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History of the Horses
Iberian and Barb horses, both breeds closely related, were the horses the conquistadors brought to the New World. Settlers of the vast new territory of Hispania also imported Barbs directly from Africa when Spain became drained of her original breeding stock from excess exports to European nations and the New World. In 1667, Sir Walter Raleigh found the West Indies as having the finest-shaped Barb horses as he had ever see (www.ColonialSpanishHorses.org). These horses where bred in the West Indies and shipped to Mexico to begin the conquest of both the North and South American continents.
In the late 1600’s Jesuit missionary and explorer Father Eusebio Kino established a herd of Spanish Barb horses along with cattle and other livestock at Rancho Dolores, Mexico to supply the expanding settlements of the Pimeria Alta region. Father Kino developed a mission system reaching from Mexico to San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson, AZ three centuries ago. He was known as the "Padre on Horseback" for his extensive riding. Father Kino and his Spanish Barb horses were said to travel 70 miles a day, making many trips from Mexico City to the Pimeria Alta settlements. Known for the attributes of endurance, easy keepers and hardiness these Barbs were instrumental in settling the West.
In the 1870’s, according to family history, Dr. Wilbur, an early homesteader near the town of Arivaca, Arizona, purchased a group of these Mission horses. These became the foundation stock of the Wilbur-Cruce rancher strain of Colonial Spanish Horses. Dr. Wilbur’s granddaughter, Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce, preserved this isolated herd through much adversity until she sold her family ranch in 1989 to The Nature Conservancy to be included in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Fortunately, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy became involved. Blood typing and visual inspection supported the oral history and resulted in the rescue and conservatory distribution of the herd. Today Eva’s "rock horses" as she fondly called them noting their ability to negotiate very difficult, rocky, mountainous country with skill and ease – are preserved by breeders in several western states. ("A Beautiful, Cruel Country" by Eva Wilbur-Cruce, 1987).
For more details please read the article "North American Colonial Spanish Horse Update" by D. Phillip Sponenberger, DVM, PhD. By D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD.