Galiceno

  • HEIGHT: 12–14.1 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Northwestern Spain
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A very rare breed of gaited, pony-sized horses with the character, presence, courage, and stamina of other Spanish breeds
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Trail and endurance riding, cutting, and reining

The Galiceno breed originated in the northwestern province of Galicia in Spain, probably from crossing local horses with the Garrano Mountain ponies and the ancient, indigenous Sorraia of Portugal. Because of the beauty and overall look of the Galiceno, there are those who believe Andalusian may also be in their heritage; however, Dr. Hardy Oelke, a renowned horse geneticist and historian, believes it was the Sorraia that formed the most important part of the foundation of the Andalusian.

Oelke writes, “The Sorraia horse is the most important ancestor of the Iberian breeds such as Lusitano and Andalusian. It is this horse that contributed the proud carriage, the ability to flex at the poll, to collect and to work off the hindquarters to these breeds, and via the Lusitano and the Andalusian to all modern warmblood breeds. It also contributed a latent tendency for lateral gaits and the talent for cow work.”

It therefore seems that the Sorraia may have done the same for the Galiceno. Horses of recognizable type were usually given the name of the region from which they originated. The horses of Galicia were known by the time of the Conquistadores. The Galiceno made its entrance to the New World in 1519 on the first load of seventeen horses brought by Hernán Cortés when he invaded Mexico. These small horses were known then as they are now for their beauty, smooth gaits, gentle nature, strength, and endurance.

This very old and rare breed of attractive small horses is not well known in most of North America.

As the horse population of Mexico increased, local people began to catch and use horses from the free-ranging herds for a wide variety of tasks. The tough Galiceno became a highly prized possession, especially in coastal regions. Galicenos were also used by the Conquistadores to work in the Mexican silver mines. When mines closed, the horses were sometimes released to fend for themselves in the mountains. They survived and multiplied and were occasionally captured by native people. The horses living with remote populations of people remained virtually isolated from other breeds and more or less forgotten or unnoticed by the rest of the world for centuries.

In other places in Mexico, the little Galicenos were ridden or packed north by the Spanish into what is now the United States. As Spanish missions expanded their holdings and activities beyond the Mexican border, additional Galiceno-type horses were brought into and bred in more northern regions. Inevitably some escaped or were lost in battle, while others were stolen by Indians who then took the horses wherever they went, keeping some and trading others. In these ways Galicenos became part of the vast herds of Mustangs that populated the great plains. Our Spanish Mustangs can certainly trace an important part of their ancestry to the Galicenos, as can Florida Cracker Horses and many others. The Galicenos were also part of the ancestry of many Indian ponies.

The first Galicenos in modern times intentionally imported from Mexico into the United States were a herd of 135 brought by Walt Johnson and John Le Brett in the 1950s. At least some, and possibly all, of these horses had been wild-caught in Mexico. The good-looking, small, smooth-gaited horses with natural “cow sense” attracted the attention of horsemen and ranchers. The Galiceno Horse Breeders Association was formed in 1959.

These are very strong, well-balanced, stock-type horses.

Breed Characteristics

Where people are familiar with the breed, North Americans have accepted these pony-sized horses as excellent mounts for children and small adults; but outside of a few ranches in Texas, North Americans have been slow to recognize and make use of their strength and endurance. A 13-hand Galiceno can easily carry a 200-pound man over rough country all day. This is a gaited breed, known for its ground-covering movement. The horses have a running walk that is distinctive to the breed.

Galicenos have always been recognized for their substance, style, and beauty. Although they are pony height, these animals are said to possess the character, presence, courage, and stamina of other famous Spanish horse breeds. They are reported to form particularly strong bonds with their human companions. Galicenos make ideal family and trail horses, and they are well suited to endurance riding. They are quick enough to use in contest sports and make very good cutting and reining horses.

Smooth-gaited and agile, Galicenos make very nice all-around mounts and family horses.

Conformation

The average height of the horses is between 12 and 13.2 hands, but the breed has increased slightly in size since coming to the United States, and some are now about 14.1 hands.

The head has good width between the large, lively eyes, a small muzzle, and pointed ears. The neck is slightly arched with a clean throatlatch. The mane is thick and full and often lies on both sides of the neck. The neck fits smoothly into prominent withers. The body is smoothly muscled. The shoulders are well sloped, which contributes to the long, low, smooth gaits. The forearms are well muscled. The back is short and straight, with a slightly sloped croup and low tail set, typical of Spanish traits. The tail itself is usually very long and full, often sweeping the ground. The hindquarters are set slightly more under the body than in other breeds. The joints are strong and clean. The feet are well shaped, hard, and open at the heel.

Color

All solid colors other than albino are accepted for registration. White on the face and lower legs is permitted. Pintos are not accepted for registration.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the Galiceno Horse Breeders Association (founded in 1959):

  • Galicenos that meet requirements for color, conformation, and height may also be registered with the American Indian Horse Registry.
  • There are 7,000 Galicenos registered in North America.
  • About 20 foals are registered annually.