The Spanish Mustang evolved from the Spanish Colonial Horses that were established in the New World by the Spanish conquistadors. Columbus began transporting Spanish horses from the Iberian Peninsula to North America on his second journey in 1493, and breeding farms were set up for these equines in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Bands of Apaches plundered deep into Mexico seeking these well-bred and well-trained Spanish horses housed on the Mexican ‘estancias’ (ranches). They traded these valuable horses to other tribes to the north and west; over the decades many horses were subsequently stolen, lost or escaped, becoming feral. At one point there were hundreds of thousands of them roaming wild, but by the early 1900s their numbers had fallen dramatically.
A number of concerned ranchers and breeders set up a conservation program to locate and save the descendants of these Spanish horses. Horses from feral herds of Mustangs, Native American bands and remote ranches throughout the west were painstakingly inspected and selected based on a phenotype (observable characteristics or traits) that suggested Spanish ancestry. The Spanish Mustang Registry was formed in 1957 and now has a DNA registry of registered Spanish Mustangs to provide validation of offspring or parentage and as a form of identification. Other supporters of the breed argue that while DNA typing is a valuable tool, a conservation program should not be based heavily on blood types or Iberian ‘markers’ (which many other breeds possess) without also considering conformational type and historical data.
Spanish Mustang horses typically stand between 13-15 hh, and can be found in a variety of colours including black, bay, brown, chestnut, sorrel, grullo, zebra dun, red dun, buckskin, palomino, and cream, and occasionally appaloosa and pinto. Many members of this breed are gaited and capable of performing the running walk, single foot, amble, pace, and the paso gaits of the Peruvian Paso and Paso Fino.
Spanish Mustangs have attractive heads with straight-to-convex profiles, fine muzzles, small- to medium-sized ears, and dark, gray, green, blue, or amber eyes, with white sclera being acceptable. Other conformational features include distinct withers, long, well-angulated shoulders, a narrow but deep chest, short back, quarters that can range from slender to heavily muscled, and a low-set tail. Hooves are small and upright, while the chestnuts on the legs (especially the rear) and ergots are small or nonexistant.
Because of their even temperaments, gentle dispositions and athleticism, the Spanish Mustang can be used in many English and western disciplines, as well as for trail and endurance riding or just as an all-round family pleasure mount.