The History of AQHA

The rich history of the Association and this iconic horse breed is just as bountiful as America itself.

Since 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association has been paving a way for passionate horseman and horsewomen to come together in the name of the American Quarter Horse for the breed’s preservation, celebration, and advancement.  The rich history of the Association and the breed of horse is just as bountiful as America itself. From humble beginnings to our record-breaking present, the American Quarter Horse Association has grown into the largest breed association in the world.

On March 15, 1940, the first official AQHA Convention was held in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Fort Worth Club during the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show (now called the Fort Worth Livestock Show and Rodeo).  AQHA pioneer Bob Denhardt gathered 75 driven and generous breeders and owners to inaugurate the Association and designate shareholders. At the time, these shareholders were the primary decision-makers for the Association and its endeavors.

“All Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter mile in twenty-three seconds or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse Performance under ranch conditions.”

 – AQHA Executive Committee meeting minutes from April 22, 1940


During March of 1941, the association’s first registered horse came in the form of a stocky and hardy ranch stallion named “Wimpy." The King Ranch stallion won the grand championship at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth, TX, also earning him the AQHA registration No. 1.

During that same time, the American Quarter Racing Association named Clabber the first world champion Quarter Running horse and racing stallion in 1940-41. Clabber was nicknamed “Iron Horse” for his supreme athleticism in Quarter Racing at the time. The Association also saw its first Pari-mutuel race for Quarter Horses later in 1947 at the Hollywood Park (Ruidoso Downs). Since then, the track at Ruidoso, New Mexico has become a mainstay of Quarter Horse racing and is home to the All American Futurity, the first horse race in the world to offer $ 1 million to its winner.

Though these milestones in Quarter Horse history were tremendous, the successes of these different breed disciplines were continuing to broaden the rift between the “Bulldog” men – those who liked chunky horses and focused on conformation and the type – vs. the racing breeders who placed emphasis on performance instead. During the 1946 AQHA convention, these disagreements grew to be so hostile that the opposing men came close to blows with one another in a near fist fight. Shortly after, outgoing president Lee Underwood suffered a heart attack and Albert Mitchell of New Mexico was elected as president. With these unfortunate events behind them, the stakeholders were ready to move towards a better tomorrow for the Association.

In 1948, AQHA published the first issue of The Quarter Horse Journal. With this positive momentum, stakeholders at the 1950 AQHA Convention unanimously voted for AQHA to become a membership-controlled organization, open to the world. This change of jurisdiction has allowed AQHA to grow to the largest breed organization in the world to-date.

Noteworthy Dates:

1952 – The First AQHA Champions named. These horses all met stiff requirements in approved halter and performance events; there is a mix of “bulldog” and Thoroughbred blood.

                  Poco Tivio (by Poco Bueno)

                  Little Egypt (by Texas Dandy)

                  Star Jack Jr (by Scoggins Littlestar)

                  Paul A (by Star Deck)

                  JB King (by Harmon Baker’s Star)

                  Skipper W (by Pretty Buck)

                  Pondora (by Pondie)

Babe Mac C (by Macanudo)

1956 – AQHA gives Quarter Horses to President Eisenhower. AQHA Past President Lester Goodson and Charles W. “Bubba” Cascio (Hall of Fame trainer) traveled to Washington, D.C., to give Doodle De Do and Sporty Miss to U.S. President Eisenhower. Cascio even rode one of the horses in a reining pattern right there on the White House Lawn.

1958 – Doc Bar. This Lightning Bar Colt made a meager $95 at the track in 1948, but legendary California trainer Charley Araujo thought the horse could show at halter, and he won nine grand championships. His new owners, Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Jenson, crossed him on their cow horse-bred mares, and the offspring revolutionized the performance arena.

1962 – The New Appendix. A compromise formed at the 1962 convention went into effect, establishing one numbered registry for AQHA, eliminating the labels “Permanent” and “Tentative.” The only outcross blood permitted is Thoroughbred: The offspring of a numbered Quarter Horse and a registered Thoroughbred can enter the “new Appendix.” To move from the Appendix to the Numbered registry, a horse must earn a Register of Merit in open classes, and have a veterinarian vouch that the horse has no undesirable effects.

1963 – Kid Meyers is Born. Racing champion Miss Meyers died a month after foaling a colt by Three Bars (TB), leaving her owner A.B. Green to bottle feed the orphan. Kid Meyers became AQHA’s first open Supreme champion, excelling at halter, in the performance arena and on the racetrack.

AQHA’s most recent and 52nd Open Supreme Champion is BRTSendingMyRegards.

1965 – Excessive White. AQHA’s Board of Directors revised the old rule to read:

“No animal having excessive white or unusual white or one with ore spots of such size, kind and in such location as to indicate pinto, appaloosa or albino breeding, shall be eligible for registration.”

Specific guidelines were later added in 1971, with the rule finally abolished in 2004.

1967 – All American Quarter Horse Congress. The Ohio Quarter Horse Association held its first Congress in Columbus, Ohio, with three days of showing, demonstrations, seminars and a sale. Today, it is the largest single-breed horse show in the world.

1968 – The Mixer Horse. Oklahoma artist Orren Mixer was commissioned to paint the ideal Quarter Horse, known now as “the Mixer horse.” It’s rumored that Orren Mixer crafted the Mixer horse after an actual American Quarter Horse …

1973 – Amateur Competition Debuts. Competition began with just western pleasure and bridle path hack (hunter under saddle). Reining, hunt seat equitation and horsemanship were added in 1978. All amateur classes (save for showmanship) were offered at the 1980 AQHA World Show; showmanship was added in 1988.

1974 – One Million Registrations. On November 8, 1974, the AQHA office in Amarillo holds a special ceremony in honor of the association’s 1 millionth registration. AQHA Executive Committee had decided to hold the millionth certificate, so the next certificate issued after 999999 was 1000001. AQHA was the first equine breed association to register a million horses.

1974 – First AQHA World Show. The first show was held in Louisville, Kentucky, then moved to Oklahoma City in 1976. There were 692 horses, 40 states and five Canadian provinces represented, and 42 world titles awarded.

1979 – First AQHA Superhorse Crowned. Vickie Lee Pine wins the first AQHA Superhorse title at the AQHA World Show for her breeder and owner, Howard Pitzer. This Superhorse mare was by Two Eyed Jack and out of Poco Coed by Poco Pine. She showed in aged mares, heading and heeling.

1982 – First Hall of Fame Inductees. Bob Denhardt and Ernest Browning, the first executive vice president of the Association (then known as the executive secretary) and an Arizona rancher, were the first two people inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame

1983 – Registers 2,000,000th Horse. The King Ranch purchased Registration No. 2000000 through an auction to benefit the American Quarter Horse Foundation. Two Million, a filly by Mr San Peppy, was approximately the 6,500th horse registered by the King Ranch.

From 1940 to 1974 – how long it took to register 1 million horses

From 1974 to 1983 – how long it took to register another 1 million horses

1984 – New AQHA Headquarters Building. Ground was broken in 1983 for the building along Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas, with the unveiling happening in September 1984.

1989 – First Horses Inducted Into Hall of Fame.

                  Wimpy P-1

                  King P-234


                  Three Bars

That same year, ground was broken on the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum

1992 – Best Remuda Award. Haythorn Land & Cattle Co. of Nebraska became the first winner of the AQHA Best Remuda Award

1996 – Rugged Lark. This stallion hit the world’s spotlight when Lynn Palm rides the two-time AQHA Superhorse in a bridleless demonstration at the Atlanta Olympics.

1996 – Zippo Pine Bar. By Zippo Pat Bars and out of Dollie Pine by Poco Pine, Zippo Pine Bar became the breed’s all-time leading sire by AQHA points earned. He held the lead until 2014, long after his death in 1998.

On October 14, 2014, Invitation Only surpassed Zippo Pine Bar and became the associations new All-Time Leading Sire. On that day, Invitation Only had 77, 064 total offspring points, while Zippo Pine Bar had 77,061.5.

2002 – Versatility Ranch Horse. Open and amateur divisions of these classes were first offered to AQHA-approved shows, with amateur added in 2006. 

2003 – Select World Show Offered. The first AQHA Select World Championship Show was held in Amarillo, Texas, for amateur exhibitors age 50 and over. The first Select classes were offered in 1997.

2007 – Performance Halter. Performance halter was added to the roster of AQHA classes. To date, it’s the only conformation class with a performance requirement.

2010 – First Down Dash. The all-time leading sire of money-earning racing Quarter Horses died in California at age 26. His owner, AQHA Past President Frank “Scoop” Vessels III died just months before in a plane crash.

First Down Dash’s Sire, Dash for Cash, won 21 out 25 races, earning more than $500,000. Dash for Cash sired 1,069 starters, 751 winners, 135 stakes winners, 16 world champions, together earning $37,386,838. This prolific stallion also sired Miss N Cash, a National Cutting Horse Association world champion.

2012 – Level 1 (Novice) Championships. Inaugural events were offered in Las Vegas and Murfreesboro, Tennessee. AQHA added the Zoetis AQHA Cattle Level 1 Championship in 2014 in Oklahoma City. Level 1 (Novice) was first added in 1988 with changes made to the program in 2013.

2012 – Ranching Heritage. The first three AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge events are held, eligible to horses bred by AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders. The first AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program scholarships were awarded to AQHYA members, with 14-year-old Sivana Brewer winning the grand prize $2,000 scholarship.