American Quarter Horse Association.)