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Horse Breeds
First Posted: July 27, 2010
Sep 26, 2010

Santa Cruz Horse Breed/Many are Gaited

Image at Sunshine Sanctuary

Countries of Origin: Iberian peninsula of Spain, United States

My dearest friend, Eileen, saved an article entitled: "Santa Cruz Horse," published in the Hobby Farm Home Magazine, September/October 2010 Issue for me to use as reference material for HorseHints. This article is copyrighted so I have researched and rewritten the article below from the different sources, all cited with links.

Have you ever heard of the Santa Cruz Horse? It is a rare breed of horse that originated from the Colonial Spanish Horse also known as the Spanish Mustang. The Colonial Spanish horse is a group of closely related breeds that descend from horses brought by Spanish explorers and colonists to the Americas beginning in the 1500s. "Both domestic and feral 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 horse breeds, and draft horses. Ubiquitous in 1750 and 1850, the pure Spanish horse in North America was almost extinct by 1950...A few herds of pure Spanish horses remained in the Southeast and the Southwest" (American Livestock Breeds Conservancy) Some of these horses eventually inhabited Santa Cruz Island. Before the industrial revolution horses were the main utility for farming, driving, riding and were necessary to everyday life. In the 1900s, as time moved on and daily life changed, the horses were valued as stunt animals in silent western films. The American Film Manufacturing Company, also known as Flying "A" Studios, was founded in Chicago in fall 1910. In 1915, the formal name was changed to the American Film Company. The enterprise was originally financed by Samuel Hutchinson, John Freuler, Charles Hite and Harry Aitken, four mid-western businessmen who joined forces and capital to create the American Film Manufacturing company. Flying A movie or the American Film Manufacturing Company made many of these films.

This breed of horse lived off of the coast of central California on Santa Cruz Island for over 100 years. The Santa Cruz horses are considered feral. Because of environmental concerns to the island as well as the desire to preserve and manage the Santa Cruz breed, the herd was moved to the Sunshine Sanctuary. Although this happened it was not without heated outcry, protest and debate. There were voices on both sides of this issue. The herd was named the Heavenly Heritage Herd. Christina Nooner, head of the sanctuary, had genetic analysis done to determine the origin of the animals. Dr. E.Gus Cothran, Director of the Equine Blood Typing Research Laboratory at the University of Kentuck, internationally acclaimed geneticist, did DNA testing and determined that the origins of these magnificent animals is the Iberian peninsula of Spain. It was thought these animals were extinct.

Unique Characteristics

Unlike most horses this breed breeds all year long. Apparently they have 100% live births. These horses also have been described as having "the perfect feet." Their leg bones are short and thick, their hooves are extremely strong, they have more bone marrow than other breeds, a strong, short coupling, full bodied, narrow from the front, however, their chest is strong and has been described as an "A" frame chest instead of the usual "U" shape of most other horse breeds. They tend to be smaller standing 13.2 to 15 hh and weigh between 700-900 pounds. The croup is sloping and the tail is low set. The face tends to be long, the profile straight or convex, and the foreheads broad. They have a kind eye. Their stride is unusually long. Their colors are varied: solid colors include black, grullo, bay, dun, buckskin, chestnut, red dun, palomino and cream. Gray and roan are common. There is every sort of spotted horse and the Appaloosa colors including blankets, leopards and varnish roans are common. They have excellent temperaments, are intelligent, quick learners, have excellent endurance, are sure-footed, do well in rugged terrain, are easy keepers, and many are gaited.

In order to continue this line, a breeding program has been established. Drs. E. Gus Cothran, Director of the Equine Blood Typing Research Laboratory at the University of Kentucky and D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, Professor Pathology/Genetics, Department of Biomedical Sciences & Pathobiology, Virginia Tech, set out the parameters for a conservation breeding program. Because of a unique strain of the Colonial Spanish Breed, identified by the DNA testing, the Santa Cruz horses can be registered with the Horses of America.

For More Information:

Feral or Modern Horse - What is the difference?
Wild or Feral Horse -What is the difference?

Horse Breeds