Thoroughbreds: Horses of A Different Color – How Do Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses Differ?
Thoroughbreds (and Thoroughbred racing) came to the Americas with Colonists from the Old World, most notably those from the British Isles. The Quarter Horse is a purely American invention, the result of a cross between English Thoroughbred stock and the Native American Chickasaw breed, and was gaining popularity in America by the 1700s. Both breeds are quick and powerful, precision-engineered through generations of breeding to be world-class athletes. But each breed is best at different “athletic events.”
The Quarter Horse
The Quarter Horse was far-and-away the most common working horse in the American West and has swept the field for generations at Western events such as barrel racing and cattle roping. But it wasn’t until 1940 that the Quarter Horse was recognized as an official breed with the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), now the largest breed registry in the world.
Quarter Horses are fairly short, usually 14 to 15 hands (each hand equals 4 inches), and heavily muscled. The Quarter Horse physique is unmistakable—these are stunningly powerful animals bred for hard work and speed over short distances. Typical Quarter Horse physique includes a small, refined head and defined, well-muscled shoulders and hindquarters. The Quarter Horse, which got its name from an early designation as “The Quarter Miler,” can run a quarter of a mile at speeds a great as 55 miles per hour, but his heavy, tightly muscled frame tires quickly over longer distances. The Quarter Horse is a sprinter at high speeds and a stayer at slower speeds, bred for roping and riding the trail.
The Thoroughbred, as a European granddaddy of the Quarter Horse breed, has a much longer pedigree (stretching back to Arabian stallions imported to the British Isles during the years of the Crusades). The breed, along with organized racing, were well-established by the time high-brow colonists brought racing traditions (and breeding stock) with them to the new world. The lighter Thoroughbred stands 15.2 to 17 hands, with a broad, muscular chest. Thoroughbreds are made for speed over longer distances, with a racing heritage that stretches back hundreds of years.
Cowboys and Kings
Quarter Horses are the cowboys of the racing world, and Thoroughbreds the nobility. Stolid Quarter Horses can outstrip Thoroughbreds in sprint races, but fleet Thoroughbreds will win a longer race (almost) every time. Both compete in sprint races, hunt shows, even gymkhana meets. But Thoroughbreds dominate the “professional” racing world, and Quarter Horses the Western circuit. Occasionally, two representatives from these long-lived equine families will meet in a match race of epic proportions. If it’s a sprint race, our money just may be on the Quarter Horse. But for any distance longer than a quarter mile, we’ll place our bets on our beloved Thoroughbreds, horses bred and trained to live and breathe racing.
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