Colonial Spanish Horse breed today encompasses various feral and domestic herds from native tribes (Choctaw and Cherokee), ranchers, and Pryor Mountain mustangs.
Pryor herds reside on high terrain in Wyoming and Montana. Although their DNA contains an expected percentage of Spanish heritage, blood typing cannot reveal their distinct Spanish phenotype.
The Colonial Spanish Horse is an exceptional breed with both local and global significance. Although their numbers remain small, these horses remain highly intelligent mounts capable of withstanding incredible wear-and-tear. One of only a few breeds that has survived to modern times without significant influence from other horses, their incredible endurance makes them standouts among modern horse breeding programs.
This breed stands out with its distinctive conformation and blood types. They tend to be shorter and stockier than other horse breeds, with more curved foreheads that vary from straight to concave (occasionally slightly convex).
Colonial Spanish Horse registries exist throughout the US. Some, like Cerbat, keep specific strains while Wakefield and Thompson offer closed herds with more restricted range.
The Kiger herd stands as an exception to this trend; its horses exhibit taller and smoother physique than other Colonial Spanish Horses of conservation interest, potentially due to crossbreeding or selection within its herd. Furthermore, this herd possesses some special blood markers.
The Barb is a light riding horse with strong build and distinguishable features, hailing from Maghreb region of northern Africa and used by Berber tribes as war horses during their invasion of Spain. These horses are famous for their sure footedness and incredible stamina as well as being capable of galloping at high speed.
Still today, wild Cerbats exist; their numbers have diminished due to predator pressure and natural inbreeding, yet are managed by the Bureau of Land Management so as to preserve genetic integrity, serving as sources for other breeders who wish to save this strain of horse.
Ilo Belsky kept a herd of Spanish Barbs that has left its mark on many breeders today, as their horses were part of many cattle drives from Texas to New Mexico and Oklahoma, and Gilbert Jones kept Spanish Barbs that descended from these cattle drives; additionally he exchanged horses with other ranchers like Tom Waggoner.
Choctaw horses were introduced into America by Spanish colonists and are notable for their distinctive gait known as single-footing. This smooth and moderate lope is much smoother than most horses’ typical trotting gaits, and makes Choctaw horses ideal for endurance riders with their calm disposition and easy training process – they also excel at trail riding!
Choctaw horses have an extensive history in Mississippi and Oklahoma. Once domesticated by Choctaw tribes for use as “spirit dogs,” these horses continued their service despite Hernando de Soto’s Trail of Tears expedition passing through Mississippi in 1830; yet they remained with the Choctaw people despite de Soto leaving many horses behind in Mississippi.
Brame, Crisp, Locke, Self, Helms, Thurman and Carter families were the key figures responsible for maintaining Choctaw breed until recently. Their horses had a consistent Colonial Spanish type with colors including “Spanish Roan”, Sabino patterns and leopard spots as well as overo paints.
Bryant Rickman has made it his goal to protect Choctaw horses in southeast Oklahoma. During this process, he discovered there are still some purebred Choctaw horses living there – of which there are less than 200 known.
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Sulphur horses are commonly seen roaming free on Forest Service land in southwestern Utah, as well as owned by various breeders. Blood typing by Gus Cothran has revealed that Sulphur horses have an extremely high frequency of Iberian markers indicating their herds include horses of Colonial Spanish type.
Southwestern Utah herds are of particular significance because they were on trade routes used by Ute Indians and Spanish traders, but closer inspection reveals that those found at Sulphur deviate from what would normally be accepted as Colonial Spanish type herds, with shorter heads and thicker fronts than most others of Spanish type herds; some believe this to be due to a stable mixture of Spanish with pony (likely Welsh) blood in these particular herds.
New research indicates Native Americans and European settlers shared an equal appreciation of horses. Researchers used DNA to trace horses in the American West back to Spain where their original homes lie, matching up perfectly with Indigenous oral histories reported by Live Science. Live Science reports three remains from Wyoming, Kansas, and New Mexico from horses which showed signs of wearing bridles; chemical markers in their bones indicate maize consumption was an Indigenous crop eaten by these horses; their facial fractures indicated treatment by humans as well.
Study results indicated that most of the horses found were likely owned by nomadic tribes–Apache, Ute, Kiowa and Navaho–that were attracted to their speed and courage. Such tribes would typically steal or borrow other people’s horses for themselves and add them to their herds.
Modern Colonial Spanish herds can be diverse, drawing their bloodlines from multiple sources – feral (Brislawn/Holbrook, Cerbat, Pryor Mountain and Kiger), rancher (Belsky Romero Jones Wilber-Cruce and Cherokee tribes among them). Bookcliffs horses – comprising mostly dun, grullo or red dun hues – originally were managed by Wilber-Cruce herd and still remain popular today.