Breed Profile: Foundation Quarter Horse

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There’s something about me that you may have picked up on if you read this blog regularly: I’m big into research and planning. It’s why I do things like start thinking over the perfect items to fill a horse show cooler during the month of January, make braid-string budgets and plan goals a year or more in advance. Since I’ve started riding Drifter, I have been curious about his breed – Foundation Quarter Horse. I know what a Quarter Horse is, but what makes a horse a Foundation Quarter Horse?

You would think that the question could be answered by a fairly simple Google search, but that’s not the case. So, I went into research mode and have compiled the most useful pieces of information into this breed profile for the Foundation Quarter Horse.

Technical Definitions of Foundation Quarter Horse

The challenge of providing one definition is that there are two breed registries that have two slightly different definitions.

  1. According to the Foundation Quarter Horse Association (FQHA), a horse is eligible to be registered only if they have 85% or more Foundation Quarter Horse blood.
  2. The Foundation Quarter Horse Registry (FQHR) recognizes the horses listed in the first five studbooks as Foundation lines. For a horse to be eligible, it may not have registered Thoroughbred blood closer than the fourth generation. So that means there cannot be a Thoroughbred in the bloodlines any closer than the great grand sire and great grand dam. Of that fourth generation, 75% of the horses must descend from Foundation stock.
  3. The National Foundation Quarter Horse Association (NFQHA) requires horses to have a minimum of 80% Quarter Horse blood. The NFQHA researches bloodlines back to the parents of the first registered horse on each line, or all the way back to the eleventh generation – whichever comes first.

Confused yet? Stay with me, we’ll get there.

Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred Crosses

You may be wondering how Thoroughbred bloodlines might be in a registered Quarter Horse. Here’s the thing: Thoroughbreds can be bred to Quarter Horses, and the offspring are then registered in a specific system: The Appendix. So if you’ve ever heard of an Appendix horse, what that actually means is that they are considered a Quarter Horse registered in the appendix section of the registry. Appendix horses are able to compete in American Quarter Horse Association breed shows.

Max is an Appendix. Note the taller stature and more fine-boned appearance.
Max is an Appendix. Note the taller stature and more fine-boned appearance.

When an Appendix is bred to an AQHA-registered horse, the offspring is eligible to be registered with the AQHA.  When an Appendix is bred to another Appendix or a Thoroughbred, the offspring is not eligible to be registered with the AQHA. (There are exceptions to this rule, however, to avoid going too far down the rabbit hole, I will not list those here. You can find more information here.)

Over many years, this has meant that a lot of Thoroughbred blood has been introduced into the Quarter Horse lines. It has resulted in what some might call a dilution of the traditional Quarter Horse attributes.

Honest eye, check. Strong jaw, check. Small ears...not so much.
Honest eye, check. Strong jaw, check. Small ears…not so much.

Traditional Attributes of the Quarter Horse

Some traditional characteristics of the Quarter Horse include:

  • Compact build, generally standing not more than 15 hands tall
  • Very muscular
  • Small ear
  • Wide set, “honest” eyes
  • Strong jaw
  • Short back and deep barrel
  • Wide chest and strong hindquarters

These days, however, with the addition of so much Thoroughbred blood into Quarter Horse lines, you’ll see a wide range of characteristics, from the taller more hunter-type build, to extremely muscled halter horses, to the small and agile working cow horses, and everything in between.

History of the Foundation Quarter Horse

Another important aspect of the Foundation Quarter Horse is its important place in American history. It’s possible to trace horse bloodlines all the way back to the Colonial Era of this country, when British horses descending from Arabians were imported and bred to the native horses. These crosses were muscular work horses that were quickly found to be very fast sprinters. Match racing over short, open distances was popular at the time. Soon, the new breed of horse was nicknamed the Quarter Horse, after its speed over a quarter of a mile.

Over time, Quarter Horses were a key to Westward expansion, carrying pioneers west, plowing fields and pulling wagons. They were instrumental in the creation of the Pony Express, and cowboys certainly would not have been as effective at herding and driving cattle without their nimble and calm Quarter Horses.

The American Quarter Horse Association was formed in Texas in 1940, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Twinkle is also a Foundation Quarter Horse, and displays the muscular hindquarters beautifully.
Twinkle is also a Foundation Quarter Horse, and displays the muscular hindquarters beautifully.

Famous Foundation Quarter Horse Bloodlines

There are some famous bloodlines that I would love to explore in-depth. Perhaps these will come along as individual profiles so this post doesn’t drag on too long! Some of these famous sires included (in alphabetical order):

  • Bert (1934-1956) – famous for roping
  • Clabber (1936-1947) – famous for soundness and racing success
  • Driftwood (1932-1960) – famous for match racing and even temperament
  • Joe Hancock (1923-1943) – famous for roping
  • King (1932-1958) – famous as a pillar of conformation and as a cutting horse
  • Leo (1940-1967) – famous for speed and siring performance horses
  • Lucky Blanton (1936-1960) – famous for roping
  • Oklahoma Star (1915-1943) – famous for siring roping horses
  • Poco Bueno (1944-1969) – son of King, famous for cutting
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As his name suggests, Drifter descends from Driftwood

Definition of the Foundation Quarter Horse

See where the struggle comes in to define this breed? It’s fairly nebulous. The struggle is real, guys.

So with all of that in mind, here’s my attempt at a layman’s definition of the Foundation Quarter Horse:

A horse with a majority Quarter Horse blood tracing back to the mid-1940s, and exhibiting characteristics of the original working ranch and sprint horses of the 20th century, including: A compact body; level, calm mind; sturdy bones; powerful hindquarters; and wide chest.

You can understand the challenge in defining the breed, and why the registries pick benchmarks for the amount of Quarter Horse blood that eligible horses must have. Honestly, I don’t know that it does the breed justice to reduce them down to one sentence like that.

For more information, visit these resources:
Foundation Quarter Horse Association (FQHA)

Foundation Quarter Horse Registry (FQHR)
National Foundation Quarter Horse Association (NFQHA)

Have you researched your horse’s breed or bloodlines? What have you found that surprised you?

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