Why American Quarter Horses Make Great Pets: Expert Advice From an AQH Owner, Trainer, and Vet
What Is an American Quarter Horse (AQH)?
American Quarter Horses are believed to be descendants of the Turk, Arabian, and Barb breeds. They can be traced to the year 1690, when horses from England were bred with native American horses.
The resulting horse had a small, stocky build and was unusually fast in a quarter-mile sprint. Even when racing thoroughbreds, these newly bred horses dominated the racetrack.
Because of their quick speed in a quarter-mile sprint, they became known as Quarter horses.
Why Buy an American Quarter Horse
“Why would you choose an American Quarter horse if you don’t have cattle?” asks Yan Ross, who quickly answers his own question with “because they are intelligent, athletic, amazing horses.”
Ross should know because he and his wife, Randi Wagner, own three horses; one of which is an American Quarter horse named Bailey.
In an exclusive telephone interview, Ross shared some valuable tips and interesting facts about these horses and horse ownership.
Dash for Cash and Bailey
Dash for Cash is one of the world’s most famous quarter horses with lifetime achievements including “25 starts, 21 wins, and three seconds, earnings of $507,687, and a speed index of 114 at the classic distance over the most heavily contested racetrack in the sport”1 according to an article in The Quarter Horse Racing Journal by Richard Chamberlain.
The famous Quarter horse’s longstanding record was beaten in 2007 by the mare Blues Girl Too. However, what does all that have to do with Yan and Randi?
As it turns out, the two are the proud owners of a grandson of Dash for Cash, Adamas Cowboy (Bailey). In addition, they are family friends with Blues Girl Too’s owners, Russell and Lisa Stooks. By coincidence, they are all located in Prescott, Arizona.
Amazingly, Ross and Wagner had no idea they were acquiring such a noteworthy horse when they purchased Bailey.
Wagner saw the horse at an event, and it was “love at first sight” according to Ross. They took Bailey home with them that day but did not discover his famous ancestry until they went to register him.
An Owner's Point of View
A key point Ross made during our interview is that potential horse owners fail to consider the entire cost of owning a horse.
Ross says maintenance for a horse runs about $300 month, and that figure does not include manure disposal, veterinarian bills, or other expenses beyond basic stabling and feeding.
He did a quick calculation that revealed that his three horses are responsible for “1,000 poops per month” that require disposal. “Horse manure,” he says, “is like money. It doesn’t do any good until you spread it around.”
Other Costs of Horse Ownership
What other costs will owners incur? Ross urges individuals to figure the cost of these expenses before buying a horse:
- Insurance for mortality, medical, or loss of use
- Farrier fees
- Entrance fees for competitions
- Trainer and handler salaries
While American Quarter horses are “easy keepers who rarely see the vet” according to Ross, any horse that competes in athletic events runs a higher risk of injuries and vet expenses.
Ross concluded his interview by touching briefly on ways to handle the expense of a horse, like leasing, but cautioned that buyers should be wary of trying to cut expenses by buying a cheap horse.
He emphasized the need for having any horse vetted before a purchase and understanding the responsibility of ownership.
In addition to owning Bailey, Ross and Wagner own a Dutch Warmblood named Lombardi, and a Thoroughbred named Merlin.
Tips From a Trainer on Buying Your First American Quarter Horse
Riding and training horses comes naturally to Jessica Routier. Her mother, also a professional trainer, taught her to ride as a toddler, and that was the start of her equestrian career.
Today, Routier is a title-winning, well-known horse trainer who competes professionally. Here is her expert advice, given in an e-mail interview, on what to look for when purchasing an American Quarter horse.
“If you are new to horses and riding, then it would be in your best interest to purchase an older, more experienced horse, and one that is very calm. When you're looking at horses, watch the horse's temperament and manners as the owner handles him.
Here are some key questions to consider:
- Does he walk behind the owner when being led?
- Does he stand still while being groomed or saddled and while the owner is getting on?
- Does he walk/trot/lope quietly with his head level and does he stop as soon as the owner asks him to?
These are all things to look for if you are an inexperienced rider, as this will provide for the safest environment as you are learning to ride.”
Can You Train Your Own Horse or Should You Hire a Professional?
In reality, training a horse probably requires more expertise than most owners possess. Acquiring the necessary knowledge is time and cost prohibitive. It's also unnecessary since there are many qualified trainers like Routier who can make the most of a horse’s potential.
Here is her list of the most important questions to ask when interviewing potential horse trainers:
- Have they worked for other owners in your area?
- Can they provide you with a reference list?
After all, Routier says, “You want someone who truly loves horses (obviously), and someone who is naturally very cool and collected, as horses can be frustrating to train at times and the last thing you want is someone with a temper taking it out on your horse."
Some other important things to discover are:
- What is their specialty?
- How does their expertise line up with what you want your horse to learn?
- How long will it take to train the horse and what will it cost?
She suggests, “Ask them how many horses they take in per month. This will give you a good idea of how much time they will be spending on your horse.
Ask them if they are open to you coming and riding with them. A good trainer will want you and your horse to have success, and one of the best ways to learn would be to come ride your horse with your trainer's supervision from time to time so they can coach you on what they have taught the horse.”
Another Trainer's Point of View
The American Quarter Horse is called the All American Horse. It is the most popular breed in the United States as well as the oldest horse breed in the country.
Here’s what Inge Halliday, a horse trainer in Malibu, had to say in an email interview about why one should consider buying one.
"The American Quarter Horse is one of the most levelheaded and versatile breeds that exist. They are generally moderately tempered, well built, medium sized, and able to do most any equine sport.
The American Quarter horse is used in many equestrian disciplines such as working cattle in the US, barrel racing in Arizona, jumping fences in Connecticut, or racing a quarter mile in Southern Florida. They are the all-around American horse . . . usually safe for an inexperienced rider and sensitive enough for the more advanced rider.”
Now, let's chat with an expert to discuss the four most common equine diseases and why quarter horses are particularly susceptible to them.
Our expert, Dr. Tom Schell, has over 17 years of experience as a veterinarian and research to draw upon, and he offers you some valuable insight on how to protect your horses' health.
Veterinarian Tips About Owning American Quarter Horses
Dr. Tom Schell is a mixed animal practitioner at Timbercreek Veterinary Hospital, PC and founder of Novelle Veterinary, Inc.
In an email interview, he shared his experience regarding four commonly seen health problems with the American Quarter horse.
One key theme that emerged from his comments is the need for proper farrier care, weight management, and diet to keep quarter horses healthy and reduce or eliminate the risks of insulin resistance, laminitis, and navicular syndrome.
Equine insulin resistance is similar to type II diabetes in humans, and Dr. Schell says it is “becoming increasingly common in horses, with quarter horses leading the pack.”
It is caused by the body’s inability to respond properly to insulin and is exacerbated by overweight and high carbohydrate diets.
He says, "The quarter horse is more prone to this condition due to increased body size or body mass.” The condition is identified via bloodwork and is controlled, rather than treated, by diet and weight management.
According to Dr. Schell, quarter horses are “prone to what is termed as a long toe, short heel syndrome” which causes stress and pressure on bones and tendons.
He recommends owners allow the heel to “grow naturally with minimal removed during routine trims.” With time and proper care, it is possible to repair a horse's hooves.
Navicular Syndrome or Disease
Dr. Schell says, “Navicular disease is essentially deterioration of the bone (navicular bone), which is thought to be possibly due to a disruption of blood circulation.”
Some factors that contribute to the development of this condition in quarter horses are the long toe, short heel syndrome mentioned above or athletic competition. Diagnosis is made from physical exams or x-rays.
In nonprofessionals’ terms, laminitis is an inflammation of the tissue that connects the foot and the hoof. It is an extremely serious condition because without quick intervention, the horse is trapped in a pain cycle that is exacerbated by the fact that laminitis usually occurs in the front legs.
As the horse uses his legs to support his weight, the inflammation is aggravated and the pain increases. To make matters worse, there is no cure, just palliative measures to ease the pain.
According to Dr. Schell, “Unfortunately, laminitis is one of the leading causes of euthanasia in the horse due to overall poor prognosis.”
As a recap, while these conditions may seem ominous, most of them can be avoided or the severity reduced by taking care of the horse’s hooves, seeing a farrier and veterinarian regularly, feeding a balanced diet, and keeping the horse’s weight at optimal levels.
If you are considering buying an American Quarter horse, keep our experts' tips and suggestions in mind.
Consider the total costs, ask the right questions, and keep your horse healthy with regular veterinary care, and you will enjoy a long, satisfying relationship with your horse.
References and Resources
1 - Chamberlain, Richard, "Dash for Cash, The Racehorse, The Stud,"The Quarter Racing Journal, January 1988
American Quarter Horse Breed Description and Equine History - http://www.horses-and-horse-information.com/articles/american-quarter-horse.shtml
American Quarter Horse - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/20095/American-Quarter-Horse, accessed 02/09/2011
Horse Channel, Sappington, Brenda Forsythe, M.S., Phd., Hormones and Horse Behavior, accessed 02/09/2011
E-mail interview, February 11, 2011, Schell, Tom, D.V.M., DABVP (Equine), Timbercreek Veterinary Hospital, PC, Nouvelle Veterinary, Inc., www.timbercreekvet.com, www.nouvelleveterinary.com, www.curost.com
Email interview, February 11, 2011, Routier, Jessica, www.topperformanceequine.com
Email interview, February 11, 2001, Halliday, Inge, www.malibuhorsesinc.com
Telephone interview, February 11, 2002, Ross, Yan