Why save these horses and why have a conformation standard?
In the early 1990's, Ron Roubidoux tried to get the BLM to segregate land dedicated for what we now know as the California Vaquero Horse (classic style Spanish Sulphurs). He wanted to save them and the BLM denied him. Now, according to Dr. Sponenberg and Dr. Cothran, the herd that Ron looked at in the 80's and 90's has drastically changed with only a few remaining horses that still retain the phenotype of their ancestors and the original herd that Ron so desperately tried to conserve and preserve. With any breed, you'll have differences, just the same as with races of people. But can you point out the picture that is not a California Vaquero Horse (classic Spanish Sulphur)? This is the reason for setting a breed standard as with any breed. The PRE and PSL horses have it, the Quarter Horses have it, all other breeds have their standards, why should we not preserve what we have, just as everyone else?
The head type of the chestnut(sorrel) horse on the left differs from all three horses to the right of it. The lighter grulla horse that is third from the left of the chestnut horse was caught in the same gather, on 2/27/2015.
According to the Livestock Conservancy and Dr. Sponenberg, "Their number is at the lower end of viability for conservation as a distinct, unmixed strain, and the feral herds now include only as small group of horses that would qualify as Colonial Spanish." In 2015, the reported number of horses in the Sulphur Springs HMA was over 700! Yet, according to Dr. Sponenberg only a small group out of over 700 horses would even qualify as being Spanish! This is astonishing and scary because our heritage old Iberian horses are disappearing from the HMA and sadly, owners of the original type of these horses wont band together to save them or they are cross breeding them to other horses instead of focusing on preserving them. What makes breeding these horses even more difficult is having a conformation standard that breeders stick to. We, at the CVHA have this guide to help breeders in selecting horses to breed and also to ensure that the horses they pair correct faults in the other horse so that the resulting foal will improve the breed.
What needs to remember is that these horses were segregated in the mountain home range from other herds of horses and their genetics from the 1997 peer reviewed study by Dr. Cothran also indicate that this herd was not mixing with other horses on the range. It wasn't until the government started managing the range that we started to slowly see a change (now it seems more rapid) in conformation of these horses. Below is a Sulphur that was caught on 2/27/2015 and is not of Spanish type:
This Sulphur was also caught on 2/27/2015 and is of high quality Spanish type and would be considered a California Vaquero Horse. I'm sure you can see the vast difference between these two horses. This is why having a conformation standard is so important to have and be guided by when breeding these horses. If the BLM would band together with the experts and use this guide to segregate our wild Spanish horses from mixed stock, it would ensure that their legacy will not die out but be preserved. I know the Livestock Conservancy and Ron Roubidoux have been trying for years to make this happen, but unfortunately, the BLM is not complying and so it leaves it up to those that have these horses to unite together in order to save them.
From Ron Roubidoux's research, along side Dr. Sponenberg's research on the origins of these horses and his expertise in equine phenotype; also thanks to the genetic studies performed by Dr. Cothran, they have concluded that these rare horses ARE the horses that Spain brought to California and these were the horses they used for vaquero work and even war. These horses used to call the Spanish Missions of Southern California and vast land around the missions their home. They are California's disappearing heritage breed and it is up to us to unite together to save our living piece of history.