Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

The origin of American horses

The use of horses on US ranches and in feedlots to manage cattle can be traced back to the Spanish conquistad­ors who imported horses to the New World to use as mounts in cavalry.


The American Quarter Horse is the fastest breed, and holds the world speed record over a quarter of a mile (402m): 70,8km/h. It is the most popular breed in the US, where it is prized for its versatilit­y; apart from being raced, it is used to manage cattle on ranches and in feedlots.

The Quarter Horse is ridden mostly in western tack, and its speed and agility are displayed in the western discipline­s of reining, cutting, working cow horse, barrel racing, calf roping and even western dressage. Quarter Horses also compete in English discipline­s such as hunter classes, dressage and showjumpin­g, and they make excellent polo ponies.


The Quarter Horse was bred from the mustang (a wild horse of Spanish origin) and horses, such as the Chickasaw breed, tamed by indigenous Americans. It was later crossbred with English Thoroughbr­eds, which are used predominan­tly for racing.

The mustang in turn originates from Spanish horses shipped to the New World from the Iberian peninsula by Christophe­r Columbus in 1493. Thereafter, Spanish horses were imported, and breeding stations set up to provide mounts for the conquistad­ors.

After 1519, ranches were establishe­d in Mexico and stocked with cattle and horses imported from Spain. By 1700, ranching had spread from Mexico to Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Argentina. Slightly corrupted Spanish words still used by today’s cowboys include corral, bronco, loco, arroyo, reata, rodeo, adobe, pinto, caballada, rancho, mesteno (mustang), jaquima (hackamore), and vaquero. Vaqueros (called ‘buckaroos’ by English-speaking cowboys) were the cowhands in Texas and Mexico. Modern western riding styles are based on how horses were used to work cattle in Spain, using saddles with high cantles and pommels.

A New World innovation was the saddle horn, used when lassoing cattle with a braided leather reata or lariat (a rope used as a lasso). The Spanish jineta riding style forms the basis of all types of western riding, including natural horsemansh­ip.


The jineta (or a la gineta) style involves the rider using shorter stirrups, which results in a noticeable bend at the knees. The rider also sits in the centre of the saddle.

This technique came from the Iberian peninsula, but originated in North Africa. The word jineta was derived from the Berber tribe of Zeneti, famous for its light cavalry. The classical bit used for jineta in Spain was identical to the bits used in North Africa and was later amended to become the spade bit used in western riding. Jineta was highly suitable for light cavalry, allowing riders to dodge swiftly between armoured knights armed with heavy lances, who rode a la brida style, with the legs straight and thrust forward.

Light cavalry armed with swords, lances or bows used one-handed riding with loose reins. This style also suited the vaqueros who roped cattle. Shorter stirrups and keeping the heels down directly over the centre of gravity allowed for the fast stops, rapid changes of pace and sudden changes of direction required for mustering and sorting cattle. • Source: Tomassini, G B. The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art. Xenophon Press. Retrieved from worksofchi­­niques-in-the-late-middle-ages%e2%80%a8and-the-renaissanc­e.

• Dr Mac is an academic, an equine veterinari­an and a stud owner. Email her at farmerswee­ Subject line: Horse Talk.

 ?? SUPPLIED ?? ABOVE: The American Quarter Horse. Speedy and agile, the breed is extremely popular in the US, where it is used for racing and cattle management.
SUPPLIED ABOVE: The American Quarter Horse. Speedy and agile, the breed is extremely popular in the US, where it is used for racing and cattle management.
 ??  ?? DR MAC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa