The History of Quarter Horse Racing |

The History of Quarter Horse Racing

American Quarter Horse racing history can trace its roots in the United States back to colonial times. In 1611, 17 native English stallions and mares were imported to Virginia. Shortly after those first horses reached the American shores, Gov. Nicholson legalized horse racing, a sport that attained almost immediate popularity after the arrival of the horse that made it possible.

The blood of those English horses was crossed with horses of Spanish ancestry (primarily the Barb) to produce a compact and heavily muscled horse that could run short distances at incredible speeds. Colonial streets were typically a quarter of a mile in length – or 440 yards – and it was over that distance the horses raced. Thus, the colonists called these horses Quarter Pathers, and later they became known as the Celebrated American Quarter of a Mile Running Horses. Today they are American Quarter Horses.

The Evolution of Quarter Horse Racing in America

By the time the Revolutionary War had begun, the colonists had grown very attached to American Quarter Horse racing, which was generally a match race between two horses running no more than a quarter of a mile.

One reason for the popularity of the short sprints was that they could be run down village streets or any suitably sized clearing. This sprint racing in the early colonies was the earliest-known example of Quarter Horse racing in the United States. The first Quarter Horse races were recorded as being held at Enrico County, Virginia, in 1674. Reports from that time show that by 1690, large purses were being offered for these races, and large plantations often changed hands on the outcome of one of those sprints down the straightaway. In colonial days, any fallow field or thoroughfare served as a racetrack, which probably accounts for the dirt running surface that evolved in America.

American Quarter Horse racing continued to grow in popularity as the breed grew. However, it remained on an informal basis of match races and weekend affairs at hundreds of small tracks that would spring up as pioneers and early settlers moved into the Midwest, Southwest and Western areas of the present United States.

Quarter Horse racing continued on an informal basis for many years. One might say that the sport literally grew up with America.

First Organized Quarter Horse Races

The first sanctioned Quarter Horse races were organized in the 1930s and ’40s in Tucson, Arizona, at a track called Hacienda Moltacqua. The races were sanctioned by the Southern Arizona Horse Breeders Association, which evolved into the American Quarter Racing Association, then later the racing arm of AQHA. At that time, Hacienda Moltacqua posted a card of races that included not only American Quarter Horses, but trotters, Thoroughbreds and even some steeplechasers. However, Quarter Horse racing soon outgrew its stage-sharing position with the other racing breeds at Hacienda Moltacqua and in 1943, a new racetrack was built and designed especially for the sport of Quarter Horse racing. That track was Rillito Park in Tucson.

Colorful Stories From Quarter Horse Racing History

Like many great things throughout history, Quarter Horse racing has seen its fair share of unique stories and humble beginnings.

Wonder the Quarter Horse vs. Jesse Owens

Even then, Quarter Horse folks matched their horses not only against each other but against other breeds and sometimes even other species – like humans. One of those was Jesse Owens, the great gold medalist who humbled the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and later toured the U.S., matching horses in exhibition races at sports events and county fairs.

In 1948, Owens came up against his first Quarter Horse.

The match was set for June 20 at the Oakland Ball Park between games; Jesse Owens went up against a Quarter Horse named Wonder.

They signaled the start with a gun, and Wonder shot off from the starting line, thanks to his tendency to be gun-shy.

Jesse Owens didn’t beat him at 100 yards, 50 yards or even 10 feet. Owens ran about 15 yards and then just walked off the track.

The Quarter Horse Patsy Buck vs. The Cadillac DeVille

In 1955, as part of a fundraiser for a hospital, Patsy Buck (by Pretty Buck and out of Patsy Clover) beat a Cadillac DeVille (by General Motors out of Detroit) by a head at 220 yards.

Horsewoman vs. Horseman: Mrs. C.W. Powers vs. Pancho Villa

Still, Quarter Horses usually ran against Quarter Horses at any distance, any conditions, one man’s horse against another – or one man against a woman’s. Such was the case in the early 1900s.

C.W. Powers and his wife were living in northern Mexico when Pancho Villa was rising to prominence.

One Sunday, Mrs. Powers rode Jerry, her favorite saddle horse, into Madera, where her husband worked. A fiesta was underway and the Villistas were partying. `

Villa spotted Mrs. Powers in the street and admired her horse, challenging her to a race.

Powers accepted and beat Villa handsomely. Villa congratulated her enthusiastically and roused the surrounding crowd to applaud her as well.

Modern Day Quarter Horse Racing

Today, American Quarter Horse racing is conducted at more than 100 racetracks throughout North America, with total purse reaching some $50 million. In addition, horse racing ranks among the top spectator sports in America.

The dream of many owners, trainers and jockeys in Quarter Horse racing is to win the $3 million All American Futurity on Labor Day at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.

In most respects, Quarter Horse racing today is vastly different from its beginning of mattresses down village streets in Virginia. So much about the sport has changed, even the horse himself: Today he is faster than ever having been clocked at speeds in excess of 50 mph, to earn him the title of “America’s Fastest Athlete.”

Your go-to place for Quarter Horse racing news, updates, race previews and more is

Leading Quarter Horse Jockeys Provide Educational Outreach

As a joint effort between Wrangler and the American Quarter Horse Association, Team Wrangler promotes educational outreach for the equine industry by providing clinics to horse enthusiasts across the globe.

The 2020 team is as versatile as the American Quarter Horse, comprising 24 top AQHA Professional Horsemen, from across the disciplines – from halter to all-around and roping to racing. Leading jockeys G.R. Carter Jr. and Ricky Ramirez are both Team Wrangler members. Learn more at


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User