21st Century Preservation Strategy Needed for Colonial Spanish Horses

The Livestock Conservancy has moved the Colonial Spanish horse to their Critical list because fewer than 200 foals were registered in 2021. The drop in number of registered foals is NOT due to a lack of interest in Colonial Spanish horses or to the general public’s lack of appreciation of their history, abilities or the value of their genetic diversity.

Over 1500 people stepped up to support the preservation of Robert Painter’s herd that reflects some 5 decades of dedication to breeding Colonial Spanish horses. The Painter horses horses are in the process of being being rehomed with preservation breeders. None of Painter’s herd are currently registered with any of the registries listed by the Livestock Conservancy.

The Painter horses may never be recognized by those registries. I received a private message from Tommi Grey, an officer of the HOA (which claims to be a unifying registry accepting horses from all CS horse registries) informing me that the problem with Painter’s herd was not the bloodlines, it was the breeder. And yes, I can document that statement with a screenshot of the message. I have had to block the individual in question along with a bakers dozen of the most irrational, vituperative and repetitive stalkers associated with the CS registries from my FB group and my private messages to mitigate their harassment.

While open discussion may illuminate the less than ethical past behavior of the CS registries, transparency will improve the ability of preservation breeders to plan for future generations of these horses. I believe that conscientious breeders specifically investing in CS registered strains of horses should be not only be aware but be able to openly discuss how to handle the fact that misrepresenting the origins of founding strains has played an enormous role in the fragmentation of the CS registries and the loss of genetic identity and diversity. Those who wish to consistently produce Square Horses of consistent phenotype carrying a distinctively Iberian/barb and healthy genetic profile have a right to learn about the authentic origins of the founding horses they are breeding.

  • Refusing to recognize Colonial Spanish horses because officers have vendettas against individual breeders is how CS registries have fragmented over the decades. In the 1970’s Wild Horse Annie and Hope Ryden created the mustang mystique. Emmet Brislawn gained control of Cayuse Ranch and introduced horses into the herd based on the public appeal. At this time Emmet fell out with his father Bob Brislawn and many of the founding members of the Spanish Mustang Registry including Jeff Edwards, Weldon McKinley, Gilbert Jones and Robert Painter. Emmet Brislawn and Maryanne Thompson as officers of the Spanish Mustang Registry refused to register the old-timer’s horses. This led to the founding of the Spanish Barb Breeders Association (SB(B)HA) focusing on Romero/McKInley horses, the Southwest Spanish Mustang Association (SSMA) focusing on Gilbert Jones’ horses and eventually the International Barb Horse Association (IBHA) focusing on Robert Painter’s horses.

  • Refusing to recognize Colonial Spanish horses because officers have vendettas against individual breeders is how entire strains of Colonial Spanish horses have been destroyed over the decades. The SMR refused to recognize any of Ilo Belsky’s horses and continue their vendetta against them thru the present. One of Ilo Belsky’s stallions, Rawhide, was recognized by the SB(B)HA and a few Belsky foals were registered with the SSMA. The HOA took in a few Belsky horses after Ilo’s death, but there are no longer any registered straight Belsky-bred horses. The Romero/McKinley horses were the founding stock for both the SMR and the SBBA but ongoing harassment and slander have left those registries with out any registered straight Romero/McKinley horses.

  • Refusing to recognize DNA research and continuing to misrepresent the original source of founding Colonial Spanish horses because officers have vendettas against individual breeders is yet another way CS registries manage to discredit themselves. Texas A&M’s horse ancestry site does not recognize the Spanish Mustang as a distinct breed because the genetic profile of SMR horses indicates a mixture of multiple sources/strains in the registry. Almost all of the SMR’s founding stock are said to have been acquired from Utah, specifically the Bookcliff area. But Monty Holbrook’s Bookcliff strain horses from the Ute Reservation were rare and hard to come by by the 1980’s and I was personally informed by Maryanne Thompson that there was no interest in preserving the strain. That leaves the true origins of most SMR horses unverified. The SMR closed their studbook in 2010 when the Cayuse Ranch was sold. Return to Freedom stepped in as the ranch was over-populated with undocumented SMR horses in such poor condition they were in need of rescue. Adam Edwards eventually managed to registered many of Return to Freedom’s Cayuse Ranch horses with the Horse of the Americas (HOA), although the SMR still refuses to recognize the descendants of the registry’s founding Brislawn family’s horses regardless of their genetic profiles. Thru 2019, the SB(B)HA officially recognized only one individual horse from its founding strains. Scarface of the Romero/McKInley strain, Coche II of the Monty Holbrook Bookcliff strain, Akawi from Gilbert Jones stock and Rawhide from Belsky’s strain, while excluding the rest of the horses of a strain, regardless of their quality or genetic profile.

  • Refusing to participate in the ongoing research into equine genetic diversity is yet another way CS registries manage to not only discredit themselves, but make themselves irrelevant. Working out how to address issues like why Jyot Baca’s genetically Maghreb Barb horses were not recognized by ANY CS registry until 2017 even though Cedro, from the same strain, was a ‘blue list’ founding sire of the SMR in the 1950’s will be essential to a clean slate for the future.

There is an on-going and dramatic surge of research into equine genetic diversity. Participating in that research will offer insight and credibility to the remarkable history and abilities of Colonial Spanish horses.

The scholarly face of the research is led by the University of Minnesota whose mission statement declares that at least 20 individuals are required for a breed or strain to be recognized by the study. The Equine Genetic Diversity Consortium (EGDC) led by the University of Minnesota represents a collaborative international community of equine researchers who are working to build a comprehensive understanding of genetic diversity among equine populations across the world. The result of this project will positively impact our ability to define population-based issues, identify and preserve characteristics that define particular breeds, decipher the history of the modern horse, and uncover the genetic basis of numerous complex traits.’

And the public interface seeking to gather a large enough database to draw reliable conclusions is widespread and aggressively marketing itself. Etalon’s Ancestry platform allows for herd DNA comparison. Your mustang’s Ancestry results will help researchers learn more about his/her herd, where the horses came from, & trace their ancestry back to horses outside of the herds. By combining the science with the horse owner insight, we can look at the genetics and physical location of each animal. In so doing, we can begin to understand the general genetic composition (or the “average” breed wheel that represents a target group of horses) for various herds…Kinship Analysis & “Horses Like Me” will allow horse owners to track down family members, and find horses most genetically similar to their own.’

What I will say in closing is that consistent phenotype, distinctive genotype and accurate historical background is vital to preservation breeding of the Square Horse. Any of the existing CS registries and/or breeders that are actually willing to support the survival of their strains will need to make a positive responses to these issues.

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