Spanish Mustangs: America's First Horse (Happy Birthday, Houdini!)

In honor of Houdini’s 22nd (!) birthday today, I thought I’d share a bit of info about his breeding with you!

Most people who know us know that Houdini is a Mustang. Actually, he is a Spanish Mustang (also known as Spanish Colonial Horses). There are a lot of differences between Spanish Mustangs and BLM Mustangs, from their history as a breed to herd management. I have a big affinity for BLM Mustangs as well as Spanish Mustangs, I have worked with both and I think they are both phenomenal breeds. I’ll talk a bit about the differences between the two breeds, but I really just want to highlight the Spanish Mustang and what makes the breed so special.

In the most basic terms, the main difference between the histories of the Spanish Mustangs and the BLM Mustangs, is that while they are both wild horses of mixed breeding, Spanish Mustangs are a breed developed from a specific conservation plan, intended to preserve the descendants of Spanish horses brought from the Iberian peninsula in the 16th and 17th centuries. Both breeds are very similar, as they both descend from these Spanish horses, but BLM Mustangs essentially have had less management in regards to the other breeds introduced into the herds. Throughout history, Native Americans used wild horses and frequently bred them with larger breeds to create a different type of horse, more of a workhorse. Spanish Mustangs have been developed over the century from carefully selected wild horses who retain the most of their Iberian ancestors’ traits.

Spanish Mustangs are used in all disciplines, from dressage, show jumping and eventing to endurance and agility and have ended up competing all over the world. The concept for the conservation efforts that were concentrated on Spanish Mustangs was developed in the early 1900’s by the Brislawn family. They went about gathering horses from around the country who displayed the most characteristics indicating that they were of Spanish descent. There were no tests to be performed on these horses at the time, but apparently their methods were pretty successful because a study from about 10 years ago found that Spanish Mustangs registered with the breed actually did have DNA tracing their origins to the Iberian peninsula.

Spanish Mustangs come in a huge variety of colors, similar to BLM Mustangs, including appaloosa, paint and roan patterns. They tend to be smaller in stature than BLM Mustangs, largely due to the absence of the other breeds which were introduced to make more efficient workhorses. Their average height is 13.2 to 15 hands, with a very uphill build and natural collection. They tend to have a fairly short neck and back, well-boned legs and deep hooves with thick walls. Even despite their small stature, their sturdiness and conformation allow them to carry more weight than some other horses of similar stature. Many of them also have a classic Roman nose, or a face with a convex profile, which is further evidence of their Iberian or Baroque ancestry. They are also noted for their love of being around people, their quick and observant nature (both of which describe Houdini) and their eagerness to please (which does not always describe Houdini).

As Houdini comes from a managed herd, horses are adoptable when they are captured during roundups. I am always looking for more details, but what I know of his history is that he was purchased by a vet, Dr. Mathey, but I’m not sure exactly what age he was at this time. Dr. Mathey started him under saddle and from what I was told, he essentially used him only to make the rounds of his ranch to check on and feed his cattle. At some point he recognized that Houdini would be suited for a career aside from being a ranch horse and he sent him to my trainer, Diane. She began working with him over fences and I believe he was ‘unofficially’ up for sale. I rode him in lessons for a bit and we discussed the possibility of leasing him. Unbeknownst to me, my parents decided to purchase him (somehow it seemed like a good idea to get a 6 year old Mustang for their 10 year old daughter, thanks Mom and Dad:)!) and the rest is history! If you haven’t already, you can read more about my history with Houdini and our whole journey together in an earlier post.

I could probably keep going for several more pages so I’ll stop myself here, but if you weren’t familiar with Spanish Mustangs before today, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about them! I’d love to know if any of you have experience with Spanish Mustangs and I’d be happy to answer any questions I can about the breed. After 16 birthdays celebrated with Houdini, I’m so glad I have a platform to share some of his unique heritage this year. I can't believe he is already 22! We'll be going out for a little birthday ride later today and (surprise!) we'll be going to an event next month. He still has plenty left in the tank for an old guy! ;)