Petty Politics Affect Spanish Colonial Horses

Note: a few days after this post went on-line, the SB(B)HA updated their website to reflect the information I present here on preserving entire Spanish Colonial bloodlines instead of one individual from a select few. I have not been offered a Square colt by anyone associated with the registry yet, but here is hoping that their breeding and registration practices follow through on the verbal changes and they start focusing on maintaining a healthy gene pool.

I have not had much interest in the Wilber Cruce horses found on the Arizona/ Mexico border. An Anglo doctor collecting Mexican horses in 1880 is practically present tense in term of Colonial Spanish horses (click here).

And the likelihood of finding pure Spanish Colonial bloodlines sent to market seemed minuscule by 1880. Mexico had had a brief flirtation with Napoleonic law under Emperor Maximilian. The Mexican American war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ceded what is now the American Southwest to the United States in 1948, opening the roads to an influx of Anglos. The Civil War had ended in 1865 with a flood of  freed slaves, disgruntled Southerners and shell-shocked soldiers all looking for new places and purpose.

On the American side, English investors were busy over grazing the entire west for short-term profit, sending out an apparently endless supply of Texas style cowboys who were busy crossing the local Spanish mares with Thoroughbred stallions where ever a blade of grass poked its head above the soil. American soldiers were leaving trails of dead and crippled cavalry horses in their wake, some of whom may have survived to cross with the existing Spanish Colonial herds. And the official Army Remount officers were even more intent than the cowboys on bringing in Thoroughbred stallions to produce potential cavalry horses on any available mares.

From what little I have found on DNA testing of the Wilber Cruce horses on the internet, their genetic footprint reflects that social turmoil. One website even boasts that their Wilber Cruce horses are descended from Ahkel Teke horses. Which is perhaps just a wee bit misleading.  Ahkele Teks are a recent and rare import in this century, I just have to doubt that any were imported into Mexico to cross on local mares in the late 1800’s.

The Turkomen genetic markers do appear to have originated where the Ahkele Tek horses are native. And the modern Ahkele Tek is as close as we are going to get to the Turkomen gallopers that were prized all over the Middle East, North Africa and Europe as flat racers. We know that because the three founding sires of the Jockey Club were Turkomen according to their genes even if they were named for the location they were purchased.

The Byerly Turk came from Turkey, the Darley Arabian came from Arabia, and the Goldolphin Barb came from North Africa.  But all of them were gallopers, built for speed on the flat. And the DNA of modern Thoroughbred indicates that they have Turkomen stallions on top and British Isle pony mares on the bottom.  Chances are that the Turkomen genetic markers in the Wilber Cruce horses came through the Thoroughbred stallions brought into the area, including Mexico.

My ancestors include a number of disgruntled southerners who went to Mexico after the South lost the Civil War. So I can assure you that there were horse breeders in Mexico every bit as interested in breeding the newest best thing going as there were in what became Texas and the American Southwest. And anyone sending their horses north to be sold was going to send the type of horses that the Americans were wanting to buy, which just happened to be Thoroughbred crosses that would carry Turkomen genetic markers.

The American Quarter Horse Association, founded in 1940, is proud to claim its horses are the result of such crosses. I wondered why our free roaming herds were not full of Quarter horse types until one of the men I worked with when I was a wild fire dispatcher for the Bureau of Land Management enlightened me. His family owned a working ranch in Southern New Mexico and he explained to me that the big cats, puma and jaguar, preferred Quarter Horse foals to the wild ones. He claimed that the wild ones were too quick to react and too wiry to make a good and their mothers were too aggressive to risk getting close to. In comparison, Quarter Horse mares and foals are slow, meaty, placid and make an easy meal.

Spanish Barb Horse Association is documenting the Wilber Cruce strain of horses and in general,  I am glad that there are people committed to perpetuating them. The Wilbur Cruce horses can offer a greatly needed tint of genetic diversity to Spanish Colonial horses if thoughtfully integrated into a long term breeding program.

But, while their genetics offer an informative snapshot into the social turmoil of the time Wilber Cruce acquired his horses, it is stretching the evidence  for the SBHA to claim the Wilbur Cruce horses are pure Colonial Spanish horses.

And making them a primary focus of their registry is misleading, given their public spiel. Without the intense selection from predators and a harsh desert environment their variability in type will only increase.

Unfortunately, that is nothing new for the SB(B)HA. Before I vent, I should explain that I was a member of the Spanish Barb (Breeders) Horse Association for a couple of decades starting from its inception in 1972 (click here). Granted I was a teenager in 1972, but I was an observant and thoughtful teen.

And I can tell you that the SB(B)HA has never walked its talk. When I took my Colonial Spanish mare, Alazana to the McKinley’’s ranch to breed to the SB(B)HA”s founding stallion, Scarface, in the mid-70’s, I had some great conversations with Weldon and Margaret McKinley. They told me about acquiring the ranch in the late forties and how they found out that they had Spanish Colonial horses running on their land.

They also were very polite and soft spoken in their hints that they had found it challenging to work with Susan Banner/Paulson. Over time, I saw what they meant. As time went on it became clear that the only horses off the Romero/McKinley ranch or of Romero/McKinley descent that were deemed fit for registration by the SB(B)HA were horses that Susan got a cut from selling or that she bred herself.

I wound up becoming a one-person SB(B)HA horse rescue, with a standing offer to take SB(B)HA horses in need of homes. I also picked up horses from disgruntled owners for the same price they would get at the slaughter sales, usually a couple of hundred dollars each. I quickly ended up with a couple of dozen horses, mostly out of Iowa, Oklahoma and Colorado.

 The motley group I acquired illustrated that Susan Banner/Paulson did not understand the risks of inbreeding horses from a limited genetic reservoir. There were some outstanding individuals. There were some average individuals. And there were too many individuals with faults that could and should have been avoided with thoughtful informed breeding practices.

Scarface was a prepotent sire whose strengths over came many  of Susan’s poor breeding decisions. But instead of securing the entire bloodline, the Romero/McKinley line of horses was misrepresented within the SB(B)HA as the offspring of one fluke stallion. Any half-way conscientious horse breeder knows that exceptional sires come from generations of consistently exceptional horses.

Nor did Susan show any inclination to allow the registry to develop a coherent objective informed long-term breeding plan for would-be SB(B)HA breeders to rely on. It would be another 15 years before equine geneticist DR. Sponenburg came along and breeders of Spanish Colonial horses started to become interested in acquiring raw genetic data on their horses. But in the early 1980’s, my concerns were cavalierly dismissed by board members and breeders alike.

Weldon had told me that D.D. Romero had assured him that he kept his horses pure by shooting any Anglos and the horses they rode in on as they walked out of the courthouse after transferring the title to the land and water rights.* Granted the Romeros were Hispanic sheepherders, not Anglo doctors, but they were conservators of their lands and their animals regardless, and for far longer. Why the SB(B)HA still refuses to recognize any horses from the Romero/McKinley bloodlines other than Scarface offspring makes me question their entire spiel.

The two founding mares in the association were Susan’s personal horses. They were both just one individual from larger groups that shared the same genetics. There are still numerous individuals in the SMR and SSMA that carry the Monty Holbrook bloodlines but are not recognized by the SB(B)HA.

Coche Two was line bred to Cochise, a stallion the Brislawn brothers considered the ideal Spanish Mustang. Cochise was out of the horses Monty Holbrook captured in Book Cliffs near the Four Corners area. She ran with the Romero/Mckinley horses until the very early 1980’s.

Despite harrassment and opposition, I did manage to rescue and register one outstanding colt, Tarkio, that was linebred Romero/ McKinley with a hefty percentage of Monty Holbrook bloodlines. His lineage included individuals from both bloodlines besides the two names prized by the SB(B)HA, making him a genetic treasure chest.

I also rescued Apache, a Medicine Paint bred by Weldon McKinley. He was linebred Romero/McKinley with individuals other than Scarface in his pedigree. He was a grandson of San Domingo, and his pedigree was also seasoned with some of the Holbrook horses. Making sure that Tarkio was available to breed to mares sired by Lukachukai and Apache, made it possible for breeders to maintain consistent type AND a healthy degree of genetic variation.

The other founding mare, Akawi, was actually a rather inferior specimen of Gilbert Jones’ prized and proven Choctaw horses. She produced particularly poor foals when bred to the Ilo Belsky stallion, Rawhide. I got considerable grief for gelding a colt out of her on account of his poor conformation.

I saw the fact that the colt was out of the founding mare Akawi and the founding stallion Rawhide meant the Susan had not selected the individual she chose as her breeding stock as carefully as she might. But Susan was was threatened by my action. Instead of admitting her mare’s faults and opening the registry to outstanding individuals from the Choctaw line, Susan Banner Paulson began to bad mouth the entire Belsky line.

Then I had another of Akawi’s colts come through as a rescue. Although the two colts were by different sires, they shared the same distinctive and serious faults. I insisted that gelding both of them was the right decision.

They both had long ewe-necks with so little definition to their thick coarse throat latch that the vet had actually a hard time finding their jugular veins. And their straight-shoulders and long backs with abnormally short forearms made me understand what Weldon McKinley meant when he said that he got rid of the dwarves Susan had introduced to his herd.

My stallion, Lukachukai, was that colt’s sole offspring and breeding him was not my plan at all. Luke himself was a fluke. His dam had persuaded Akawi’s colt, a long yearling, to first jump one fence and then backed her behind up to a fence so he could come over and jump her despite yet another fence between them. I actually kept Luke as a stallion because several of my mares decided to demonstrate their preference for him as a sire well before he was mature.

One spring night, the whole herd of mares staged a stealthy jail-break. Once they had free access to the stallion pens, they managed to take both gates off their hinges and let both the Medicine Paint Apache out and Luke the buckskin. Normally loose stallions and mares in heat generate lots of squealing and galloping about.

This time, the mares made it clear who was interested in who and put the boys to work with a minimum of fuss. I never heard a sound, and when I went out in the morning, I was greeted with a very peaceful scene of grazing horses. The exhausted and sated stallions went quietly back in their pens for some nice long naps.

And a year later, I was pleased to see that Luke’s foals improved on both the sire’s and the dam’s flaws.  I could not ask more of an out-cross on the predominately New Mexico bred mares I was collecting. So I went through the SB(B)HA’s ‘permanent’ registration process. One board member actually told me that she had rejected Luke on Susan’s advice simply because he carried Belsky blood.

When I pointed out that he was actually line bred to Akawi and I had managed to minimize the conformation faults that appeared in her offspring, she replied that pointing out Akawi’s faults was just not fair to Susan. I told the board member that rejected Luke that I had talked to Susan directly about the blatant conformation faults in the horses she was selling for breeding stock at inflated prices.

Neither my comments or my actions were received well, although I made sure that both geldings had enough schooling to make fine sweet-natured backyard companion horses instead of going to slaughter. Since I was editor of the newsletter at the time, I wrote and managed to publish an article explaining my decisions. That got me more than a few stabs in the back. Eventually, I began to get the hint that objective registration and breed conservation ran a poor second to marketing Susan Banner/Paulson horses.

I was briefly on the board of the SBB(H)A just when Susan began to refuse registration to the offspring of the horses she herself had sold to newcomers as prime breeding stock. I can report first hand that supposedly selective horse registration quickly took on all the catty vengefulness of a high school mean girls miasm.

Ironically, in the face of the differing types of Wilber Cruce horses, the subjective opinion of condition and muscle type became the point of contention. She would insist that another’s horse that was in good condition, perhaps with some muscle tone that meant they were actually fit to ride, be rejected while her own obesely slick  individuals were deemed acceptable. Of course, her clients were even more unhappy when those over-fed individuals began to turn up lame.

The last phase in the drama that I was involved in began in the 1980’s when Susan began to out-cross her own Spanish Colonial mares. She started with Rangerbred Appaloosas, then had Marrakesh, the Moroccan Barb stallion breed a few mares, then started out crossing to Peruvian Pasos. Needless to say, she had alienated many of her prior costumers Of course, the angry board members gleefully jumped on the chance to reject Susan’s horses, regardless of their lineage. Despite claiming the Barb portion of the Spanish Colonial horse so publicly, that rejection included the foals sired by the Moroccan Barb straight from the Sultan of Morocco’s stables

Although my desperately poor health was the primary factor in my losing my Spanish Colonial breeding stock in the 1990’s, I have to say that I was relieved to be clear of the petty politics behind the scenes at the SB(B)HA. The kindest face to face reaction I got for my efforts from a fellow board member was a remark that I would be the first person the board would choose to have the Nazi’s make into soap if they had a chance.

And I am not at all sure that the situation has improved. Despite the one nay vote my colt, Lukachukai, was accepted as a stallion prospect by the majority of the board. He and one of my brothers, James Annon, went on to compete in dressage and hunter jumper classes around Santa Fe.

Luke placed well, presented well and introduced a lot of people to the Colonial Spanish horses. And he produced a number of pure and half bred foals over his long life span. Since he was also bred to a few of the Wilbur Cruce mares, I have to wonder if holding on to old grudges is part of why his name is still not mentioned by the SB(B)HA, when they list accomplished Spanish Barbs on their website.

Beyond my personal experiences, I have only continued to lose respect for SB(B)HA registration policies. If preserving the Spanish Colonial horse is actually the priority, making sure that there are sufficient individuals to sustain a healthy gene pool is paramount. Yet, over the last thirty years the board and breeders of the SB(B)HA  have stood by and let:

  • the remaining  Romero/Mckinley horses be dispersed when Weldon and Margaret Mckinley’s son decided to eliminate the horses from the ranch in the 1990’s
  • the secondary herd  of Romero/Mckinley horses running south of Carrizozo, NM be taken off the White Sand Missile Range in the early 2000’s with out any effort to recognize or preserve them
  • ignored Ilo Belsky’s horses when he died, leaving it up to one nephew-in-law, Earl Wessel, to keep the line going
  • ignored the 300+ Choctaw horses in desperate need of rehoming that were taken off the Kiamichi Mountain range in 2007 a few years after Gilbert Jones died
  • Ignored the New Mexico Heritage Baca Chica horses when Jyot Baca died in 2013 and his herd was dispersed
  • ignored the dispersal of the Brislawn horses when the ranch was sold in 2017
  • ignored the 2019 plight of the Placitas horses near Santo Domingo Pueblo of the Medicine Paint stallion’s San Domingo bloodline

The Square Baroque war horses of Northern New Mexico began arriving a good three centuries before Dr. Wilber-Cruce arrived in Arizona. The Pueblo Indian revolt that triggered the diaspora of Spanish Colonial horses across the North American continent was two centuries earlier, The influx of  younger sons of Spanish aristocracy riding horses from the royal stables  to claim their land grants was a hundred and fifty years earlier.

But the SB(B)HA  has consistently failed to safeguard the genetic well being of the Spanish Colonial horses they claim to prize for  nearly fifty years. While their past actions are reprehensible, they could still be a constructive influence among Colonial Spanish horse fanciers. The current board could consider learning from their past officer’s mistakes and genuinely focus on sustaining a viable gene pool of well-built Colonial Spanish horses from ALL their founding bloodlines. But I won’t be holding my breath in the expectation of positive action any time soon.

*(I know that Doug Preston attributes that conversation to my brother Roeliff Annon in his book Cities of Gold, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why he did not do a little fact checking before he went to press. I am sure that the date of the land transfer is on record, and that date is a good twenty five-years before my brother was even conceived in in 1966. Unfortunately, I do not doubt my brother claimed he  had such a  conversation as I know all too well just how ethically challenged he is and how easily he justifies appropriating what is not his (click here).)

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