History of Our Breed
The book titled “The Old Spanish Trail” by Leroy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen states that, “Loss of tame animals by theft was always a matter of concern. Soon the more irresponsible traders and certain adventurers found it easier to obtain livestock by raid than by trade. By 1832 raids on the herds of missions and ranches had become so frequent and devastating that Californians were alarmed.” There were many illegal raids, but the most notable and most famous of all of these raids was done by Ute Indian Chief Wakara and Thomas “Peg Leg” Smith in 1840. During this raid it is said that they stole about 3,000 pure Spanish horses from the California missions and that the Spaniards were able to retrieve about 1500 of them back. With such a large amount of horses, it isn’t surprising that some escaped into the Utah mountains and founded our Spanish herd up in the Mountain Home Range in South West Utah. These raids by Chief Wakara on the Spanish California horses continued until Wakara’s death in 1855.
The most significant part of this history is the path that the Old Spanish Trail comes very close to the Needles Mountain Range in southwest Utah. Here is where we find a very unique herd of wild Spanish horses that are now known as the California Vaquero Horse (Spanish type Sulphur). These horses were found on the Mountain Home Range that has been encompassed onto the Sulphur Springs Herd Management Area by the Bureau of Land Management. Due to the proven theory that there are in fact different genetic groups (not only observed physically, but proven genetically in Dr. Cothran’s 1997 genetic study on the Sulphur HMA), the Spanish type horses coming from the Sulphur HMA were dubbed the California Vaquero Horse in order to distinguish them from the mixed and non-Spanish horses that are also found on the Sulphur HMA. These historical horses are the very last of the famous breeding practices of the Spaniards of California. They predominantly come in the dun and grulla coloration as that color pattern was believed by the Spaniards to make the most courageous and best working horse. Other colors are red dun, chestnut, black, and bay. They do not come in any other color patterns. White is very minimal or not present at all. The breed typically stands 14-14.2 HH with the maximum height at 14.3HH though some individuals may slightly exceed or be slightly smaller than the typical height.
What is the future of California’s Spanish horse breed? Right now, they are considered critically endangered with less than 100 known individuals worldwide. The goal of this article is not only making people aware of California’s rare Spanish horse breed and its plight for survival, but is also written to encourage other owners of the California Vaquero Horse (Spanish type Sulphur) to contact the registry in order to document your horse and bring their existence to light to other owners and breeders in order to maintain a healthy gene pool, organize promotional events, and to eventually organize breed shows.
What can California’s horse do? The California Vaquero Horse is a loyal and hard working horse that has exceptional courage (especially noted in stallions), sensitive to his rider, very agile, sure-footed, and has great stamina. These natural qualities can be put to use in many different areas of equestrian sport such as: classical dressage, reining, endurance, cow work, trail riding, and high school arts.
“The Old Spanish Trail” by Leroy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen 1954 *
“The Horse of the Americas” by Robert M. Denhardt, 1947 **
Sulphur Herd Genetic Study by Dr. Gus Cothran 1997
-History information taken from the California Vaquero Horse Association