STRAINS REPRESENTED IN THE
SPANISH BARB HORSE REGISTRY
Strains of Spanish Barb Horse groups come from a particular source. These sources are usually an individual breeder or an isolated geographic area. Horses from BLM mustang herds rarely qualify for the SBHA Registry, as they are mostly a mixed genetic pool, containing modern breeds.
Fortunately a few registries were established to help preserve and document Colonial Spanish horses descended from remnants of the historic Iberian saddle horse. Thanks to a few farsighted individuals, Native American tribes, and geographic isolation, horses of genetically strong Spanish type have been preserved. The various strains representing Colonial Spanish Horses has never achieved the numbers to be considered secure.
The original horses in the Spanish Barb Breeders Association, (now Spanish Barb Horse Association), come from several populations of known Spanish horses. Foundation animals came from the McKinley-Romero Ranch in central New Mexico. These horses had been running wild on open range since the 1850s. In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act required previously open range to be fenced, and a number of these horses became trapped within the new fences, where their progeny remain to this day.
Some foundation animals came from the rancher, ILo Belsky, located in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Ilo believed there was no greater cow horse than the Spanish Barb and systematically line-bred horses of conformation and type that he thought fit what he called “the old-time Spanish cow horse”.
Other foundation horses came from the breeding program of renowned Spanish Mustang breeders, Robert Brislawn of Wyoming, and his brother Ferdinand Brislawn, of Utah. They gathered horses from feral mustang herds, Native American herds and ranch stock from throughout the west, chosen because they were aware of the Spanish phenotype of the horse, in other words, the physical characteristics that indicated Spanish ancestry. In 1957 these brothers formed the first registry for Spanish blooded horses in the United States, the Spanish Mustang Registry.
The last group of foundation horses to be included are the Wilbur-Cruce Spanish Barbs. This was a population of over 100 head discovered in 1990 that had been isolated in Southern Arizona on the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch since 1877. Find out more.
Additionally, the SBHA, has registered qualifying horses from the Sulphur Springs area of Utah, the Baca-Chica strain from New Mexico and horses produced from the Brislawn breeding programs.
The Wilbur-Cruce Horses were discovered on a ranch in Southern Arizona in 1990, where they had been living for over 113 years. Their origin goes back to the late 1670S, to Mexico at Rancho Dolores, where Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit priest, established his headquarters. Kino was responsible for bringing the first livestock to this area and spreading them northward as he built his mission churches.
They came to the Wilbur Ranch, Arizona Territory, about 1877, in the form of a breeding group called a Manada, of 25 mares and a stallion. It is there they were preserved over three generations, many times on the brink of disaster, but always snatched back to be saved one more time.
THE BACA HORSE STRAIN
The Baca strain gets its name from the family of Joty Baca of Belen, New Mexico. Since the 1950s the family bred Spanish horses at their Baca Chica Farm which sits on a portion of the historic Camino Real. Joty, a Korean war veteran, benefited from the healing nature of horses when he returned from duty. He knew the horses of his childhood were being systematically slaughtered and he then began to established a herd of his own. The horses came from the mountains near Tijeras, New Mexico, and from other ranchers and Native Americans in the area. Joty recognized the importance of keeping these blood lines pure, and bred for their temperament, conformation, smaller stature and endurance. In 2005, The State of New Mexico recognized Joty and his wife, Virginia, for their persistence, dedication and great sacrifice for the preservation and recognition of the Colonial Spanish Horse. Joty Baca passed away in 2013.
Shortly before his passing, the herd was separated and dispersed from Baca Chica Farm. A foundation stallion and four mares were transported to The Center for America’s First Horse, in Johnson, Vermont, owned by Stephanie Hayes. Because of her long term
relationship with the Baca family, Stephanie had previously established a herd. Linda Zimmerman at Sandhill Center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, provided a home to the aged broodmares and foals at their sides. Three years later, through the generosity and support of other individual Baca horse owners, a new breeding herd was assembled and transported to Carol Powell’s Blue Oaks Center in Smartsville, California, to reestablish preservation efforts. Thirteen foals have been born into the new breeding program. Currently there are only three proven stallions and eight mares of breeding age, making it one of the smallest gene pools of the breed. There has been extensive DNA testing of the Baca horses done at the University level in collaboration with Dr. Jim Murray at University California at Davis, Dr. Gus Cothran at Texas A&M, and Dr. Phillip Sponenberg at Virginia Tech. They have been included in numerous studies of Spanish horses in North America and have been recognized internationally for their genetic link back to their origins, the North African Barb horse.
The Baca horse is a unique, elegant looking horse with light, airy movement, displaying a great deal of suspension in their gaits. They have average knee action and it is the notable freedom of their shoulder and well angled hip that give them the natural ability to collect and extend their gaits with ease. They tend to have longer legs than other strains, but with ample bone size. They are not a thick, muscular horse, but one with smooth muscles with lightness to them. Their faces show strong Iberian profiles, but are not large boned heads, most often they have almond shaped eyes. Their foreheads tend to be wider, with smaller ears.
The standard height is 13.2-14.3 hands with weight between 650-850 lbs. There have been a few individual horses that have exceeded 14.3 hands. Since the inception of the current breeding program, the offspring are showing the potential for developing into a slightly larger horse of 14.3-15 hands, yet still keeping the desired type. Reaching their genetic potential may be due to proper nutrition and management practices of the new generation of mares and foals.
The range of colors most seen in the Baca horses are chestnut, red roan, grey, black and bay. Varnish roan and appaloosa are present, but many of those lines have been lost over the years. Rabicano (a sprinkling of white hairs varying from slight to more extensive), does occasionally present itself within the strain. It has not been recorded that are any dun or pinto colored horses of 100% Baca strain horses.
Aside from the conformation characteristics that are unique to the Baca horses they have a kind and gentle disposition by nature that is unparalleled. Always curious, friendly and interested, the Baca horses are easily trained once you have gained their trust. They thrive on human interaction and bond quickly to their person. Their willingness to learn and engage with people make them exceptional partners in the field of equine assisted learning. They have proven themselves in children’s programs at the three Centers that are preserving this line. The Baca horses excel in many disciples including ranch work, endurance, dressage, jumping, working equitation and barrel racing. Their versatility and willingness make them an exceptional riding horse for many disciplines.
Although the Baca Chica horses were not widely known in the Colonial Spanish horse community until the early 2000’s, when Dr. Phillip Sponenberg made his initial inspection of the herd, they have gained attention of other Spanish Barb breeders and enthusiasts over the years. The Baca strain was officially recognized and listed as threatened in 2017 by the Livestock Breed Conservancy. In 2020, the first Baca horses were accepted into the Spanish Barb Horse Association (SBHA) registry, with other herd mates pending registration. They are also registered with the Horse of the America’s Registry (HOA).
For more information about the Baca Spanish Barbs please contact Stephanie Hayes at www.centerforamericasfirsthorse.org
Submitted by Stephanie Hayes
Photos copyrighted by Stephanie Hayes