Cerbat Horse

  • HEIGHT: 13.2–14.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Northwestern Arizona; genetic heritage goes back to the early Spanish horses
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A critically rare breed of sure-footed, tough, athletic horses; conformation is representative of Spanish Colonial Horses; some are gaited
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Endurance, trail, ranch work, and pleasure

The Cerbat mountain range runs across northwestern Arizona, not too far from Kingman. The altitude climbs from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, and the area contains some of the roughest, driest, rockiest terrain in the state. One of the first families of settlers in the area arrived in the 1860s. From documents passed down in this family and made public in 1966, we know that wild horses have lived there for many years. The local Indians said that the “horses had always been there,” which means the horses go back further than tribal memory. Because of the extreme isolation of the area and the evidence from the family’s careful records, it appears that no outside blood was ever introduced to these feral herds.

In all probability, the Cerbat herd arose from horses that escaped or were lost by the early Spanish explorers. The history of the area reveals a number of early Spanish expeditions into Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Blood testing of the Cerbat Horses shows they carry on their DNA what are known as “old Spanish markers,” which links them very closely to the early Spanish horses.

A severe drought in 1971 caused local ranchers to begin eliminating the horses in an attempt to provide more water for their cattle. They did not realize that wild horses will dig for water in dry streambeds, and in so doing provide water for cattle as well as themselves. Twenty horses were trapped, brought down out of the mountains, branded, and issued the required Arizona paperwork that allowed them to be moved out of state. This group was divided up, with several of the horses going to Washington state and some to Colorado. A few of the remaining horses ended up on the Wyoming ranch of the founder of the Spanish Mustang Registry, who decided to make an effort to save this genetically distinct, rare group of horses. He bought two mares from the Colorado group and began to breed up the herd.

It is very likely that the Cerbat herd is one of the purest groups of feral Spanish horses in existence. Genetic testing demonstrates they are highly inbred, but almost none have health or soundness problems. It seems that maladaptive traits have been “bred out” of the herd. Weak, genetically inferior horses were presumably picked off by predators or died in accidents.

In 1990, a very small group of horses, believed to be descended from the herd caught in 1971, was discovered still living in the Cerbat range. Eight of these horses were caught and removed from the mountains. Blood testing indicates they are even more highly inbred than the first horses caught, but they still had no physical problems. Their blood markers matched those of the 1971 group.

Breed Characteristics

A number of the Cerbat Horses are laterally gaited. They are said to be extremely tractable and easy to teach. Cerbats are very long-lived. Mares from the herd caught in 1971 continued to produce foals well into their twenties.

This is a typical Cerbat; note the small ears and the red roan color.

The eyes are set high in these solidly built young horses.

Conformation

The original horses were about 13.2 hands, but the next generation was almost a hand bigger, which indicates that the quantity and quality of food and a very tough environment were size-limiting factors for the wild horses.

The ears are small and curved and the eyes fairly high set. The profile is straight, as is typical of all Spanish-type breeds. The chest is somewhat narrow compared with modern Western breeds, but muscular. The shoulders are well laid back and the heart girth is deep. Their legs are excellent, with good bone. Chestnuts on the front legs are small and smooth and are small or absent on the hind legs, as are the ergots. The feet are quite strong, with thick hoof walls.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

There is no formal Cerbat registry at this time. Cerbats may be registered with the Spanish Mustang Registry.

• In 2005 the total number of living Cerbats registered with the Spanish Mustang Registry is 34, down from a high of 45.

• The decline in numbers has to do primarily with the death from old age of horses foaled in the 1970s.

• There are two foals pending registration.

• Only one ranch maintains both purebred Cerbat mares and stallions.

• Cerbat stallions have been crossed on other Spanish Mustang lines.

Color

Almost all of the horses are basically bay or chestnut, though many are red roan. White socks or facial markings are common. Uniquely, roan Cerbat foals are born roan. In other breeds, the roaning appears after the foals have at least shed their foal coat, and in some it develops years later.

The harsh environment of the Cerbat Mountains has produced well-proportioned, athletic horses.