The body is compact and the viewer can visualize a square and not a rectangle being around the horse. Overall view is smooth and round. No sharp points, muscle indentations, or bunchy muscling. The viewer should have the overall impression of a compact, rounded, smooth muscled horse.


The height of this breed is 14HH - 15HH. On average, the horses will be 14.2HH. However, domestic born foals whose dams are well fed and supplemented while produce larger offspring that can grow larger than 15HH but not taller than 16HH. It should be noted that wild CVH's are very rare and almost extinct on the HMA. 

The head is medium in length with a finer muzzle that has crescent shaped nostrils, a very small chin, flat mandible (not round), cheeks that are also about the same height as the chin which creates a flat look that we call a rectangular shaped head and not a wedge shaped head like most modern breeds. Even stallions will not have huge jowls.


The eye is large and triangular with a heavy set bone arch above it which is a very old and classic feature of Spanish horses in general. The eyes are also set wide apart which is very noticeable as when you draw a shape from the width of the eyes to the muzzle it will be forming a triangle as the muzzle is not nearly the same width as the eyes are.


The ears are set at medium width apart, not broad across like a draft or pony and not narrow like an Arab. The ear shape will always have the classic round outer shape and come up to a notched or slightly hooked tip with the length being medium.



Head, eyes, and ears

The chest is A shaped from the front and very deep from the side allowing ample space for heart and lungs.

Medium to short in length. The lumbar area will arch very slightly up which creates a stronger back (this should not be confused with a fault such as roach backed).



Neck: Clean throat latch with the head set onto the neck that allows them to easily and comfortably be on the vertical. In mares there is a slight or medium crest (weight will help here) and stallions have a noticeable thicker neck that forms an arch shape. The neck set is medium to high on the shoulder.


Shoulder: Normally angled between 50-55 degrees.


Wither: Prominent in order to hold a saddle with plenty of muscle covering the wither which makes the wither also broad along with being prominent.


The loin is broad and strong allowing the horse to easily coil and spring. This feature aids greatly in agility.



The rear canon bones will follow the natural angle of the stifle. This aids in agility going down a hill and is often mistaken to be cow hocks.* The canons will be well apart going down in a straight line with the hooves following the natural angle of the stifle. Canon and pasterns will be medium in length.

Movement: Three basic gaits of walk, trot, and canter are seen. The horse picks its feet up in an elevated manner in both the rear and front legs. The elevation is medium in height.

Hooves: Rounded and sometimes mule footed. The hooves have an even balance of toe and heel which allows the horse to wear their feet naturally and evenly only being maintained by trims. Shoeing a horse outside of the horse being heavily ridden and needing extra protection is a serious fault. All show horses will be shown without shoes and preferably have a performance record without needing shoes as the hoof itself is very tough and shouldn't require extra protection.

Front Legs: The canons and pasterns will be of medium length. When viewing the length of the bones in the front legs the viewer should be able to see that the radius and ulna are not longer than that of the canons. If this is what the viewer is seeing that means that the canon bones are short and this is a fault. The front legs will line up directly underneath the body and will not line up further behind or in front of the horse. The front legs will be straight and the viewer should be able to visualize a line splitting the leg evenly in half from elbow to hoof.

Temperament and Personality

Training and riding

The CVH is extremely intelligent and demanding respect. These horses do not tolerate being told what to do but rather they need to be asked and understand what they are being trained to do and thus form a bond with their person. These horses are not known to be able to just let a stranger get up and ride them or even handle them without their being aloof and unsure as they require to be able to meet new people and get a feeling of who you are, just as you, yourself are accustomed when meeting new friends and acquitances.


Cold or hot blooded?

They are hot blooded and a working breed of horse. They will go day in and day out and tend to form a bond with their person that isn't comparable to how they behave with other people. They are loyal and very hard working. They are agile and very sensitive to commands. Having soft hands work best with the CVH. A hard handed rider is not recommended, as they do not tolerate what they'd perceive as disrespect and will let you know it. On a cold to hot scale, they usually range from 5 - 8.


Rider experience

The CVH tends to be for the more intermediate to experienced horseman that loves a horse that will get up and go that has fire and an obvious personality. For the beginner to the intermediate beginner, working with a trainer that is experienced with hot blooded Iberian horses is also acceptable. Stallions are easy to work with and are often times more gentle and easier to work with than the mares. The California Vaquero Horse requires a person that is active in their lives or they will end up being unhappy. 


The point of the hip will be lower than that of the spine which creates a smooth and rounded appearance. The croup will also give them impression of roundness going into the tail. The point of the hip and the pin bone will be steeply angled, but the tail set is medium. The pin bones will be short and should be even with the base of the tail or slightly extruding outwards. There will be no muscle lines visible on a healthy horse. The stifle will line up directly underneath the point of the hip. The viewer should be able to visualize a "D" shape when viewing the entire hip from the side. The hocks will line up underneath the pin bone.

Colors and dilutions

The CVH mainly comes in Grulla and bay (zebra) dun. Other more uncommon colors are: black, chestnut (sorrel), red dun and bay. White markings will be minimal. There will be minimal white or no white at all on the face. On the legs, there will also be minimal white, if any at all. If white occurs on the legs, they should not exceed past the fetlock or if it does it should be minimal; piebalding should not be present.


Dilutions and patterns: The only dilutions and patterns that should be present in a CVH is dun and agouti. Cream, pearl, grey, splash, overo etc, and all other dilutions and patterns will be absent. Some horses have white socks, however, there is no test for this type of white yet.


Eye color- The eye color will always be brown with varying shades.


Grulla or Black Dun, ranges from dark to what seems to look like silver. The color range is from Brown-slate to blue-slate, all varying in how light or dark they are. The color variation in grulla is immense. A grulla colored horse is a horse that has a black base coat and is diluted by the dun gene.

California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse

Bay (zebra) Dun always varies wildly just as grulla. Bay dun can vary in shades from a tan body to a bay looking body. It should be noted that while it is common to call a bay dun only dun, the correct term is bay dun because the color of the horse is bay and the dilution is dun. Therefore, a horse that is a bay dun in coloring is a black based horse with the agouti gene (this makes the body red with black points) with the dun dilution. Without the dun dilution, the color would be called a bay.

California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse

Red Dun varies as well as the other colors with the dun dilution. A red dun can appear creamy with red or strawberry markings to deep red colored markings. Another term for a light colored red dun is a claybank. It is also important to remember that a red dun, is a horse with a red (chestnut/sorrel) base color with the dun dilution.

The Dun gene is unpredictable in how much or little it will dilute the horses base coat, how pronounced primitive markings will be and if there wil be dun frosting/bi-coloring in the mane and tail, or in some horses only the tail and not the mane will get bi-coloring. Recently, however, color geneticists have been able to identify the dun gene and can tell you if your horse is homozygous or heterozygous for the gene.


Is my horse red dun or bay dun? This can be confusing and I've seen horses that are bay dun, labeled as red dun and vice versa. On Señor Diego for example, he is a true bay dun with minimal body dilution. However, his stripe on his back is dark auburn in color but he has dark brown/black leg markings. A red dun could never have dark leg markings like this. I find it easiest to keep to the leg coloring than the other markings.

California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse

Black. Well, here's an easy one! Black while it is a base color, is fairly uncommon because the dun gene seems to dominate in the CVH.

More Colors!

California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse
California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse

Chestnut or sorrel is a red base color. While it is extremely common as a color, it is a very rare find in the CVH.


Pictures soon to come!

California vaquero horse, spanish sulphur horse

Bay, a black horse diluted by the agouti gene to produce a reddish body with black points.


Pictures soon to come!

The conformation standard is based on the phenotype of the original herd that was found in the north-east section of the Sulphur Springs HMA and is guided by the book, 'This is the Spanish Horse', by Juan Llamas. This should not be confused with using two different standards, as these horses are already Spanish in phenotype. However, it does help in selecting correct Spanish features when breeding. The goal of the CVHA is to improve the breed and preserve the original type that was found in the mountains of Utah. All photos used on this page are purebred California Vaquero Horses  and follow in clear Spanish phenotype of what Juan Llamas describes as a Spanish horse.