Mar 092012

By Patty Wilber

I bet the title was a clue to the fact that Sunny is a Choctaw Pony.  Choctaw Ponies are Spanish Colonial Horses and are descended from animals brought to the America’s by Spanish explorers.


Some horses escaped, and some were stolen.  Over time, ranchers and Indians, including the Choctaws, began to use and breed the horses.  Others went feral. Each developed into slightly different types, well suited to their environment (many in the arid west) and jobs.

 As a general rule, Spanish Colonial Horses are small (13.2-14.2), metabolically thrifty (air fern–surviving on little and poor forage), have excellent teeth (to effectively eat that forage,) are lean muscled (endurance), and have great feet (the bad footed didn’t survive).

The Spanish Horses bred and used by Native Americans were very nearly wiped out by Federal extermination programs designed to hobble the warriors, disease control, and lack of appreciation of their tough yet tractable nature.

Cometa is also Spanish, from the Wilbur-Cruce herd.  While Sunny is registered with the Horse of the Americas as 68.75% Choctaw Spanish Mustang, Cometa is registered with the Spanish Barb and Spanish Mustang organizations, but not with the Horse of the Americas.  Considering there are not many Spanish Horses left in the country,  (maybe fewer than 3000?) it is somewhat surprising to have so many different registries.

Cometa in front and Risa, packing. Cometa is registered Spanish. Risa is an Appaloosa and they too have Spanish and Indian origins.

The Wilbur-Cruce herd was brought to the attention of breeders of Colonial Spanish horses in 1989, and illustrates an important point when dealing with landraces such as the Colonial Spanish Horse. It is critical to the conservation of the genetic resource of these populations for the organized studbooks to remain open and receptive to inclusion of new pure herds as they are recognized and documented. As time goes on such new herds will be recognized only rarely. They will always contain valuable genetic material for conservation. The Wilbur-Cruce horses are more variable in type than the horses in the registries, even though they do have a Spanish origin. This is interesting in that they are an example of a closed herd that includes some outlier Spanish types that are taller and heavier than the usual Colonial Spanish Horse type.”

A couple of years ago, the Wilbur-Cruce animals were given full status in the Spanish Barb Registry.

Sunny and Cometa are similar in many ways (good feet, teeth, small size, lean muscle, very thrifty), but have rather different heads (Cometa has the Regal Roman Nose).

A commanding presence

Lovely Sunny!

Both are intelligent and personable!

  • Jackie Splinter

    Fun to read and learn…as always! But I think the Wilbur-Cruce people never learned how to spell Wilber!!!!!

  • Illusion, the part mustang I inherited from my friend Kathleen, has the Roman nose but is much larger, from his warmblood sire. His dam, a cremello half-Pryor Mountain mustang (and half-mystery) was short and in the only photo I’ve seen of her, muscled up for jumping. But I can see Silver in Sunny’s image. Illusion looks like the “Renaissance horse” type, with luxuriant wavy mane and tail, high-set neck with an arch. Good feet and teeth, yes. Unfortunately the cross onto a Northern European warmblood breed did what crossing unrelated types often does and produced a mosaic of scaling problems: both dam and sire had sound backs with good loin coupling. He has a long warmblood back but a weak coupling. He has big warmblood feet with strong mustang hooves–good shape, good structure–but above the big feet are knees and hocks too small for his size and weight (fine on his dam,) and a hindquarter that somewhat underpowers him. With the smaller knees and hocks, and less than perfect loin coupling, he simply did not come with the right body to perform as well as his dam and sire. Silver was an all-around tough little mare–she ran, she jumped, she was a hot ride across country, Kathleen said. His sire won in dressage and I think also some jumping competitions. But Illusion, in addition to his innate conformational problems, had an early serious injury to his right hind leg (dog attack.)

    So his dressage training went slowly and he never really achieved the brilliance of a horse with naturally well-balanced parts. Kathleen was patient and firm, taking him a lot farther than his conformation and extremely laid back personality (lazy, says Kathleen’s widower) would suggest. Still, when Kathleen had him at his peak, and I groomed for her at a show where she was introducing him in Prix St. George…it was a sight I will never forget. She knew she had cancer then; it was her last big show right before she started chemo and it was heartbreakingly beautiful. The big 16.2 palomino, all gold and cream, against a dark muddy arena, with the light of the sun just spearing through the storm clouds that had made the mud like a spotlight. Riding every pattern precisely, not slipping…and the passage…well. Blurry screen virus has me again at the memory, and at how brief was their joy in getting to that point.

  • Patty

    Elizabeth–your imagery tranmitted the blurry screen virus rather effectively to me. That was a rather interesting choice of breeding. How wonderful that Kathleen was able to acheive so much!

  • Patty

    Jackie-I had to “fix” Wilbur (from Wilber) in the article at least twice…!

  • Sherry Meagher

    I don’t know Sunny yet, but I know Cometa. He does have a commanding presence. A beautiful, bossy guy! I am quite partial to him.

    As always, this is an enjoyable read, and I’m not a horse person! Thank you!