In My Boots: Where have all the ‘real’ Quarter Horses gone?

Horse Nation’s in-house cowgirl Kristen Kovatch raises some troubling concerns about the future of the American Quarter Horse.

From Kristen:

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The American Quarter Horse wasn’t supposed to become the overbred, overspecialized show-ring dweller that it’s become. (I say this, of course, making some grand stereotype-driven generalities. More on that later.)

Yes, the breed was intended to do whatever job was asked of it–chase a cow, ride all day to check fencelines, jump a ditch, pull a cart, whatever. The predecessors of the breed were bred for necessity, of course, filling a need in this country as it was settled, when horses had to be true jacks of all trades.

Though today’s show-ring Quarter horses claim to be true all-rounders that can do anything, the all-around competition itself doesn’t truly require a horse to possess an array of ranch-necessity skills; while these horses are extraordinarily well-broke animals, the all-around competitions essentially ask the horses to do the same four or five things (walk, jog, lope, change leads, halt and back) under various saddles, under the guise of different classes like western pleasure, horsemanship, hunter under saddle and so on. I mean no disrespect to the horses who excel in the all-arounds–the truly gifted horses deserve their titles.

However, it’s sad for me to look at the modern Quarter horse industry and see that very few representatives of the breed could really, actually do whatever you called on it to do. (I mean, you can breed a horse just to show at halter. Come on.) The breed’s developed in so many different directions that your western pleasure horse and your western horsemanship horse have practically become separate sub-breeds. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

With the appendix registry, an increasing number of Quarter horses are actually a large part Thoroughbred. The original definition of an Appendix is a Quarter horse bred to a Thoroughbred; the foal was registered as an appendix with the AQHA. However, once that horse earns a Register of Merit either on the track or in the show ring, he becomes recognized by the association as a full Quarter horse. Breed that horse back to another Thoroughbred…well, you can see where this is going. While the Thoroughbred breed did make some good contributions to the American Quarter Horse, it also over-refined the breed far past its humble–yet all-around–roots. It’s with the addition of Thoroughbred blood that breeders are simultaneously creating horses intended just for competing in one or a small handful of classes, rather than the original Quarter horse that could do it all–halter, pleasure, roping, driving, jumping, whatever.

Looking back on what I’ve written so far, it occurs to me that I sound like some old curmudgeon complaining that things were much better way back when. Maybe I’m just resistant to change–I’m sure breeders long long ago complained about the influx of Arabian blood into, well, just about everything, and so on down through the ages. Maybe we’re just seeing history being made. But is this the way we want this breed to go down in history? When you can look at a hunter under saddle Quarter horse and a cutting-bred Quarter horse and have no idea that they’re both under the same breed registry? Heaven forbid you make the hunter come face-to-face with a cow, and getting the cutter to frame up and sweep? Forget it. You can call me old-fashioned, but what happened to the original version–the one that could do anything?


Wimpy P-1, the first registered Quarter horse stallion.


These Irons Are Hot, multiple AQHA champion in hunter under saddle.

Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team and teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving. She has shown reined cow horse, reining, western pleasure, and draft horses, as well as dabbled in hunt seat equitation. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins and Ranch and Reata.



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