Romantic history of the American Quarter Horse


The history of the American Quarter Horse understandably starts in the American cattle country of Texas in 1843, with the birth of a descendant of the great Thoroughbred, Sir Archy, called Steel Dust.

Cowboys who drove Longhorns up the Texas trails soon discovered the remarkable progeny of this superb stallion, which became known as the “Steeldusts”. These horses were heavy muscled, had small ears, a big jaw, were remarkably intelligent, and had unequalled speed up to a quarter of a mile. Steel Dust and his progeny were responsible for the founding and spreading popularity of the new breed, later to become known as the American Quarter Horse.

But the origin of the Quarter Horse starts in Colonial America, when the early Americans raced English horses, which they used on farms during the week, in their free time.

The Colonial farmers from the Carolinas and Virginia soon discovered a faster pony, bred by the Chickasaw Indians, which they acquired from the early Spanish explorers and colonists. These ponies  were descendents of a cross of the North African stock, following the invasion of Spain by the Moors, starting in 710. Cortez rode on these ponies during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, as did Coronado when he searched for the golden cities of the American Southwest.

By crossing these Spanish Barbs with the Colonists’ English stock even since 1611, the colonists developed “the Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse”, the “Quarter” referring to a quarter of a mile, the distance of a race often run in small towns in Colonial America.

Simultaneously a stallion, the Godolphin Arabian, was imported into England in 1728. He was one of the foundation sires of the modern Thoroughbred (the other two being the Darley Arabian and the Burley Turk), which revolutionized English racing.

Intrigued by these four-mile racing horses, John Randolph imported a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian called Janus, in 1752. Janus, when crossed with Colonial mares of Chickasaw ancestry, produced the prototype of the American Quarter Horse. The offspring of Janus and the American stock had tremendous speed over short distances, and they passed this trait on to consecutive generations. These horses were compact, strong and powerful horses.

At the same time Janus blood was developing quarter mile horses, a group of Colonial horsemen were developing the American Thoroughbred by means of British Thoroughbred imports, such as Fearnought.

After the American Revolution the opulent new generation of American  gentlemen in the East were more attracted to the fine, sleek long distance horses, and long-distance racetracks and manicured breeding farms were being developed.

However, the pioneers who craved frontier life and moved West, needed a sturdy horse which could work all week and still race on the weekend. The Quarter Horse thereby found its way to Texas, the Midwest and the Great Plains.

Sir Archy, a son of the imported stallion Diomed, foaled in 1805, had a strong influence on the early Quarter Horse. The progeny of Sir Archy  had a strong influence on the development of the Quarter Horse over the next century. One of his sons, the great Copper Bottom, was brought to Texas by General Sam Houston. Both Steel Dust and Shiloh, the foundation sires of the modern Quarter Horse, are descendents of Sir Archy. Printer and Tiger were two other stallions which made a remarkable contribution to the modern Quarter Horse.

The final ingredient which resulted in the American Quarter Horse was descendents of the Barbs which the Spanish settlers, missionaries and explorers brought with them. These horses roamed freely on the area West of the Mississippi River. They became known as the Mustangs. They enabled the Indians of the Plains to become the toughest mounted warriors in history.

When these Mustangs were mated with the descendents of Janus, Sir Archy, Printer and Tiger, they added the hybrid vigor to produce the unique American Quarter Horse. The Mustang added the final ingredient of stamina.

These horses had the physical strength, stamina, speed and disposition required by the early Buffalo hunters and cattle ranchers from the Rio Grande up to Alberta.

Quarter mile racing was extremely popular in the West, and the Quarter Horse was outstanding at a quarter mile. But it  was equally suited to the development of cattle ranges, Texas being the dominant state.

Steel Dust arrived in Texas in 1844, and Shiloh in 1849. Shiloh’s son Billy, out of a daughter of Steel Dust, can be called the foundation sire of the Texas Quarter Horse. Quarter Horses became the favourite mounts of cowboys gathering cattle in the open Texas brush, and driving them to the Kansas railroad, up  the Chisholm Trail. Racing down the city streets of cow towns, such as Dodge City and Abilene, added amusement to cowboy life.

Steeldust’s racing triumphs were well known throughout the country, and his descendents, the Steeldusts, were the cowboys’ favorite mounts.

At the time ranching was established across the Great Plains, and the early ranchers realized the value of the Quarter Horse, keeping them pure even before the days of a breed registry or formal stud book.

Men like Coke Blake spent a lifetime improving the Cold Deck strain of Steel Dust and Billy horses. His greatest horse was the Cold Deck grandson, Tubal Cain. Blake horses became famous all over cattle country.

Dan Casement of Kansas and Calorado, whose foundation horse was a descendent of the Billy line going back to Steel Dust and Shiloh, named Concho Colonel,  promoted the “Bulldog” type of Quarter Horse, and through his eloquence and steadfast commitment, was instrumental in the establishment of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Down in Texas Ott Adams and George Clegg, who both promoted speed in the Quarter Horse, made a  considerable contribution to the development of the Quarter Horse. Clegg bred Old Sorrel, the foundation sire of King Ranch Quarter Horses.

The first man to define the Quarter Horse as a distinct breed, was the England born William Anson, a polo player who grew up around fine horses. Coming to America at age 21, he established a ranch near Christoval, Texas. Anson was attracted to the quick, smart cow horses he was introduced to, and sold many horses to the British government  for use in the Boer War in South Africa. This exposed him to many fine horses all over Texas, and enabled him to accumulate a group of excellent mares for his own stud.             

Samuel Watkins, a racehorse man of the Little Grove Stock Farm in Illinois, was also instrumental in the development of the breed. Many Texas breeders got their foundation stock from Watkins. Famous horses, such as Harmon Baker, Hickory Bill and the celebrated Peter McCue, all came from Little Grove Stock Farm.

Coke T. Roberds, a Texas cowboy who grew up in Calorado, began breeding horses in Western Oklahoma about 1848. He started with a fine group of Steel Dust mares, and bred them to his stallion, Old Fred, which traced back to Steel Dust and Shiloh. Roberts stated that Old Fred produced a race horse, even if you bred him to a box car. Roberds was also the last owner of the great Peter McClue.

Blake Casement, Adams, Anson, Clegg, Watkins and Roberds, as well as a few like minded men, knew the breed inside out. They had an almost supernatural knowledge of the inherent  attributes of the best horses. They had a faith in and commitment to the “Stardusts”, which led to the forming of the American Quarter Horse Association.