The Iberian horse is the most ancient riding horse, whose 6000 years of history are well documented. This unique horse has had a broad influence and a major genetic impact on most breeds throughout Europe. The finest horses and horsemen were undisputedly derived from Iberia. So, it can be said that the New World inherited the finest for their equestrian beginnings.
The colonial development of the mission chain and California were destined to become the equestrian period of the West, often known as the “El Dorado”. Spanish horses are the common thread throughout our colonial development and our "seeds of change". They arrived with Spanish explorers aboard their ships. They carried the great Soldados and colonists to the sights that were to become their missions and pueblos. These horses were the backbone of our legendary ranchos and the workhorse of our agricultural development that forever changed the lifestyle of our Native American people and helped bring the Golden Age of Spain to California and the West.
As is typical of land race type horse populations, newly discovered herds of influenced by Spanish blood will always contain valuable genetic material for conservation. “A herd of horses found in Sasabe, Arizona fits into the rancher strain category, but is also the last remnant of Spanish Mission type horses” (Phillip Sponenburg, DVM. PhD.) These are the horses of the Wilbur-Cruce family who utilized, partnered with, and maintained these horses for three generations on their ranch. The horses originated in the region of Mexico that was the area of the esteemed Father Kino's renowned missions. This strain started with 25 mares and a stallion thatwere bought in 1885 from Juan Sepulveda who brought the horses directly from Father Kino’s Mission Dolores in Sonora. This area had been a source of high quality horses since around 1700.
The Wilbur-Cruce horses are more variable in type than the horses in most registries. This is extremely important because the three main types of Iberian horses are represented in this herd, the Carthusian/Villano warhorse type, the Jinete/Jennet elegant riding horse, and the Gallego/Barb agile bullfighting and cattle working type.
These horses were essential to our western colonial development and became the mount of our legendary Vaquero. This unique Colonial herd still represents the horses of the Golden Age of Spain, and they are more like the original horses of Spain than the breeds that exist in Iberia today. The Cruce Mission horses are a most significant discovery of a type of horse thought to be gone forever. The need to conserve this herd is great, not only because they represent such a unique genetic resource, but also because they are an living remnant of our nation's history.