Horse Breeds Indigenous to America
The Spanish Conquistadors were the first to re-introduce the horse to America. They brought the first horses to the Caribbean in the early 1500s. In 1519, the Cortez expedition brought fifteen horses to North America. Spanish homesteaders soon imported horses to Mexico and New Mexico.
Gradually the settlers and their horses make their way north through western United States, west of the Rockies, to the coast. It was inevitable that some would escape and before long ‘mustangs’ were multiplying rapidly.
Before 150 years had passed, there were millions of mustangs roaming the plains. Soon other European settlers were bringing their own horses to the States. Thoroughbreds were introduced by the British and the French. There was much cross-breeding and by the late 1800s millions of wild horses were being culled as they came into conflict with ranchers.
Unique breeds were developed in different regions of America to fill the particular needs of the area or group and the United States now boasts a number of breeds that are specifically ‘American’.
Distant ancestors of the American Saddlebred include trotting and pacing breeds from England and Europe. The Narragansett Pacer (developed on Rhode Island in the 17 C), the Canadian Pacer, the Morgan and Thoroughbred blended to produce a distinctive, quality riding horse developed to carry plantation owners of the southern states, principally Kentucky, while they supervised their vast plantations. Horses needed to be able to travel for long hours at good speeds. The gallop was not practical and other ambling and trotting gaits were developed.
Nowadays Saddlebreds are three-gaited or five-gaited. The slow gait (also called the running walk, stepping pace and slow rack) is a very old gait seen in many east Asian breeds. The feet on one side move one after the other followed by the feet on the other side. This gives a very smooth ‘running’ walk. The ‘rack’ is a much faster version with the same sequence of footfalls. Because of the high action, the rack looks really spectacular.
The Appaloosa has the Nez Perce Indians to thank for its existence. The horses taken to America in the 16th century by the Spanish Conquistadors included some spotted horses. As the horses spread through the colonies, some came into the hands of the Nez Perce. The Indians were proud of their horses and bred selectively for colour and type. When the Nez Perce were forced to surrender to the US Army after refusing to enter a reservation, their herds were scattered and decimated. In 1938 the Appaloosa Horse Club was formed in Idaho and within fifty years became the third largest breed registry. Nowadays the Appaloosa can be found in a number of countries. It is the 'Official State Horse' for the State of Idaho.
Pony of the Americas (POA)
Although the Pony of the Americas (POA) is based on Shetland and Appaloosa blood, Quarter horse and Arab have also been added to the mix. It has been specifically bred to be a small horse rather than a true pony. With its Appaloosa colouring and high action, it is popular with children, teenagers and smaller adults.
The Quarter horse was also developed in the 17th century when British and European settlers brought over their horses and ponies. Iberian and Oriental horses brought in the 15 and 16th centuries by the conquistadores were already well established in the colonies.
Ranchers needed strong, fast horses for working cattle. Thoroughbreds were crossed with local horses producing stocky, tough ‘cow ponies’ which had an explosive start and a great turn of speed. As entertainment, horses would be raced for short distances down straight stretches of road, usually ¼ of a mile hence the name ‘Quarter Horse’. It is now the most popular and most common breed in the United States with over 4 million registered horses.
‘Quarter Horse’ became the official name of the new breed in 1940 following the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA).
The Standardbred is the fastest trotting and pacing horse in the world. Trotting and pacing races are popular in many countries. The standardbred’s main purpose is to trot or pace while harnessed to an ultra light sulky although some races are for ridden horses. Those animals not fast enough for racing mostly make wonderful saddle horses as they have docile, kind temperaments. They also make good endurance mounts because of their stamina and those which show no inclination to pace can be used with great success for other pursuits. When a horse paces, both legs on the same side move forward at the same time so the horse rocks laterally from the left front and back legs to the right as opposed to trotting where the horse springs from one pair of diagonals to the other.
Trotting races began in the 17th century and as roads, horses and vehicles improved, these impromptu races on back country roads as people tried to overtake each other took on a more structured form. By the early 19th century, more attention was being paid to breeding for speed.
The Standardbred can be traced back to an English thoroughbred, Messenger, who was imported to Philadelphia in 1788. Messenger’s lineage included a Norfolk Roadster type, Blaze, who sired Old Shales, founding father of the Norfolk roadster and Hackney breeds and Sampson, an influential stallion who passed on trotting and pacing abilities to all his progeny. The Morgan also had a part to play in the development of the Standardbred.
Tennessee Walking Horse
Like other Deep South breeds, the Tennessee Walking horse was developed in the 17th century by plantation owners needing a tireless, comfortable but fast means of transport round their extensive farms. The breed is founded on Standardbred and Morgan blood with infusions of Narragansett Pacer, Saddlebred, Thoroughbred and Canadian Pacer. Although not quite as elegant as the American Saddlebred, he is more robust.
Like the Morgan, the origins of the Tennessee Walking Horse lie with one stallion, a Standardbred known as Black Allan. He was foaled in 1886 and, because of his strange walk, he was discarded as a harness horse and taken to Tennessee. Like Figure, the founder of the Morgan, Black Allan was highly prepotent passing on his type - and his walk - to his offspring. The running walk is fast and comfortable. In 2000, Tennessee appointed the Tennessee Walking Horse as its 'Official State Horse'.
Missouri Fox Trotter
The Missouri Fox Trotter was developed in the early 19th century in the Missouri and Arkansas regions with an initial gene base of Morgan, Thoroughbred and Barb. There were later infusions of Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking horse.
He is a sensible, speedy horse, comfortable to ride and with great stamina. The action is not as high as that of the Saddlebred and the Tennessee Walking horse. Its unique gait is the fox trot whereby the forelegs actively walk and the hind legs trot. The Missouri Foxtrotter is highly prized in its own area. In 2000, Missouri appointed the Missouri Fox Trotter as its 'Official State Horse'.
The American Morgan horse is one of North America’s oldest breeds. All American Morgans descend from a smallish prepotent bay stallion. Called Figure (or Justin Morgan after one of his owners), he was foaled in Massachusetts in 1789 and stood about 14.1hh. As a weanling, Figure was given to school teacher, Justin Morgan, in payment of a debt. He was leased and later sold as a workhorse. His fame regarding his strength, speed, willingness and wonderful nature soon spread and he was put over many of the mares from both near and far. His progeny were all remarkably like their sire in looks, speed and nature.
Morgans have a high, showy action and appear in the ancestry of most of America’s gaited breeds such as the American Saddlebred, the Standardbred and the Missouri Fox Trotter. The Morgan became the State animal for Vermont in 1961. In 1970, it was also appointed the State horse for Massachusetts.
The Morab horse was developed from crossing Arabians and Morgans. While crossing two magnificent breeds does not always result in another magnificent breed, in this case the Morab has inherited the best genes of both breeds. The distinctive, positive attributes of both are transmitted uniformly with the breed being highly prepotent, passing on the beauty and sensitivity of the Arab and the strength and depth of the Morgan.
There is little documentation of Morabs until 1920 when they began to make a name for themselves as ‘cow ponies’ possessing great endurance combined with an equable temperament. Today they excel at most equestrian disciplines.
American Cream Draft Horse
The American Cream Draft is the only draught breed to have been developed in the United States. Today the American Livestock Breed Conservancy lists it as endangered. Unlike the Morgan and the Tennessee Walking horse, a mare, Old Granny, is regarded as the foundation mare of the American Cream Draft. She was foaled between 1900 and 1905 and her offspring were all virtually identical to their dam. Selective mating to other draught breeds produced higher quality but the same attractive colour. By 1935 there were concerted attempts to ‘fix’ the breed by judicious line- and in-breeding.
The American Cream Draft Horse Association of America which was founded in 1944. In 1994 the Association changed its name to the American Cream Draft Horse Association.
Florida Cracker Horse
The Florida Cracker horse breed is indigenous to America or more particularly Florida. ‘Crackers’ was the name given to the very first Spanish cowboys who herded cattle in Florida with use of stockwhips. The name was passed on to the horses and the cattle of the time. The breed is also known as the Marsh Tackie (Tacky).
The Florida Cracker horse is small and relatively light. However it is tough and hardy and is used for all types of work on the ranches. There are now concerted efforts being made to save the breed from extinction. In 2008, Florida appointed the Florida Cracker Horse as its 'Official State Horse'.
American Bashkir Curly Horse
The American Bashkir Curly horse is also known as the Bashkir Curly, American Curly, and North American Curly. All carry a gene for curly hair. All sizes, colours and types are represented but the common factor is the curly coat.
The ‘curl’ is more obvious in the winter coat. Some animals exhibit ‘minimal’ clur with curly hair inside the ears, on the fetlocks and a kinked mane and tail. ‘Maximal’ curl animals have all over curls. The mane is a mass of dreadlocks, the eyelashes and guard hairs are also curly. Animals classified as ‘extreme’ have very tight curling. When they shed their winter coat they can also become completely bald. If they have a summer coat or part-coat, it will show slight waving.
There is still much debate about the origins of the Curly horses. This accounts for the three breed registries which exist for them. Most Curlies stand between 14 and 16 hands but two of the registries allow anything from miniatures to draught horses.
It was first documented in Eureka, Nevada by John Damele who had seen an odd one running with mustangs on his ranch. In 1932, following a very harsh winter, curlies were the only horses to have survived. Twenty years later, another harsh winter convinced the Dameles to breed some curlies for the own herd. As well as their foundation stallion, they added Morgan and Arab blood.
Today Curlies are used in almost all equestrian disciplines, especially by those who are affected by ‘normal’ horse hair.
While some of these uniquely American breeds are not well known beyond their own areas, others have spread far and wide across the globe.