Horses in America

Horses in America

In North America, it is the western atmosphere, the conquest of the west that dominates. A conquest made possible by the Mustangs.

The rodeo

The history of rodeo

The origins of rodeo go back to the early days of the American cattle industry. In the 17th century, the "cattle herders" were mostly of Spanish origin, known as "vaqueros". In the 18th and 19th centuries, eastern Americans followed the westward expansion of the states, and began to adapt their style and equipment for ranch work to the skills of the vaqueros, Texas and California cowboys. By this time, the first "cattle barons" had been established and the cattle business was booming.

The Spanish word "rodeo", from the verb "rodear" meaning "to circle", became the equivalent of the English word "roundup" in Hispanic America. Originally, rodear consisted of herding cattle to the hacienda in the spring, where they formed a herd that the vaqueros turned in a circle in order to accustom the cattle to human presence. Later, both rodear and roundup referred to the annual gathering of the large herds of the western plains where the cattle were counted, marked and driven to the markets or to the railway station to be shipped to the cities. For the cowboys, who were grouped together for the occasion, it was an opportunity for informal competitions to ride wild horses or to capture cattle with lassoes. The first evidence of rodeo dates from this period. The expansion of the railways, the installation of roads, and the erection of fences put an end to most of the large roundups in the late 19th century. It was also the end for many cowboys. The tradition of rodeos continued, however.

horse rodeo picture

The first official rodeos

The first official rodeo event in the United States took place in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1872. Cowboys had made a habit of gathering on the 4th of July, the bank holidays, where they demonstrated their skills and sometimes even parodied their daily work. Encouraged by the bounties offered by the ranchers and the rivalries between the towns, rodeos quickly became very popular in the American West.

A new phenomenon, the "Wild West Show", organised by professional entrepreneurs (the most famous of whom was Buffalo Bill Cody), saved cowboy work from anonymity. These shows, which were half theatre, half competition, were a phenomenal success. The "rodeo riders", unemployed cowboys, went from rodeo to rodeo living off the money they earned and were the first professionals in what would become a national sport. Today, official rodeo events include riding a saddled, bareback wild horse or bull for 8 seconds, knocking down a steer and lassoing a calf. At the end of the last century, rodeos also contributed greatly, along with literature, to making the cowboy, then a simple worker on horseback, a true hero of the conquest of the West and the living embodiment of the moral values of the great America.

The Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is the oldest surviving American horse breed. The origin of the Quarter Horse comes from Arabian, Barb and Turkish horses brought to North America by Spanish explorers. These horses were bred without any external contribution to the territory. Later, settlers who came to seek their fortune in the New World, established in Virginia and Carolina in the 17th century, began to cross selected native mares with stallions that came from England. It was a stallion named Janus, imported in 1756, that is recognised as the founder of the breed. The crossbreeding produced compact, strongly muscled horses that could run a short distance faster than any other breed. The Quarter Horse got its name from those colonial days when tobacco and cotton planters held races on village streets and plantation roads that rarely exceeded a quarter mile. The fiery starts and explosive sprints of these little pioneer horses soon earned the breed its first name, "Famous and Celebrated Colonial Quarter Pather", which in time became "Quarter Miler" or "Quarter Running Horse", and finally the present name "Quarter Horse".

The pioneers who went west chose the Quarter Horse to conquer the continent. The Quarter Horse was adopted by cowboys as the best horse for herding and driving because of its quick reactions and innate sense of handling. In addition to the physical criteria, the selection of this breed was based on an extraordinary mind. The Quarter Horse became established in the South West in the early part of the 19th century. He drove cattle north and west and left his offspring along the way.

quarter horse usa

First recognized breed in the united states

The Quarter Horse was the first recognized horse breed in the USA. Since 1941 the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in Amarillo Texas has operated the largest stud book in the world with over 4,000,000 registered horses. The breeding allowed by the AQHA is between two Quarter Horses or between a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred.

Characteristics of the quarter horse

The average height of the Quarter Horse is between 1.50 and 1.60 metres. Its appearance is that of a robust, athletic, supple and elegant horse. The head is small and well defined. The straight muzzle ends in a square nose with prominent nostrils, the well developed gaskets give an impression of power. His ears are small and pointed, and his eyes very expressive of gentleness show his calm. His forehead is often muscular. His broad chest with very muscular shoulders is topped by a slightly pronounced withers. The short back is joined by powerful loins and a muscular hindquarters which enables the Quarter Horse to gallop quickly. The straight and small legs, the short canons and the slender legs which are naturally placed under him, explain his ability to move quickly in all directions. In addition to these morphological qualities, he is intelligent and docile and can be calm or very lively and fast on demand. His blood is so strong that he resists all crossbreeding and has kept his own characteristics for over three centuries : the most electric horse the world has ever known !

The Quarter Horse's calm, disciplined, obedient, comfortable temperament makes it an ideal horse for trail riding. It is appreciated by cowboys for its speed, ease, mobility and balance. It is the specific competition horse of Western Equitation with cutting, western pleasure, trail and reining events but also model and gait events.

Horse Whisperers

Whisperers whisper very little, but try to "think" horses in order to improve communication with the animal, which then becomes a partner and spontaneously puts its goodwill at the service of its new companion.
The knowledge and the so-called natural horsemanship method is developed from the observation of the behaviour of horses in the herd. The horse being a gregarious animal, its reaction to the unknown or to danger is to flee, the trainer must therefore prohibit any brutality in order to gain the animal's trust. The aim of this approach is for the trainer to pass himself off as the master of the herd, which the horse will follow blindly and confidently. It is in the breaking-in phase of the young horse that this new method is most demonstrative, but it can be used with horses that are resistant or judged to be lost in the eyes of traditional horsemanship. Most of these "new masters" are cowboys, who have chosen to abandon the more or less brutal traditional methods of their elders. The most famous whisperers are Americans like Pat Parelli, Buck Brannaman or Monty Roberts. Many ranches have adopted their techniques and share them with visiting riders. Lynn Tomlinson, owner of Warm Creek Ranch and organiser of the Medecine Lodge ride, follows Pat Parelli's methods.

The disciplines of western riding

Western riding is a direct descendant of cattle work on ranches in the United States in the 19th century, which consisted of conveying, monitoring and sorting the cattle in a rational and rapid manner. From this work was born a training which was able to emphasize the qualities of availability, ease and manoeuvrability of the western horse. It is thus with the aim of refining this training, that several tests were introduced which define what is nowadays western riding :


The horse is led to the judge who will examine the horse according to the well-defined criteria of the breed. The purpose of this test is to select in order to improve the breed.


The horse is shown in the longe, but the judges look at the overall presentation of the horse and rider, not the morphology of the horse.


The skills of the riders are assessed by :

  • an individual test with a course (walk, jog and lope in a straight line and in a circle) to be completed in 30 seconds.
  • a group test, for qualified riders, in which they present their horses in walk, jog and lope. The judges look at the riders' stance, their confidence and the way they communicate with their horses.

Western pleasure

This test judges the condition, conformation, fluidity and regularity of the horse's gaits. Horses are shown in all three gaits on both hands. Riders must be properly dressed (western boots, western hat and a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck are the minimum) and the horses properly harnessed. Reins that are too tight or too loose, head carriage that is too high or too low, nose that is too far forward or too far back, or loss of hat are considered faults and penalized.

Western riding

This test allows to appreciate the ease, the intelligence and the suppleness of the horse which must be sensitive, manageable and free in its movements. The course consists of several obstacles, including a gate to cross, a small bar on the ground, then 8 cones among which the horse must slalom, making very precise changes of foot. The horse must give a pleasant, comfortable and calm impression.


The event is a direct result of the daily tasks of the cowboys, to which the horses had to be accustomed: putting on a noisy mackintosh, opening and closing a fence and going through difficult places. This competition takes place on a course punctuated by obstacles that can be found in the wild. The horse's confidence in its rider plays a key role. The horse is judged on its obedience, its intelligence, the ease and willingness with which it completes the course.


A spectacular event. Each course, called patterns, consists of alternating large circles in fast canter and small circles in slow canter, changes of foot, roll-backs (180° pivot), spins (360° pirouettes around a hind leg) and sliding stops (sliding stops on the hind legs). The horse is judged for its precision, docility, control and calm.


A cattle sorting event for horses aged 3 years and over. The horse is judged on the way it handles the cattle. As soon as the herd is gathered at the back of the ring, the rider leads his horse into the ring at a calm walk to select a cow. When the cow is out of the herd, the work begins. The competitor has 2.5 minutes to showcase the qualities of his horse and keep the cow away from other cows.
The competitor is assisted by 4 turnback men :

  • 2 riders called "Turnback Men" who prevent the calf from going beyond the limits of the working area
  • 2 other riders called "Herd Holders" who keep the herd together at the back of the ring

Team penning

A team of 3 riders must sort out, in an arena, the cows with the same number within a herd. The sorted cows must be isolated in a pen. The event is timed.

Working cow horse

The horse must demonstrate that it is capable of doing its work correctly in contact with cattle.

  • The first part, called dry work, is a reining test.
  • The second part, the fence work, is a test of working with cattle. The horse must first control the cow along the short side of the arena and then force her to go along the long side at least twice in a row. For this last exercise, the horse must turn the cow around, or stop it before it reaches the short side. Finally, he must lead the cow to the centre of the arena, then turn around once with each hand. The judges look at the cow's sense of cattle, her behaviour and her handling.

Pole bending

An event designed to test the speed and handling of horses. Six poles, about 7 metres apart, are lined up. The rider first gallops to the end of the field and then slaloms back between the poles, turns around and zigzags between the poles again. Finally, the rider gallops down to the finish. Each pole knocked down results in a 5 second penalty.

Barrel race

A timed speed event popular in the USA. It consists of a cloverleaf race around 3 barrels arranged in a triangle. This is a handling event that highlights the horse's speed, agility and balance. The penalties are the same as for Pole Bending.

In South America, horses are used as a means of transport, hunting and working companions, and playmates. The horse is part of a gaucho's life.

The Criollo

The origins of the criollo

The origins of the Creole horse go back to the 16th century, with the arrival of the Conquistadors and their barbed, Andalusian and Arabian horses. The difficulties of transport at that time forced these conquerors of the new world to crossbreed horses on the spot. Over the years, the products of these crossbreeds adapted to their environment and by natural selection gave the Criollo, the dominant breed in the whole of the Caribbean and South America.

The characteristics of the Criollo

Criollos are reputed to be particularly frugal, healthy, robust and hardy. Capable of carrying very heavy loads over long distances and all types of terrain, they are self-sufficient and persevering. The Creole or Criollo horse is a medium-sized horse, 1.45m, generous, hardy and sure-footed.

By Luisina Giovannini

I created Horse Placenta with the aim of showing all the beauty of this incredible animal which is the horse. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I invite you to continue reading to find out more.

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