I have written a series of explanations and acclamations about the wondrous Square Horse. Now I want to make it clear that my image of a healthy population of Colonial Spanish horses and breeders is something like a trampoline. If there is full circle with enough people holding their opinions and enough horses strongly enough, the center becomes a resilient fabric made up of a widespread healthy genetically viable population of Spanish Colonial horses.
Each individual breeder and horse own is like a spring, holding the trampoline taut and resilient. If there are not enough people to make a full circle, or everyone runs to the same spot, the trampoline distorts or collapses. When there are not enough people breeding enough horses or not enough genetic variation, the horses suffer.
But, if there is not an agreed upon framework to define the circle the trampoline also collapses. The founders of the Spanish Mustang registries knew what they were looking for. When they found a Square Horse, they agreed that what they saw was their ideal Spanish Mustang, the horse they sought to preserve. Here are a few examples to show that I am not alone in either my recognition or my praise of the Square Horse.
Above is an old photo of Cochise, a stallion descended from the horses the Brislawn brothers acquired from Monty Holbrook who captured them in the Book Cliff area near the Four Corners. Cochise is described as the ideal Spanish Mustang, and yes, he is definitely a Square Horse. I would add photos of Scarface from the Romero/McKinley line and San Domingo from the pueblo of the same name, if I had access to side-view conformation shots of them
For now, here are Cochise’s brother Ute (above) and Chief Pushmataha (below) from Gilbert Jones’s founding stock for the Southwest Spanish Mustang registry. I am actually not a fan of the modern Appaloosa, but I do not let the spots mislead me either. Chief Pushmahata was a fine specimen of a Square Horse.
Hopefully, these photos can help train your eye to recognize a square horse when you see one without my needing to drawing lines all over them. A deep full neck, a deep barrel and a full croup on close-coupled body are the obvious traits. But, if you look a little closer you can check the details of their functionally sound metabolically efficient bio-mechanics:
- they have a long well laid back shoulder blade and such long upright forearm that the point of their shoulder ties in smoothly at the base of their full deep neck. Spanish Colonial horses are not suited to work in harness because there is no place for a breast collar to rest against the shoulder blade.
- if you drop a perpendicular line down from the point on the hip these horse’s stifles lie along that line, directly below that point of the hip. This is a trait you can only get with a truly Square Hip.
- A line drawn from the point of the shoulder to the actual hip joint is horizontal, meaning the horse is perfectly balanced with their zero-point in the center of their deep-barreled short back. And center-rigged saddle with a short tree will set the rider exactly where they need to be so the horse can carry them with the least effort and stress..
Where the old timers disagreed to the point of fracturing the registries was when it came to defining what they felt were the acceptable variations from the ideal. And, they had good reason to be concerned about those variations. As the Wilber-Cruce horses demonstrate, if the Rectangular hip is anywhere in the genotype of the free-roaming horses in the Southwest (and other harsh environments), the survivors tend to normalize to the 90o biomechanics.
Under the extreme pressure of a harsh climate and big predators, foals that are not functionally sound and metabolically efficient just do not live long. But when humans keep every single foal and their offspring alive, the variations in the genotype start becoming visible in the phenotype. Those who wish to preserve Spanish Colonial horses have tripped over this stumbling-block ever since the SMR was established in 1957.
When I started looking at the biomechanics of horse hips in the early 1980’s I was looking for a consistent objective understanding of the type of horses the old timers prized. As it turned out, not only were there consistent biomechanics, the horses whose measurements I gave to the Albuquerque History Museum when they needed a model to carry the 15th century suit of Spanish horse armor that they had acquired would only fit on Square Colonial SPanish horses. That the armor fit that model and no other demonstrates that the famed Square horse of the Baroque school and the wily enduring Spanish Mustang are biomechanically one and the same .
My hope now, as it was then, is that those now maintaining the Spanish Mustang registries and Spanish Colonial horse enthusiasts in general realize that the ideal Spanish Colonial (Mustang) horse is and has been biomechanically a Square Horse. If Spanish Colonial horse enthusiasts can also come to an agreement that an average Spanish Colonial is a Rectangular Horse, then:
- There would be a cogent argument with objective criteria to insist that the federal government managing our free-roaming horses on public lands as a national treasure and a precious resource.
- Local supporters can celebrate their free-roaming horses’ historical significance, their athletic excellence and their long-standing partnership with us humans.
- And we could all look forward to the day we have people standing in line to take a wild one home and can say good-by to holding pens.
And those managing free-roaming herds and private breeders would both be able to make sound decisions on objective basis and explain their reasoning for deciding:
- which horses are prized breeding stock that will preserve and maximize the biomechanical elegance of the Spanish Colonial horse and
- which horses offer sufficient genetic variation to keep Spanish Colonial breeding populations viable and
- which horses from other breeding populations would be suitable additions to their own breeding populations and
- Which horses to remove from the breeding population and offer as riding horses to minimize any undesirable traits that might crop up
I have no tolerance for any breeding strategy that relies on ‘discarding’ excess and undesirable individuals. A Part-bred registry would allow breeders to register and track horses from their breeding program that are not suitable for breeding stock. Most conscientious breeders will remove broodmares that do not produce desirable foals from their herds. Most conscientious breeders plan to geld the majority of colts their herd produces. Registering less than ideal horses as part-breds wold help insure they are perceived as valuable equine partners by non-breeders.
I would love to see herds of horses all built like Cochise roaming our public lands. As the Iberian type regains its popularity as riding horses, such horses will become more and more valuable. We should have people standing in line to buy them instead of having holding pens full of miserable horses waiting for slaughter.
Meanwhile I will do my part, doing my best to educate people as to just why I am looking for my own square horse among the free-roaming herds as well as the known breeding populations of Spanish Colonial horses.
More information on the history and biomechanics of the Square Horse can be found in my book: