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Spanish Mustang mare
|Alternative names||Colonial Spanish Horse|
|Country of origin||Developed in the Americas from bloodstock originating in Spain|
|Equus ferus caballus|
The Spanish Mustang is a horse breed descended from horses introduced from Spain during the early conquest of the Americas. They are a type that today is extremely rare in Spain. They are classified within the larger grouping of the Colonial Spanish horse.
Spanish Mustangs today are primarily domesticated horses but are sometimes confused with the feral American Mustang. The latter animals are descended from both Spanish horses and other feral horses escaped from various sources; they run wild in protected Herd Management Areas (HMAs) of the western United States, currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and to a lesser degree, in Canada. DNA studies indicate that Spanish breeding and type does still exist in some feral Mustang herds, including those on the Cerbat HMA (near Kingman, Arizona), Pryor Mountain HMA (Montana), Sulphur HMA (Utah), Kiger HMA and the Riddle Mountain HMA (Oregon). The true Spanish Mustang as a modern breed differs from the "wild" American Mustang in appearance and ancestry.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, many ranchers introduced Thoroughbreds, draft horses, Arabians, Morgans and other breeds into most feral herds, seeking to improve the type. However, the breed was saved from extinction by the efforts of preservation breeders and the creation of a registry to protect and preserve the original type.
The Colonial Spanish Horse developed from animals of various breeds and types first brought from the Iberian peninsula to the Caribbean within the first 30 years of Conquest of the New World. The Spanish Mustang is a descendant of the Spanish horses brought from Cuba, Hispanola, and other islands during the conquest and establishment of the Spanish colony of New Spain in what today is Mexico. They are a direct remnant of the horses of a type that is mostly or wholly extinct now in Spain As the conquest of Mexico progressed during the 16th century, horse herds spread north and crossed the Rio Grande. Over the next one hundred years, horses in the Americas were stolen and traded by the Apache, Comanche, and later the Utes and Shoshoni to various tribes across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark received horses, later claimed to be Spanish Mustangs, from the Shoshoni, and said they owed much of the success of their expedition to the horses.
Spanish Mustang developed as a distinct type during the 17th and 18th centuries, prior to the arrival of English-speaking American settlers on the Great Plains. By the late 19th century, the advance of farming onto the Great Plains threatened the existence of the Spanish Mustang, as this horse was deemed too small to be useful for the farm work. Both farmers and ranchers introduced taller and heavier horses into wild herds to create a different type of animal more suitable to the immediate needs of settlers. Thus various draft horse breeds, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, and other animals were crossed into the mustang herds.
On the brink of extinction in the early part of this century, the salvation of the original Spanish type can be attributed primarily, but not exclusively, to Ferdinand L. Brislawn and his brother Robert E. Brislawn of Oshoto, Wyoming, who founded the Spanish Mustang Registry, Inc. in 1957. Two full brothers, Buckshot and Ute, were his first foundation stallions, sired by a buckskin stallion named Monty and out of Ute Reservation blood on the dam's side. Monty, captured in 1927 in Utah, escaped back to the wild in 1944, taking his mares with him. He was never recaptured.
The Spanish Mustang Registry, founded in 1957, describes the breed standard as follows:
- "The Spanish Mustang is a medium sized horse ranging from 13.1 to 15 hands (53 to 60 inches, 135 to 152 cm) with an average size of approximately 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm) with proportional weight. They are smooth muscled with short backs, rounded rumps and low set tails. Coupling is smooth and the overall appearance is of a well balanced, smoothly built horse. The girth is deep, with well laid back shoulder and fairly pronounced withers. They possess the classic Spanish type head with a straight or concave forehead and a convex nose which is in contrast to the straight forehead and nose of most breeds. Ears are average to short and usually notched or curved towards each other. Necks are fairly well crested in mares and geldings and heavily crested in mature stallions. Chests are narrow but deep with the front legs joining the chest in an "A" shape rather than straight across. Chestnuts are small or missing altogether, particularly on the rear legs. Ergots are small or absent. Feet are extremely sound with thick walls, many having what is typically known as a "mule foot" which resists bruising due to the concave sole. Cannons are short, upper foreleg is long with the canon bone having a larger circumference than other breeds of comparable size and weight. Long strided, many are gaited, with a comfortable gait such as the amble, running walk or single foot. Some individuals are laterally gaited and do a very credible "paso" gait though without extreme knee action. They are remarkably hardy animals and tend to be less prone to injury, particularly of the legs and feet, than other breeds. These magnificent horses were brought to America on Columbus's second voyage to the new world."
Spanish Mustangs exist in many colors, due to the wide range of colors in their Spanish ancestors. They are commonly found in bay, chestnut, black and gray. Other colors seen less commonly include the Appaloosa and paint patterns and solid colors such as grulla, buckskin, palomino, cremello, isabella, roan and perlino.
Spanish Mustangs were and still are known for their stamina and hardiness. The United States Army switched to using Spanish Mustangs while fighting Indians in the American West after discovering that their own horses were not able to match the Western-bred ponies ridden by the Indians. Lewis and Clark also noted the toughness of the Spanish Mustang, after being gifted some of the horses by the Shoshone. Frank Hopkins, a legendary horseman, was also among the proponents of the breed. Today, the breed is still known for its long-distance ability, and is ridden by many endurance riders. The Spanish Mustang is also used to compete in a variety of English and Western riding events.
- Sponenberg, D. Phillip "Spanish Mustangs and Barbs" Conquistador Magazine  Accessed June 5, 2006
- Breed Characteristics, Spanish Mustang Registry, retrieved February 9, 2011
- Spanish Mustang, International Museum of the Horse, retrieved February 9, 2011
- History of the Spanish Mustang, Spanish Mustang Registry, retrieved February 9, 2011
- Sponenberg, Dan Phillip. Equine Color Genetics, 2nd edition, Ames, Iowa : Iowa State Press, 2003.