The Florida Cracker horse goes by several different names. It is referred to as the Seminole Pony, the Florida Cow Pony, the Prairie Pony, and the Chickasaw Pony, depending on the local traditions of naming and ownership. Although the names may be different, the breed has the same origin and characteristics.
There are some specific people that are responsible for the continued survival of this breed, keeping distinct bloodlines alive while the popularity of the breed declined in Florida and the southern United States. People like John Law Ayers, who would donate his entire herd of purebred Florida Crackers to the state, helped to create three herds that are kept on the Paynes Prairie State Preserve.
Although the herds were permitted to remain in a semi-feral state, their numbers continued to dwindle until only about 100 remained. Since then, a registry has formed and preservation activities have been ongoing for more than a generation through private efforts. The State of Florida still maintains two groups of horses for breeding purposes on the preserve.
The state sells horses that fall outside of its budgetary numbers to private investors, breeders, and homes to maintain the donated herds.
What is the Origin of the Florida Cracker Horse?
In the 16th century, the Spanish sailed to Florida and brought many of their horses with them. Although exploration was the goal of these expeditions, the Spanish often used their horses in Florida for herding livestock. This was especially true for the horses that were designated to be colonial horses.
Because of the untamed terrain, the horses in that era needed to be fast, sure-footed, and have a gait that would work with the unique landscapes. As the settlement processed progressed, the characteristics of the Florida Cracker horse, often referred to as just “Crackers,” began to develop.
As with most breeds that have Spanish ancestry in their foundation stock, Florida Crackers tend to be a mix of Peruvian Paso, Criollo, and Paso Fino. This breed is closely related to other Spanish ancestry breeds in the US, such as the Banker and the Carolina Marsh Tacky.
Up until the 1930s, this horse breed was still extensively used by farmers and ranchers that were based in Florida.
When the Dust Bowl hit the US Midwest, the larger livestock began to be migrated into Florida. This event required horses that were larger than the Florida Cracker horse to maintain order, so ranchers and farmers began to phase out the breed in favor of the American Quarter Horse. This caused population numbers to begin rapidly dwindling until the breed became threatened with extinction.
The state government, along with several private families, have banded together to protect and preserve the breed, but its population levels are still at a critical point. The Florida Cracker Horse Association was founded in 1989 to protect the remnants of this breed and 31 horses were initially registered and typed for foundation stock.
One issue that exists for the continued survival of the Florida Cracker is that one of its foundation horses, the Chickasaw, is considered extinct. Although some call the Florida Cracker by the Chickasaw name, it is a separate breed that was raised apart of other herds by the local tribe.
About 900 horses are now registered and the breed is slowly, but surely recovering.
What Are the Expected Characteristics of the Florida Cracker Horse?
Although some may refer to this breed as a pony, the Florida Cracker horse has maintained many of the characteristics of its Spanish ancestry. Stallions can reach 15 hands high, while most horses will be at least 13.2 hands high. They can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and are thought to be a small saddle horse.
Florida Crackers tend to be black, gray, or bay, but other coat colors are possible. Chestnut, dun, and grullo have been seen within the breed. Roan and pinto horses are rare, but possible as well.
Eye colors tend to be dark with a sclera that is blue, gray, or white. They have a neck that is defined well, somewhat narrow, and without an excessive crest. The distance from the withers to the croup is about the same length as the neck.
The Florida Cracker has a chest that is somewhat narrow, average in size, and should form an inverted V-shape between the front legs. The point of the croup and the point of the withers should be equal in height, with the under line being longer than the top line.
The tail on this breed is set somewhat low.
This breed should have a slightly concave profile, but straight is preferred. Their primary characteristic is their strong back and sloping croup so the horse can work with its handler all day long. Their speed and agility is excellent and they do well in rugged environments thanks to their sure-footedness. This makes them quite popular for recreational riding, especially on difficult trails.
The Florida Cracker is also a gaited horse, with an amble and a running walk officially recognized by the breed association. That is in addition to the trot, canter, and gallop. The ambling gait is often referred to as the “coon rack.”
Because these horses can look like other breeds, many who are familiar with Florida Crackers say that the best way to determine the breed is to ride the horse. Because their gaits are so unique to the area, it is possible to distinguish this breed from others right away.
The Florida Cracker, as a breed, tends to be a willing worker. They are spirited, but loyal and trainable. Outside of their working responsibilities, this breed has found success in pulling wagons, team roping events, and penning.
Stories of the Florida Cracker horse have filtered down through the centuries to tell the tale of a hard-working horse that helped to establish thriving colonies, working farms, and began the process of taming the wild of the local landscape. Thanks to the preservation efforts of a few and the state government, the next chapter in their story is just waiting to be told.