Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
The true Spanish Mustang is a direct descendant of the horses brought to the New World by the early Spaniards. Confused by many with the feral horses currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.), there is a vast difference in both appearance and ancestry. Columbus, on order from the Spanish throne, commenced bringing the first Spanish horses to the New World on his second voyage. Thereafter, each ship headed for the New World, by order of the Crown, carried breeding animals of choice Spanish stock. Breeding farms were set up in the Caribbean and subsequently in Mexico. Breeding farms such as the one operated in Sonora, Mexico by Padre Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit priest, produced stock, including horses, which were placed with each group of Christianized Indians as Kino expanded his efforts further and further north. The Apaches, never falling under the spell of the Church, ravaged and pillaged these little “visitas” taking stock at will. They also plundered deep into Mexico allegedly as far as Mexico City. Their goal – well-bred and trained Spanish horses from the Mexican estancias. Through trade of these valuable horses northward to other tribes the Apaches became one of the primary methods of spreading the Spanish horses over the west. Over the years horses escaped, were lost or stolen and many became feral, roaming all over the west. Eventually they numbered in the hundreds of thousands, closely related to the horses maintained by some of the Indian tribes, indeed, they were basically the same horses.
Considered the finest horses in the known world at the time of the Conquest of the New World, the Spanish horse left a legacy in its tough, beautiful, hardy descendants that endures to this day. On the brink of extinction in the early part of this century, their salvation can be attributed primarily to Robert I. Brislawn of Oshoto, Wyoming, who founded the Spanish Mustang Registry, Inc. in 1957.
Born in the Palouse country in 1890, he made his own way at an early age, working on ranches, mining and freighting. During his years in the West, his horses of choice were Spanish Mustangs. His respect for these Spanish descendants was enormous as they thrived on forage that could not support other breeds and never seemed to tire. He never hobbled or tied his horses in camp as he always stated that they would stay with him, much like pet dogs. He was impressed with their speed, agility and above all, their will to survive. As he roamed throughout the West, he realized the authentic Spanish Mustang was being methodically exterminated and he commenced his search for horses of essentially pure Spanish blood, desiring to preserve those few remaining. He started his preservation project in 1925. Two full brothers, Buckshot and Ute, were his first foundation stallions, sired by a buckskin stallion named Monty and out of Ute Reservation blood on the dam’s side. Monty, captured in 1927 in Utah, escaped back to the wild in 1944, taking his mares with him. He was never recaptured. For years Bob Brislawn, with the assistance of his brother Freddie, bred their few mares, unaware that others shared their dream of preserving this unique and rare breed. The work spread and in 1957 a group headed up by Bob Brislawn incorporated the Spanish Mustang Registry, Inc., the first and oldest Mustang registry in the country. A non-profit organization, this registry was formed to preserve and perpetuate the last known remnants of the true Spanish Mustangs. Twenty animals were initially registered. With well over 2,500 registrations, Brislawn’s goal is now realized. The Spanish Mustang is secure and is demonstrating to the world the attributes inherited from its Spanish progenitors as well as the traits developed through centuries of selection by the cruelest and most selective of breeders, Nature herself.
The Spanish Mustang is a medium size horse ranging from 13.2 to 15 hands with an average size of approximately 14.2 hands with proportional weight. They are smooth muscled with short backs, rounded rumps and low set tails. Coupling is smooth and the overall appearance is of a well-balanced, smoothly built horse. The girth is deep, with well-laid back shoulder and fairly pronounced withers. They posses the classic Spanish type head with a straight or concave forehead and a convex nose which is in contrast to the straight forehead and nose of most breeds. Ears are medium to short and usually notched or curved towards each other. Necks are fairly well crested in mares and geldings and heavily crested in mature stallions. Chests are narrow but deep with the front legs joining the chest in an “A” shape rather than straight across. Chestnuts are small or missing altogether, particularly on the rear legs. Feet are extremely sound with thick walls, many having what is typically known a “mule foot” which resists bruising due to the concave sole. Canons are short, upper foreleg is long, with the canon bone having a larger circumference than other breeds of comparable size and weight. Long-strided, many are gaited, with a comfortable four bear gait such as the amble, running walk or single foot. Some individuals are laterally gaited and do a very passable “paso” gait though without extreme knee action. They are hardy animals and tend to be less prone to injury, particularly of the legs and feet, than other breeds. They have a very different mentality than “domesticated” horses. They are not push button horses and will not abide abuse, however they bond well with their owners and once bonded, become very attached to that person. Highly intelligent with an innate sense of self-preservation they are not prone to put themselves into any situation which may be destructive or dangerous. Compared to “domesticated” breeds, they retain a great many of the instincts that allowed them to survive in the feral state.
Colors are extremely varied, the inheritance of the early Spanish Horses who came in many colors and patterns. Spanish Mustangs can be found in colors from appaloosa to Zebra striped dun, as well as grulla, buckskin, paint, palamino, cremello, ysabella, roan and perlino, and the more common colors of bay, chestnut, black and white. Because of the vast array of colors found in the Registry, Dr. Phil Sponenberg prominently features the breed in the book Horse Color.
Environmental conditions must certainly have had a role in the development of these horses through the generations. The feral Spanish Mustangs developed according to their environment with nature culling out those less suited to the locale. Though the Spanish Horse was not a feral animal when it arrived on our soil, once turned loose it managed not only to survive but also to thrive in the New World, which attests to the versatility and strength of the breed. Genetic imperfections, if any, were culled by the most critical judge of all- Nature. The end result is an extremely hardy and sturdy horse exhibiting the aptitude to perform in almost any equine field, and perform well. The staying power and endurance of these Spanish descendants is legendary. Frank Hopkins, the renowned endurance rider in the latter part of the last century, a rider of Spanish Mustangs, is quoted as saying “You can’t beat Mustang intelligence in the entire equine race. These animals have had to shift for themselves for generations. They had to work out their own destiny or be destroyed. Those that survived were animals of superior intelligence.”
Thousands of Spanish Mustangs were used as cow horses and hundreds as U. S. Army cavalry mounts. When fighting Indians, who were riding Spanish Mustangs themselves, the option to “fight fire with fire” was brilliant, as the American bred horses of the Cavalry were no match for these Spanish descended warponies in the inhospitable and barren mountains and plains of the West.
The modern Spanish Mustang has lost none of the traits found in those horses of yesteryear. Today’s Spanish Mustangs retain their stamina and ability to travel long distances without undue stress. They are a using horse and are versatile and well equipped to compete in varied fields.
Though eager to acquaint the public with this fine breed, the primary aim of the Spanish Mustang Registry is to assure the retention of the qualities that allowed this unique horse to survive over the centuries under adverse conditions. It is with a great deal of pride that the breeders and owners of Spanish Mustangs can honestly state that the preservation of the Spanish Mustang has been accomplished without compromising the historical value or uniqueness of the breed. The Spanish Mustangs are now as they always have been and the principal tenet of the Spanish Mustang Registry is that there will be no attempt to crossbreed or to otherwise change these historical and distinctive animals. With the trend toward conforming breeds to satisfy various show standards this unique breed is among the very few that has not lost many of its characteristics due to the whims of man.
Spanish Mustangs of Fact and Fiction
Author Marguerite Henry wrote a book entitled San Domingo The Medicine Hat Stallion. Although fiction, the book was inspired by one of the foundation stallions of the Spanish Mustang Registry, San Domingo S.M.R. #4. In 1968 Henry and her illustrator, Robert Lougheed, researched the book on the Cayuse Ranch in Oshoto Wyoming, where pure Spanish Mustangs are still bred today. That book is dedicated to Robert O’Breaslain, who is better known as “Mr. Mustang”, Bob Brislawn.
J. Frank Dobie, the famous author, wrote many books about the west, including The Mustangs, in which he talks at length about their Spanish heritage and the tenacity of these tough little horses. Lewis and Clark, upon receiving Spanish Mustangs from the Shoshoni were so impressed with them they said they owed much of the success of their expedition to those tough little horses.
Spanish mustangs have historically exhibited a legendary ability to travel great distances without injury. Frank Hopkins, a man who rode in over 400 long distance races in the latter part of the last century was a rider of Spanish Mustangs. On one ride, Hopkins traveled from Galveston, Texas to Rutland, Vermont in 31 days arriving two weeks before the next competitor. His most acclaimed race was in Arabia where he rode 3,000 miles against desert Arabian horses on a western-bred Mustang and won.
Emmett Brislawn, son of Bob Brislawn and present owner of the Cayuse Ranch, entered his then 16 year old stallion Yellow Fox (SMR 3) in the 1966 Bitterroot endurance ride. Coming out of retirement, where he had spent his days on the Cayuse Ranch with his herd of mares, this Cheyenne bred buckskin stallion won championships for Heavyweight, All Around Horse and Best out of State Horse, carrying over 200 pounds. Unusual? Not really, when one considers he had been trained in his younger years to run down wild horses. They say that when Yellow Fox ran for the finish line, the old horse threw up his head, still looking for the wild horses!
In 1989 Kim Kingsley, riding a grandson of Yellow Fox, was awarded the coveted Jim Jones Award in sanctioned AERC endurance riding for 1550 miles in one season, all in 50 or 100 mile rides. Chief Yellow Fox carried approximately 250 pounds the entire season. Chief Half Moon, another stallion owned by Kingsley, was second nationally with 1250 endurance miles.
Martha Gresham of Auburn, Alabama riding Cholla Bay, accumulated 1000 miles in AERC sanctioned endurance rides for three consecutive years.
Steve Huffman of Mississippi, riding his Brislawn bred gelding, Dutch Pete, has done extremely well in endurance. In the 100 mile 1990 Tallahala Marathon, the team of Steve and Dutch Pete tied with two Arabians with a time of 13 hours and 45 minutes, seven hours faster than the next two competitors which were also Arabians. Though conditioning is necessary for the longer rides, practically any range raised Spanish Mustang can complete a sanctioned novice ride of 25 miles in less than five hours with no undue stress. Huffman and Dutch Pete qualified and rode in the national championship endurance race series in 1991, earning seventh place nationally. Holding first place in the nation going into the third and final race, having won the first of the three required races and taking the red ribbon in the second by completing the 100 miles in a bit over ten hours, all was going well in the final race when a runaway crashed into Dutch Pete injuring his shoulder and forcing him from the race. However, regardless of the fact that only two of the three races were completed, they still placed in the top ten horse-rider teams in the nation- winning over teams that had completed all three races!
Spanish Mustangs are today as they were in antiquity: one of the finest breeds of horse found in the world.
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