The Colonial Spanish horse is a group of closely related breeds that descend from horses brought by Spanish explorers, conquistadors, and colonists to the Americas beginning in the 1500s. Horses were an integral part of Spanish prosperity in the Americas, and both domestic and free-range stocks spread far and wide. For centuries, Spanish horses were the most common type of horse throughout the Southeast and all of the regions west of the Mississippi. Beginning in the mid to late 1800s, however, almost all Spanish stocks were crossbred with or replaced by horses of larger size, including Thoroughbreds, other riding breeds, and draft horses. Ubiquitous between 1750 and 1850, the pure Spanish horse in North America was almost extinct by 1950.
Colonial Spanish Horse
By the 1950s, only a few herds of pure Spanish horses remained in the Southeast and the Southwest. They were either owned by traditional ranchers or Native American tribes, or found in isolated free-ranging herds. From these remnants, conservation programs began and several groups of dedicated breeders have been involved. First among these was the Spanish Mustang Registry, founded in 1957, followed by the American Indian Horse Registry, the Spanish Barb Breeders Association, and the Southwest Spanish Mustang Association.
The North American Spanish horse population includes many distinct strains, and these could be considered either part of a larger, single breed, or several smaller, closely related breeds. Given the overall consistency of this population and the fact that many individual horses are registered in more than one of the registries, The Livestock Conservancy has chosen to consider them as one breed, while recognizing the importance of the unique regional adaptations of individual strains.
Colonial Spanish horses go by a number of names, including Spanish Mustang, Spanish Barb, or their strain name. Regardless of the name, they share conformational features that distinguish them from other riding breeds. They’re small, standing 13.2 to 15 hands (54-60″) at the withers and weighing 700 to 900 pounds. The horses are generally short-coupled and deep-bodied, but narrow from the front so that the front legs join the chest in the shape of an “A” rather than the “U” that is seen in the stock horse breeds. The croup is sloping and the tail is set low. The horses have broad foreheads and narrow faces, and the profiles may be either straight or convex. Spanish horses are athletic and useful for a variety of riding disciplines, including ranch work, endurance competitions, and pleasure riding. They have an unusually long stride, and many of them are gaited. They’re renowned for their even temperament and gentle dispositions.
Nearly all colors of horses occur in this breed. Solid colors include black, grullo, bay, dun, buckskin, chestnut, red dun, palomino, and cream. Gray and roan are common, as are every sort of paint (frame, sabino, and tobiano) and the leopard complex of colors commonly associated with the Appaloosa breed (including blankets, leopards, and varnish roans). Indeed, Spanish genetics is the source of the color in the Paint, Pinto, Appaloosa, Pony of the Americas, Palomino, and other breeds. The Spanish horse has also made substantial contributions to the American gaited breeds and to the American Quarter Horse and other stock horse breeds.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.