MUS­TANGS: THE COLO­NIAL SPAN­ISH LAN­DRACE

EQUUS - - Conformation Insights -

This is a clas­sic Colo­nial Span­ish head shape. Note the slightly con­vex, rather high and nar­row nasal bone with the char­ac­ter­is­tic up­ward “bump” just above the large, fine and sen­si­tive nos­trils. Good bone struc­ture is ev­i­dent, along with alert, pricked ears and a sparkling eye. The mane and tail are typ­i­cally thick and abun­dant. Colo­nial Span­ish horses, like their Ibe­rian an­ces­tors, have short wide backs, fine hard legs, mod­er­ately high withers, and cresty necks. With level over­all body bal­ance, they have high ap­ti­tude for col­lec­tion and are of­ten pos­sessed of a spec­tac­u­lar elas­tic trot with high knee and hock “ac­tion.” Many are also nat­u­rally easy-gaited. James Greatorex’s 1866 draw­ing, “a party of Mex­i­cans cross­ing the Rio Grande, re­turn­ing from a horse-steal­ing raid in Texas,” was pro­duced as an il­lus­tra­tion to one of the first “pulp Western” nov­els; please note that Texan raids into Mex­ico were equally com­mon.

In the 1820s, ad­ven­turer and artist Ge­orge Catlin vis­ited the Amer­i­can West and stud­ied Mus­tangs first­hand. He ob­served, “The wild horse [ of Texas] is a small, but very pow­er­ful an­i­mal; with an ex­ceed­ingly prom­i­nent eye, sharp nose, high nos­tril, small feet and del­i­cate leg.” Few mus­tangs ever ex­ceeded 14 hands in height, and they re­sem­bled the Barb in con­for­ma­tion. The re­fine­ment and “sparkle” of the Mus­tangs im­pressed all the artists who saw them in the 1830s and 1840s be­fore ex­ten­sive mix­ing with English and French strains, so much so that both Catlin’s and Karl Bod­mer’s ren­di­tions some­times make the an­i­mals look more like Ara­bi­ans than Mus­tangs, and trav­ellers some­times even re­ported

that the Mus­tangs were a type of Ara­bian. This mis­ap­pre­hen­sion per­sists to this day, but read­ers who have fol­lowed this se­ries will be aware that both the Ara­bian and the Barb an­ces­tors of the 15th cen­tury Ibe­rian An­daluceños de­rive from the Mid­dle Eastern AfroTur­kic sub­species; that the two dif­fer­ent strains re­sem­ble each other is thus not surprising.

Catlin’s de­scrip­tion of the Mus­tang is clas­sic: “There is no an­i­mal on the prairies so wild and so saga­cious as the horse; and none other so dif­fi­cult to come up with. So re­mark­ably keen is their eye, that they will gen­er­ally run ‘at the sight,’ when they are a mile dis­tant; be­ing, no doubt, able to dis­tin­guish the char­ac­ter of the en­emy that is ap­proach­ing … and when in mo­tion, will sel­dom stop short of three or four miles. I made many at­tempts to ap­proach them by stealth, when they were graz­ing and play­ing their gam­bols, without hav­ing been more than once able to suc­ceed.… In this herd we saw all the colours, nearly, that can be seen in a ken­nel of English hounds. Some were milk white, some jet black— oth­ers were sor­rel [ alazán], and bay, and cream colour [ palomino]— many were of an iron grey [ tordillo]; and oth­ers were pied, con­tain­ing a va­ri­ety of colours on the same an­i­mal. Their manes were very pro­fuse, and hang­ing in the wildest con­fu­sion over their necks and faces – and their long tails swept the ground.”

Other fre­quent col­ors in Mus­tang herds in­clude buck­skin ( gateado), blue roan ( moro) and “smoky” ( lobuno or grulla). Loud pat­tern­ing in­clud­ing ra­bi­cano, overo, snowflake, sabino and splash white are com­mon, but not to­biano, which de­rives from Hol­land. In south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Mus­tangs tended to be of a light-maned palomino-like hue which came to be called “Cal­i­for­nia sor­rel” ( alazán ru­ano).

Ge­orge Catlin’s “herd of Mus­tangs at their gam­bols” (1835).

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