- HEIGHT: 13.2–15.2 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Spain
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: A breed of gaited, colored horses of Spanish type
- BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure, trail riding, ranch work, showing; smooth gaits make them a good choice for riders with physical limitations
The Spanish Jennet is a very old breed that may have originated in Libya, although absolute proof is sketchy. The horses were small to medium-sized and had a natural four-beat smooth gait. Smooth-gaited horses were extremely popular in Europe when roads were of such poor quality that driving was impossible and people rode their horses rather than drive them. Smooth-gaited amblers were selected because they were comfortable to sit on and the gait was not tiring for the horse. Horses that ambled were popular in Spain at the time of Columbus, and they were taken to the New World among the first shipments of horses to the Caribbean.
The name Jennet comes from the Spanish word jinete, which is originally from the Berber word Zenete. The Zenete were a powerful tribe from North Africa, famous for their ability as horsemen and warriors. They participated in the Moorish invasions of Spain, which began in 711 but did not end until 1492, and in fact composed the bulk of Mohammedan cavalry. According to Robert Denhardt, in The Horse of the Americas, “Jinete, ginete, genete, or zenete, as it was variously used by the earlier writers, had a pagan connotation, since it referred to the Moorish tribe of North Africa from which it is derived. . . . As time went on the word zenete or jinete was applied to all horsemen who rode in the fashion of North Africa or the Moors. Since the Moors were excellent horsemen, it also came to be applied to a person who was a skilled rider—he would be called muy jinete.”
This stallion shows the aristocratic bearing typical of Spanish Horses.
According to some writers of the 1600s, this style of riding was more highly perfected on the islands of the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world. Again to quote Denhardt, “A la jinete riding seems to find its ideal location in the wide open spaces and hot countries, where the simplest armor and tough, agile horses with good mouths and great hearts are needed. This style of riding flourished in the New World.” The quick, agile horses that were best suited to this style of riding also came to be known as jinetes, which has filtered down to us as Jennets. It originally referred to the type of horse suitable for riding in this manner rather than to a breed of horse as we recognize the term breed today. The word Jennet is sometimes unfortunately confused with jennet or jenny, meaning female donkey.
The Spanish Jennet Society divides colored Paso horses into two groups. Pintados are pinto Pasos and Antigrados carry the leopard complex.
Because the leopard complex is very rare or no longer found within the allowed parent breeds, the society allows horses that are crosses to Appaloosas or Tiger Horses, but they must contain a minimum of 50 percent purebred Paso or Paso Fino. Only one outcross is allowed to obtain the Appaloosa color. All 50 percent crosses must provide video proof of gait before registration of their offspring is complete. Non-patterned female offspring from these registered individuals will be registered as breeding stock Antigrado but may not compete in the show ring. Non-patterned male Antigrados must be gelded before registration. Because of their association with fading color in leopard-complex horses, gray horses are not accepted for registration.
The Pintado is the division for pinto-pattern Paso or Paso Fino Horses. All horses must be purebred, gaited individuals. There are three ways for these horses to be eligible for registration as a Spanish Jennet:
- A horse must be registered with one of the approved purebred registries; or
- Proof must be given by parental verification that the horse is the offspring of registered Paso or Paso Fino parents; or
- The horse must be the verified offspring of registered Spanish Jennet Horses.
Any horse foaled after January 2004 whose sire or dam is gray is ineligible for registration.
North American Strains
Spanish breeders brought smooth-gaited horses of jinete type to the islands of the Caribbean and established them on their breeding ranches. The Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso arose from these roots. Many of the early horses were pintos and some carried what is known as the leopard-complex genes, or what we know as Appaloosa coloring. The original Spanish Jennets were often wildly colored.
In Europe, colored horses went in and out of fashion. After the Baroque Period, from the second half of the sixteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century, Europeans began to think of colored horses as vulgar and discarded them in favor of solid bays, grays, and blacks. Europeans in North America generally followed this trend as well, although some Spanish settlers, particularly in Puerto Rico and Mexico, continued to ride and breed spotted horses for many years.
On the Brink of Extinction
It is generally believed that the old Spanish Jennet is now extinct, although some suspect that its genes may still exist in the tiny, critically endangered population of Abaco Barbs, the Paso Fino, and the Peruvian Paso.
The Spanish Jennet Society was formed in 2002 to provide a registry and association exclusively for colored Paso Fino or Peruvian Paso Horses in North America. Although pintos are well known and leopard-complex horses previously existed in these breeds, they are no longer favored and are discriminated against in the show ring in the United States, although less so in other countries. In contrast, the Spanish Jennet Society welcomes these horses.
In its efforts to establish the Spanish Jennet as a breed of high-quality, Spanish-type gaited horses of color, the society has carefully restricted the acceptance of animals for registration as foundation horses. Accepted individuals are chosen based on show records, conformation, and quality of gait, as well as color.
The Spanish Jennet has a bold, energetic appearance, indicative of strength, stamina, and elegance. The breed’s conformation is well proportioned, with moderation being the key concept. Extreme muscling is not typical and detracts from the appearance of great refinement.
Spanish Jennets stand between 13.2 and 15.2 hands. The head is aristocratic, of medium size, with a flat or slightly convex profile, never coarse. The eyes are large and well spaced and have a pleasant expression. The nostrils are oblong or crescent shaped; the muzzle is small and refined. The ears are of medium length and well shaped. The throatlatch is well defined and connects to a medium-length, well-arched neck, which is set on high and in such a manner as to allow proud carriage and the ability to flex well at the poll. The withers are well defined, the chest deep, the back of medium length and strong.
The loins are broad and well muscled. The croup is somewhat angular but well rounded, and the tail set is medium to low. The legs have prominent joints and long, well-refined bones. The cannons are short and refined but extremely sturdy. The hind legs are set well under the body, contributing to great agility. The hooves are small and tough.
The Paso Fino probably contains genes from the original Spanish Jennet.
The mane is thick and full and may fall on both sides of the neck. The tail is long and full.
Any base body color other than gray is allowed. The pinto patterns of tobiano and sabino are common. There is some doubt that the true overo pattern exists in this breed. Leopard-complex patterns of all varieties and colors are permitted. Because gray is associated with fading color in leopard-complex horses, it is not allowed in this breed.
All horses exhibit the true paso, the four-beat lateral gait, with propulsion from the hindquarters absorbed by the horse’s back and loins, resulting in extremely smooth movement with no perceptible up-and-down movement of the croup.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the Spanish Jennet Society (founded in 2002):
- As of 2005, there are about 350 registered horses, comprising about 250 in the Pintado division and about 100 in the Antigrado division.
- Twenty-five to 50 new foals are registered each year.
- Spanish Jennets are now found mostly in the southern United States, especially in Georgia and Florida, and in California.