Abaco Barb Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Abaco Barb Horse can trace its lineage to Spanish horses that were being bred during the late 15th century. It is a breed that is technically extinct today, though there are tissues being preserved so that cloning technologies may be able to revive it in the future. 

When this breed was surviving, the entire population lived together as a small herd within a conservation area in the Bahamas on Great Abaco Island.

The horses came from Spain to the Bahamas because of the exploration efforts that occurred during the European Colonial Era. The early explorers would bring their horses with them on the ships that crossed the Atlantic. For the Abaco Barb Horse, it is believed that some of the horses made their way to the island because of shipwrecks and pirating activities that happened in the region.

Since 2002, the Abaco Barb Horse has been recognized as its own breed by the Horse of America’s Registry. DNA testing that was performed at the turn of the 21st century showed that the lineage to Spanish Barb horses was accurate.

One of the most unique characteristics of this horse is that they only have 5 lumbar vertebrae. They also have differences to other Barbs within the first bone in their necks that is next to the skull of the horse.

History of the Abaco Barb Horse

The wild population of the Abaco Barb Horse was estimated to be over 200 in previous centuries. As development of Great Abaco Island began, the population of the breed began to decline. New roads brought challenges to this breed, including dogs coming to chase the horses instead of boars and other animals being hunted.

Wild dogs would kill the foals that were born. Hunters would mistakenly kill horses when their dogs indicated the presence of an animal. By the middle of the 20th century, only 3 horses from this breed remained. At that time, a farm in Treasure Cay intervened and gave the surviving horses refuge from their circumstances.

A forest sanctuary was also provided to the herd of nearly 4,000 acres. It was surrounded by five miles of electrified fencing and powered by a solar array. 

By 1992, the herd had managed to increase from 3 to 35 horses. A hurricane blew through the islands and drove the horses out of their preserve. Trying to live amongst the citrus plantations proved to be difficult, as the combination of chemical exposure and pasture lands that had poisonous plants to the horses caused many difficulties.

None of the mares were able to foal after 1999. Two attempts in 1998 resulted in failure. 

From that point on, the breed quickly diminished. In 2010, there were only 6 horses remaining in the herd. Three years later, only a single mare named Nunki remained inside the nature preserve that was setup to protect the breed remained. She passed away in 2015. 

What Stands Out About the Abaco Barb Horse?

Abaco Barb Horses share many traits with Spanish horses, which is why their ancestry is believed to have originated during the Colonia Era. This rare breed has tails that are set low, faces that are convex and strikingly thick, with a long tail and mane. The forehead tends to taper toward ears that are very alert and pointed.

Coat colors can vary, but are generally either bay or brown. Pinto characteristics are common with this breed as well.

The breed is somewhat stocky, with shoulders that are flat, but upright. Their feet are durable, supporting legs that are hard and slender. The hind quarters of this breed tend to be rounded. Although it is a tough and strong horse, they are somewhat small, often standing below 14 hands.

Historically, the horses of this breed weigh between 800-1,000 pounds.

What stands out about the Abaco Barb Horse, however, is the splashed white pattern that is common with the coat. The white coloring can be in the mane and tail as well, creating a unique look that is rare in the equine world.

The Personality of the Abaco Barb Horse

Barb horses are known for being very tough and resilient. The breed comes out of the heat of the Mediterranean region and the deserts of Northern Africa. This has created a breed that has an exceptional stamina and remarkable power. The Abaco Barb Horses share these characteristics with their distant cousins.

The Abaco offshoot also shares the fiery temperament that Barb horses typically possess. They work well as a light riding horse, but must be handled by someone with expertise. Beginners will struggle to get a grasp of what the horse needs and this could lead to dangerous situations. 

This made the breed useful for the agricultural work that takes place within the Bahamas. They were used for moving logs, maintaining plantations, and other generalized work during the Colonial Era. For the modern era, the horses were generally allowed to roam free.

When the horses are cared for, they tend to be easy keepers. Their fiery personality serves them well when they are living out in the wild or when taking them out for a ride, but the horses are generally friendly. Some do have the tendency to wander, but keep to a fairly stable routine that is predictable despite that trait. 

When Are the Abaco Barb Horses Coming Back?

The Bahamian Government has authorized a plan that will help to restore this unique breed of horse.

There is also hope that a single stallion remains on Great Abaco Island. Named Capella, this horse was used as the model that was created to inform the world about this unique breed of horse. His body has never been recovered, but he has not been seen in several years either. It is possible that he is still wandering the nature preserve.

When the cloning project is finalized, the best hope for survival of the breed is to pair Capella with the cloned horse from Nunki’s tissues.

There is also hope in the Cuban horses that are also believed to have come from Spanish descent. The horses of Cuba don not similar appearance to those that were in the Bahamas and DNA testing has never been officially completed on the Cuban breed. If the origins are similar, however, there is the possibility that a new lineage could be created in conjunction with the cloning efforts.

The hope is that one day, the Abaco Barb Horse will continue to tell its story to the rest of the equine world. Until that day comes, more information about this beautiful breed of horse and the 30+ years of preservation efforts undertaken to preserve the breed can be found at www.arkwild.org.