The colonial short distance horse was established in the American colonies at a date too early to allow the English Thoroughbred to influence his breeding, and later, when he was raced against them, he would beat them on short distances dues to his marvelous start.

It must have been disconcerting to these English Thoroughbred owners to import their running horses, those greyhounds of English turfs, and have them left at the post by the thickset, close coupled animals of the colonies. Janus is seemingly the only horse imported at this time whose blood influenced the Quarter-of-a-mile running horse. Anson, one of the earliest stockmen to interest himself in the history of the Quarter Horse says, “From all accounts and the number of Januses which appear in all pedigrees, he must have been as prolific as our own Texas Steeldust, undoubtedly the most prolific horse which ever stood on four legs.”

In Patrick Nisbett Edgar’s Studbook (1832) we find in the preface that in the early days Quarter racing was much in fashion. Listed in this volume are many horses with the following abbreviations after them, C.A.Q.R.H. (Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse) ; F.A.Q.R.H. (Famous American Quarter Running Horse) or C.A.Q.R.M. (Celebrated American Quarter Running Mare). It is rather interesting to read some of these entries:

  • Old Bacchus —F.A.Q.R.H —very heavily made for his height 14.2 hands, foaled 1774. Gotten by C.A.Q.R.H. Old Babram. Died 1789.
  • Little Bacchus —14 hands —sired by Old Bacchus, foaled 1778.
  • Red Bacchus —C.A.Q.R.H. —Bay, 14.1 hands, heavily muscled.
  • Dash —C.A.Q.R.M —She was one of the swiftest Quarter nags in the world of her day and won a vast deal of money.

The Quarter Horse undoubtedly had much to do with the founding of the American Thoroughbred. One of the facts which demonstrates this is that thirty-three horses and mares in the first two volumes of Bruce’s Studbook are described as Quarter Horses in Edgar’s Studbook. When they were transcribed by Bruce this fact was overlooked.

General Ben a registered Morgan Stallion. Steeldust may have been a Morgan.
General Ben. Registered Morgan stallion owned and ridden by Mrs. Leila Davis Capps of Richmond, Calif. An outstanding Morgan horse.

It is very likely that Justin Morgan was a Quarter Horse. William Anson said that this was generally admitted, adding that Stillman and members of the Morgan Horse Club of New York admitted of the Morgan Horse Club of New York admitted he could have been nothing else. Major Cullum, an authority on Western horses, who, until a few years ago was head horse buyer for the Remount Service and is now with the New Mexico Racing Commission, feels that inasmuch as Quarter Racing was popular in Colonial times, it is possible that Justin Morgan was a Quarter Horse.

R.F. Smith of Amarillo, Texas, told the present author that not only was Justin Morgan a Quarter Horse but also that Steeldust was a Morgan. Smith began dealing in horses in Throckmorton County in Texas in 1884 and with his keen memory recalls many interesting details of the early days.

He said that, “I have always heard it from my ancestors who bred a great many Morgans for the market, as well as home use, that a man went to Vermont from Kentucky in search of a Morgan horse or stallion. He bought the Jennison colt (Morgan) and took him back to Kentucky, and having no other name, he gave him the name Gold-dust. Later on a man from Southern New Mexico bought a young stallion out of Gold-dust which he named Steeldust, and from that stallion sprang the Steeldust horses that were thought so much of forty or fifty years ago as cowhorses.”

Thus we have the Quarter Horse arising in that English colonies although basically his blood was Spanish. In the short races, which ranged from ten or thirty yards up to a furlong of a quarter, certain characteristics were developed. Outstanding among these were his cool head, compact body, and muscles of spring steel, capable of a split-second speed. Endurance and hardness he got from his Spanish dams, and his speed and grace from infusions of occasional thoroughbred blood which happened to match his small size, compact build, and sturdy muscles. There is an old saying that Quarter Horses can run as far and as fast as they can hold their breaths. Whether this is true or not is questionable, but anyone who has tried to get an extra ounce of energy for some action can understand it.

As the new American nation moved ever westward the Quarter Horse and his owner were always in the lead, each new country providing new races and new admirers of the breed.

Click here to read Part 2.

This article was written by Bob Denhardt and originally published in the January-February 1939 issue of Western Horseman.

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