Colonial Spanish Horse

Colonial Spanish Horse

The Banker horse is an example of a Colonial Spanish Horse
Distinguishing features Small size, Spanish type, DNA markers indicating origins in the Iberian Peninsula
Equus ferus caballus

The Colonial Spanish horse is the term, popularized by Dr. D. Philip Sponenberg, for a group of horse breeds descended from the original Iberian horse stock brought from Spain to the Americas.[1] The ancestral type from which these horses descend was a product of the horse populations that blended between the Iberian horse and the North African Barb.[2] The term encompasses many strains or breeds now found primarily in North America. The status of the Colonial Spanish Horse is considered threatened overall and six strains are listed as critical. The horses are registered by several entities.

The Colonial Spanish Horse is not synonymous with the Spanish Mustang, the name given to a breed derived from the first concerted effort of conservationists in the United States to preserve horses of Colonial Spanish Type.[1] Colonial Spanish Horse type and DNA exist in some mustangs, but there has been considerable crossbreeding in many of the feral horse herds. For that reason, the true Spanish type is rare in feral herds. But where such animals have been found, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other agencies attempt to blood-type and preserve them.[1]

Small groups of horses of Colonial Spanish Horse type have been located in various groups of ranch-bred, mission, and Native American horses, mostly among those in private ownership.[1]


Colonial Spanish Horses are generally small; the usual height is around 14 hands (56 inches, 142 cm), and most vary from 13.2 to 14 hands (54 to 56 inches, 137 to 142 cm). Weight varies with height, but most are around 700 to 800 pounds (320 to 360 kg). Their heads vary somewhat between long, finely made to shorter and deeper, generally havlng straight to concave (rarely slightly convex) foreheads and a nose that is straight or slightly convex. The muzzle is usually very fine, and from the side the upper lip is usually longer than the lower, although the teeth meet evenly. Nostrils are usually small and crescent shaped. They typically have narrow but deep chests, with the front legs leaving the body fairly close together. When viewed from the front, the front legs join the chest in an "A" shape rather than straight across as in most other modern breeds that have wider chests. The withers are usually sharp instead of low and meaty. The croup is sloped, and the tail is characteristically set low on the body. From the rear view they are usually "rafter hipped" meaning the muscling of the hip tapers up so the backbone is the highest point. Hooves are small and upright rather than flat.[3]

History in the Americas

Horses first returned to the Americas with the conquistadors, beginning with Columbus, who imported horses from Spain to the West Indies on his second voyage in 1493.[4] Domesticated horses came to the mainland with the arrival of Cortés in 1519.[5] By 1525, Cortés had imported enough horses to create a nucleus of horse-breeding in Mexico.[6] Horses arrived in South America beginning in 1531, and, by 1538, Florida, and scattered throughout the Americas. By one estimate there were at least 10,000 free-roaming horses in Mexico by 1553.[2]

Modern horses

Blood typing and, more recently DNA analysis, have been used to confirm Spanish ancestry of both feral and domesticated groups of horses. One of the lead researchers in this area has been Dr. Gus Cothran of Texas A&M University.[1] Some breeders and horse associations have used blood typing results to prove or disprove horses are of Spanish ancestry, but Sponenberg urges caution, noting that some horses of Spanish type may not carry the expected Iberian blood types. Conversely, some horses that lack Spanish type, such as certain strains of the American Quarter Horse, may have blood markers but not the proper phenotype.[1] For that reason, blood typing and DNA analysis is used in conjunction with an analysis of Spanish phenotype and history to classify horses as being of Colonial Spanish type.[7] Spanish horse ancestry is also found in many gaited horse and stock horse breeds in the United States.[3]

The wide array of horses considered to be near-pure descendants of original Spanish stock carry a variety of names. Though many are described as horse breeds, it can be debated they are separate breeds or multiple strains of a single large breed. The Livestock Conservancy considers them one breed,[3] but DNA analysis shows that Spanish horses had multiple origins prior to their arrival in America and came from a variety of different breeds found in the Iberian peninsula.[2] Various bloodlines or groups of Colonial Spanish Horses are registered a number of different Associations.[1] The conservation status of the strains is threatened overall and six individual strains are listed as critical.[8][lower-alpha 1]

Horses listed by Dr. Sponenberg and/or the Livestock Conservancy to be Colonial Spanish Horses include the following:[lower-alpha 2]

A number of breeds in Latin America with Iberian DNA markers are of Spanish type and origin.[2][lower-alpha 3] Many of these breeds come from different foundation bloodstock from horses in North America,[1] and some have haplotypes not found in North America.[2]


  1. Those listed as critical are the Galiceno, Banker Horse, Choctaw, Florida Cracker, Marsh Tacky,Santa Cruz, and Wilbur-Cruce.[8]
  2. Some other feral horses, such as Gila Bend Mustang[9][10] and Chincoteague pony (Assateague horse) are asserted to be Colonial Spanish, but have not been endorsed as such.
  3. This include the Argentine Criollo, Brazilian Criollo, Campolina, Chilean Criollo, Chilote, Mangalarga, Mangalarga Marchador, Pantaneiro, Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso, and Venezuelan Spanish.[2]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Sponenberg, D. Philip. "North American Colonial Spanish Horse Update July 2011". Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Luis, Cristina; Bastos-Silveira, Cristiane; Cothran, E. Gus; Oom, Maria do Mar (17 February 2006). "Iberian Origins of New World Horse Breeds". Journal of Heredity. 97 (2): 107–113. doi:10.1093/jhered/esj020. PMID 16489143. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 "Colonial Spanish Horse". The Livestock Conservancy. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  4. Bennett, p. 14
  5. Bennett, p. 193
  6. Bennett, p. 205
  7. Sponenberg, D. Philip. History, Blood Typing and "Just Looking": Evaluating Spanish Horses (Report).
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Conservation Priority". The Livestock Conservancy. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  9. "Gila Herd". International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  10. Stillman, Deanne (2009). Mustang the saga of the wild horse in the American West (1st Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Mariner Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 281. ISBN 9780547526133.
  11. 1 2 3 Conant, E.K.; Juras, Rytis; Cothran, E.G. (February 2012). "A microsatellite analysis of five Colonial Spanish horse populations of the southeastern United States". Animal Genetics. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2011.02210.x.


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