Breed History


History of the Spanish Barb horse Queen Isabella on Horseback

Queen Isabella on Horseback

The unusual history of this breed began in North Africa, the home of the Berbers. The long occupation of Spain by the invading warrior horsemen from North Africa brought about the creation of a superior horse. The agile desert bred African Barb horse was crossed with existing Spanish stock to form the Spanish Barb horse.


Horses in the Colonies:

By the year 1492, the Spanish had regained possession of their country and began their own invasion forces, the Conquistadors. By royal edict, Spanish Barb horses were transported to the New World.  Then breeding farms were established. Upon the backs of these horses, Spain determined to widen the scope of their power and wealth.

The Spanish horse proved vital to Spain’s explorations and settlement of the Americas. Originally transported by the daring Spanish Conquistadores to the islands of the Caribbean. The Spanish Barb was then introduced into what is now the United States, Mexico, and South America.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Spanish dominated the majority of the territory of North America. Beginning in 1607, the mid to northeastern coast of America was being colonized by the English. Also at this time, Native Americans acquired Spanish Barb horses that escaped or were stolen from those brought by the Spanish out of Mexico. “At one time (about 1700) the purely Spanish horse occurred in an arc from the Carolinas to Florida, West through Tennessee and then throughout all of the western mountains and great plains”. Dr. Phil Sponenberg PhD., Equine Geneticist.

It was mainly from the American Indian tribes and from capturing strays that the English colonists acquired Spanish horses. The English were unaware that the horse of the Spaniard had been the first to set foot on the continent. They apparently considered the finely bred horses they acquired to be “native” horses.

The eventual importation of English race horses, (which at the time were line-bred Oriental/Barbs with a liberal dash of Irish blood), led to the crossing of the Spanish/Indian horses on the English imports. This union created the Colonial Short Horse, later known as the celebrated American Quarter-of-a-Mile-Running Horse. All of those deep-bodied horses carried the same pre-potent genes of the Spanish Barb.

The Spanish horses later were raised on the vast lands granted to missions and ranches.  They then populated the entire western area of North America.  Spanish horses were the broodmares for the imported English stallions of the eastern colonists. By whatever name they were called, their heritage remained Spanish Barb.

The blood of the Spanish horse can be found in the early framework of the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan, Quarter Horse, and the Plantation horse. Also the early English thoroughly-bred horse, the Lippizan, the Andalusian and Lusitano all received infusions of Barb blood. Many of the color registries in America at the present time; Palomino, Buckskin/Dun, Paint and Appaloosa can thank the horses bred by the early Spaniards in North America for the outstanding coat color inheritance of their horses.

Until the time of the American acquisition of the Spanish held western territories in 1803, the blood of the Spanish Barb flowed in the veins of more early American horses than anyone would have dreamed at the time. Those graceful, agile and fleet horses were undeniably rugged, sure-footed, willing and enduring.Spanish Soldiers

Throughout the five centuries of history that the Spanish Barb has been in North America, the valuable traits and abilities have remained intact. However, these ancient bloodlines were very nearly annihilated during the 19th century.

The Americans who pushed ever westward knew little of the history of the ancient breed from the Spaniards.  Nor did they know of the contribution made to the foundations of both American and European breeds. The “native” horses of America’s south and east, crossed on later English imports had become completely Americanized in the eyes of their owners.

The horses in western America, were considered “foreign” and without appeal. Also in its attempt to control the Native Americans, the military confiscated, sold or destroyed their horses.

Slaughter and extensive cross breeding very nearly destroyed the pure, old-time Spanish Barb by the latter part of the 19th century. Had it not been for the regard and foresight of a few western ranchers who valued and admired the traits and unmatched abilities of the pure blooded Spanish Barb horse, this historic breed would have remained only a legend in North America.

The Spanish Barb Horse Association membership persists in their efforts to preserve this breed.  The SBHA has succeeded in breathing new life into a living legacy.