Spanish Mustang Horse Origin and Characteristics

Although it is called the Spanish Mustang, the horse is a purely American breed. It is a descendant of the horses that were brought to North American during the 15th and 16th centuries, commonly referred to as the Colonial Spanish Horse. Unlike the semi-feral Mustangs that roam the deserts of the US West, the Spanish Mustang is a modern domesticated breed, even though some semi-feral herds do maintain some Colonial Spanish influences.

The horses were originally brought into Mexico during the conquest period that established Spanish colonies in the region. As colonial movement spread upward, the horse herds would eventually be brought into modern-day Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Then, over the course of the next century, the native tribes in the Southwestern US would become heavily involved with the Spanish Mustang horse. Some horses were stolen. Others were traded. The Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, and Utes would eventually introduce these horses to the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains of the United States. 

It is a breed that is highly favored because of its overall stamina and hardiness. Endurance is world-class within a Spanish Mustang, with the breed providing strong results in numerous endurance races each year. Spanish Mustangs also compete in Western and English riding events with reasonable success.

What Is the History of the Spanish Mustang?

Although the Spanish Mustang was a highly popular horse in the 18th and 19th centuries, they became nearly extinct by the 20th century. They were expensive to care for and not well-suited to the rigors of agricultural work in a desert environment. Many were turned out to the semi-feral herds and left to their own devices.

A planned conservation program for this domesticated breed was started by Glibert Jones, Ilo Belsky, and the Brislawn brothers. They would take horses from the roving Mustang herds, ranch stock, and other North American herds when a Spanish phenotype was present. Two full stallion brothers would become the foundation of the recovery effort, coming from a Ute Reservation program.

Two registries would be formed to support the Spanish Mustang, formed out of differences about which horses deserved to be accepted. Jones would form the Southwest Spanish Mustang Association in 1977, but the Brislawns and Richards would form the Spanish Mustang Registry in 1957.

A study in 2006 that looked at the DNA of Spanish Mustangs showed specific haplotypes that indicated Iberian Peninsula origins for the horses. 

Some of the herds that are managed by the US Bureau of Land Management show these haplotypes as well. Montana, Utah, and Arizona all have at least one herd of semi-feral Mustangs that could eventually become part of the Spanish Mustang Breed. 

Characteristics of the Spanish Mustang

The typical Spanish Mustang horse should be at least 13.2 hands high. Stallions may reach a total height of 15 hands. Horses that are taller than 15 hands high are usually not favored for breed registration. Smaller mares may weigh as little as 650 pounds, while stallions can easily exceed 1,000 pounds.

The height and weight of the horse should be in proportion. 

A Spanish Mustang with good conformation with have a shorter than average back, a low-set tail, and rounded hindquarters. The coupling should be strong, but the horse should also be well-balanced. The build should be smooth with a slightly “uphill” look. This look is supported by a deep girth, shoulders that are laid-back, and withers that are pronounced.

Spanish Mustangs should have a straight facial profile, but one that is slightly concave is still listed as being acceptable. The eyes of the horse should be set a little high and have a somewhat almond-shape to them. The eyes can be of any color, but large eyes or very small eyes are listed as a fault. 

Like a sporting horse, the forehead on this breed should be wide, but the chest is narrow instead of being deep. The forehead should taper down to a fine muzzle, which can have differences in size, but never be coarse or large. Nostrils should be set low and the lips should be fine and firm.

Horses with coarse, thick, or floppy lips are faulted when being evaluated for the registry. 

The neck of the horse should be heavily crested, especially on a stallion, and muscle definition should be seen throughout the body. The length of neck should be about the same as the length of the horse from the withers to the point of the hip. Dips in the neck, including ewe neck, is to be faulted. A heavy neck crest that falls to one side is also listed as a breed fault.

Ergots, if present, should be small. The hooves are hard and round and the legs should be properly set, though the hind legs are permitted to sit under just a little. The cannons are shorter than average and the bone should be rounded.

Footfalls are not a point of consideration for most horses because of the lineage variation that exists within the breed. Some Spanish Mustangs could be listed as a gaited horse, while others only perform the basics. Unless there is a lack of leg straightness or some other type of interference, even winging out or paddling are not considered faults within this breed. 

Coat colors for the Spanish Mustang come in a wide variety, just as they did with their Spanish ancestors. The 4 most common coat colors are gray, black, bay, and chestnut. Appaloosa patterns are sometimes seen with in this breed, as are certain pinto patterns. Buckskins, palominos, cremellos, and roans can be seen on occasion as well. Although rare, grulla, Isabella, and perlino coats have also been seen.

Tobian patterns are supposed to be excluded.

Behavior and Movement of the Spanish Mustang

Spanish Mustangs are the definition of a domesticated horse. They prefer being around people and have a temperament that is affectionate and curious. As a breed, they tend to be alert and vey observant. That makes them eager to learn something new, but also means they have a high level of self-preservation. Spanish Mustangs which perceive a threat will act to protect themselves, even if that threat is a person.

Any gait is listed as being acceptable by the Spanish Mustang Registry. It should be performed a way that is rhythmic and smooth. The cadence should be visually pleasing, with roundness and symmetry. Gaited Spanish Mustangs tend to have their own unique approach to their gait, particularly when it comes to pacing. Different footfalls are allowed to be present as long as the other standards are present.

Spanish Mustangs are often treated as the epitome of the classic American horse. Their spirit, personality, and willingness is what makes them such an attractive breed.