Nokota story – 3

This is the third part of the story. Now it’s time to find out more about the Spanish colonial horse, because it is probably the most important type of horse in the origin of the Traditional Nokota horse.

About two hundred years after the arrival of the first horses the Spanish Colonial horse roamed in millions all over the American continent. The new American immigrants preferred larger saddle horses, mainly Thoroughbred crosses like the Quarter horse. So as the colonization of the west pushed westward, the wild herds of Spanish Colonial horses moved on. Eventually they became sort of a problem for ranching and farming so wild horses were hunted, so was the bison. Their association to American Indians was also a sad but significant reason for dislike of the wild horses.

Spanish Colonial horses survived in isolated wild herds in the western territories hiding from persecution and slaughter until relatively recently. In December 1973 the new law, “Wild free-roaming horse and Burro act”, stopped the slaughter, at least in theory. Authorities like BLM and NPS that were set to protect the wild horses tried to change the appearance of the horses to a more modern size and popular conformation by “removing” stallions and replacing them with Thoroughbred and draft horses. Luckily this wasn’t absolutely successful because those Spanish Colonial stallions that remained free could easily out conquer the tender footed stable fed domestic horses. Eventually only small pockets of wild horses of Spanish Colonial type remained in remote areas in the western territories.

Spanish Colonial horse of today and its origin

The Spanish Colonial horse is not the same thing as the Spanish Mustang which is a common misunderstanding, though some mustang horses are of Spanish Colonial type. Mustang (or Mustengo) means wild horse (or beast), nothing more specific. A Spanish Colonial horse is the very horse that was brought to America by the Conquistadors from Spain. The breed is fundamentally different from all other breeds in the world and there are several different registries that include the Spanish Colonial horse types with different focus and goals. The Spanish Colonial type was originally more variable than it is today so even horses that are not registered can be of purely Spanish Colonial type. Confusing isn’t it?

What about genetics then, we are living in the age of genetic science, can’t every gene be traced exactly to where it came from. Well, all breeds and herds have something in common and that is that they are not uniform, the differences between individuals can be bigger than those between breeds. DNA analysis can offer a good hint, but nothing that resembles a proof of origin. What you can do is to compare different markers or DNA sequences, if you know what to look for. Genetic typing is an important factor to consider, but that is also historical facts and conformation analysis. If it is so hard to determine whether a horse is of Spanish colonial type, then maybe it is no separate breed?

It sure is a separate breed, but the origin comes from different Spanish horses and the isolation of different herds for many decades, or even centuries, on the vast American continent has maintained the variation within each herd. On top of that, single horses from the outside may have joined the herds in different degrees. So there is some variation between individuals, but there are common markers and peculiarities that reveal if a horse is of Spanish Colonial type.

 Wild horses of Spanish Colonial type exists today

Here I would like to mention a few herds of wild horses that primarily have horses of Spanish Colonial type. Most wild herds that exist today are more or less crossbred with other horses than Spanish Colonial types.

The Pryor Mountain mustangs live in the highlands of Wyoming and Montana, in traditional Crow and Shoshone land; they are typical Spanish Colonial horses. They are managed by BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which organizes an adoption program for mustangs in the herds that are controlled by the BLM.

The wild horses in Cerebat Mountains Arizona has been known since 1862 and are of very pure Colonial type, often roan, bay or chestnut, these are also managed by the BLM.

The Kiger mustangs from Oregon are different and generally not the most typical Spanish Colonial type.

A herd of typical horses called The Sulphur herd can be found in Southwest Utah, in the Canyonlands National Park, along the Old Spanish Trail trade route.

American Indian tribes or nations also have Spanish Colonial horses in their care, but very few horses remain today. In the Ute reservation in Book Cliffs, North eastern Utah there is a herd managed by the Ute Tribe Fish and Wildlife Department. Horses from the Havasupai tribe in Grand Canyon descends from one or two mares and are known to be small, only 12-13 hands high.

Last, but definitely not the least we have the Nokota horses, that descends from the herds confiscated from Sitting Bull after his surrender in 1881. The horses were then raised by various ranchers and some escaped to form wild herds. Some of the horses that lived in the more remote areas of the Little Missouri Badlands were of relatively pure Spanish Colonial type. The Traditional Nokotas have been evaluated by bloodtyping and the results shows that the Spanish Colonial type is unquestionably still present among the Nokota horses raised by Leo and Frank Kuntz and protected by The Nokota Horse Conservancy. No traditional type of horses remains inside the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, though.

I will return to the Nokota horse in the next part of this story. Now you may wonder after all this writing about the Spanish Colonial horse; what does it look like?

Spanish coat colors

The wide color variation among the Colonial Spanish horse is indeed fascinating.

There are the solid colors like black, brown, palomino, chestnut, bay, grullo, sorrel, zebra dun, red dun, buckskin, champagne silver dapple, and cream.

Black and colors derived from black are quite common, which is generally unusual among Arabians and Thoroughbreds. Roan is common in some herds, which is a base color, combined with white hairs. Linebacked duns (zebra, red and grullo) are also common.

Typical is also gray, paint (overo, tobiano, sabino), pure white, and leopard blankets and dark spots (Appaloosa pattern).  Frame overo is a special coat feature limited to North American Colonial Spanish horses and their offspring.

The tobiano pattern is probably not a Spanish colonial coat feature, though some claim it did exist in America before General Tobias arrived in Buenos Aires with his Tobianos. The Tobiano pattern characteristics is that the feet and legs are white, the head has some white features, and most important the white spots cross the topline somewhere between the ears and tail.

Conformation of the Spanish Colonial horse

The Spanish Colonial horse type is usually around 140cm (14 hands) high, some rare individuals can be up to 155 cm (15,5 hands). They usually weigh between 320-360 kg (700-800 pounds). The forehead is straight or concave (arab style) and the nose is straight or convex (barb style). The head can vary between long gracefully made (arab style) to deep and short (barb style).

In a front view the head is wide but the facial parts are narrow and fine. The muzzle is very fine with the upper lip slightly longer than the lower, the nostrils are small and often semi-circular shaped.

The chest is narrow but deep, which means large lung capacity and good cooling ability, very important for durability and endurance. The depth of the chest from a side view is corresponding to half the height from the withers to the ground. The musculature is overall long and slender and not as bulky as in Quarter horses and draft horses.

The front legs are attached to the body fairly close to form an A, which is in fact proven an extremely strong and functional conformation, contrary to other modern breeds like American Quarter horses with wide chests and legs attached wide apart like an H or a table.

From behind there is no dipping at the backbone, the musculature of the hip narrows up so the backbone forms the highest point. The withers are sharp. The shoulder is well angulated and long. The hindquarters vary from heavily muscled to more slender. The croup is sloped with a characteristic low set tail. From the side there is a break in the slope at the base of the tail, unlike the Quarter horses more softly curved hindquarters.

The legs have a sound conformation, with generous angles in the joints and well set correlation of the lengths of different bones. The cannon bones tend to be almost round in cross section.  Hooves are small and somewhat upright. The Spanish Colonial horse have a long stride and sometimes additive gaits like Indian shuffle (running walk), amble, pace and paso.

The short strong backbone of the Spanish Colonial horse usually has five and a half lumbar vertebrae (or five and a bit), which is inherited from the Arabian horse that has five and the Barb that has six. But there are a few exceptions both within the Spanish Colonial horses and within other breeds and there are different opinions among the experts.

In the next part of this story we will tell the story of how the meeting between the American Indian and the Spanish Colonial horse changed the path of history forever.

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