Saving Santa Cruz Island’s Rare Horses from Genetic Extinction • The Malibu Times

El Campeon Farms within the Santa Monica Mountains preserves a singular breed with the blood of a 200-year-old Spanish Colonial

El Campeon Farms within the Santa Monica Mountains is reviving one of the crucial endangered horse breeds on the planet – the Santa Cruz Island Horse (SCI). The younger herd, now as much as 23 horses, will be the final of their sort, however a scientific breeding program is at the moment underway to extend their numbers.

Because the identify suggests, these horses got here from the 98 sq. mile Santa Cruz Island – one of many Channel Islands off our coast. Data present that horses had been first introduced in in 1830 – almost 200 years in the past.

In response to El Campion Farms basic supervisor Christy Reich, in an interview with Livestock Conservation, the island’s first horses had been Spanish colonial horses descended from these dropped at the New World on Spanish galleons to Central and South America. Finally, the “padres” (Catholic missionary monks) rode these horses so far as ca.

When Mexico established a penal colony on Santa Cruz Island in 1830, some Spanish horses had been despatched there. With the arrival of sheep farming in 1851, extra horses had been introduced in to haul hay and provides from farm to farm—the brand new horses might or might not have been Spanish Colonies.

In response to ship data from 1873 to 1905, small numbers of horses had been periodically delivered or picked up from the island, however the remoted core herd remained and developed into its personal distinct breed. Data recorded in 1874 “about 125 saddle horses and mules,” however nearly half a century later, in 1922, that quantity had dropped to “97 head of horses” as a result of they had been displaced by cars.


Finally, ranching grew to become much less worthwhile on the island and, in accordance with one account, “horses roamed freely and bred amongst themselves for a number of many years”. In 1984, 40 horses remained, and in 1999, when the Nationwide Park Service took over, 15-19 of the surviving wild horses had been eliminated (accounts differ).

They had been taken to a horse sanctuary in Northern California, however after dwelling with out predators for over 150 years, the animals had no flight response and had been preyed upon by mountain lions. Then the survivors had been taken to a shelter within the province of Tehama, the place they lived for about 15 years. El Campeon Farms bought 13 animals in 2014 in an effort to avoid wasting them by means of a scientific breeding program.

Santa Cruz Island horses are registered with the Livestock Conservancy and are listed underneath the “Vital” horse class.

Karen Blumenchen, an equine veterinary vet primarily based in Santa Barbara, studied the animals of their pure habitat on the island with UC Davis researchers from 1995-1998, analyzed their DNA, and revealed a scientific paper about them. She describes the horses as genetically distinctive with “heirloom” genes that should be preserved.

It described various distinct variations that set the Santa Cruz Island horses aside. Notably, they’ve infants at a really completely different time of yr than some other horse breed.

“These guys had been giving start from November to February,” she stated in a telephone interview. They have not learn the guide about ready longer hours for daylight. However the change was adaptive and helpful to life on that island—for the grass was inexperienced whereas feeding; After which when the grains and seeds got here in, that they had a higher-calorie meals out there to achieve weight once more throughout weaning.”

Blumenshine discovered that the island’s horses are stronger than different breeds, and get across the island with out vets or foot care.

“As a result of they had been consistently on the transfer, their hooves scraped up sand, and so they had been textbook excellent,” she stated.

The SCI breed can be shorter and thicker than different horses.

“It was heavier than numerous Spanish breeds, so perhaps some draft horses combined in…they appear alike, like they’re associated, however not like some other breed I do know,” Blumenshine stated. “They jogged my memory of the previous California horses from once I was a child; with bigger heads and ft, which makes them extra stable. The bigger ft distribute the drive of every stride over extra sq. centimeters. In addition they have tough manes, which most likely additionally got here from draft horses.”

“When US breeders began breeding horses to have a sure look—smaller ft and heads—you lose outbred genes—genes that adapt to the setting.”

One other factor that units the breed aside is its urge for food.

“Island horses additionally don’t want as a lot meals as different horses—if you happen to feed them an excessive amount of, they get overweight,” Blumenshine stated. We rescued them on the finish of a seven yr drought, and so they had been competing for meals with 1000’s of sheep, and so they had been nonetheless very wholesome. They subsisted on native grass and imported non-native grasses for grazing.

“My hope in perpetuating the breed is probably to protect a few of the historical genes to cross on if we bred them from different breeds,” she stated. “There’s worth in preserving these historical genes.”

Reich famous that horse breeds do not survive except folks worth them for being good at one thing, and it was her job to determine what that was. I found their strengths in dressage and dealing, in addition to having unusually calm demeanor.

This additionally makes them beneficial as remedy horses.

“They’re very calm and relaxed — nothing bothers them. They love dwelling exterior,” she stated.

The farm suspects there might have been an excessive amount of inbreeding in a small variety of the inhabitants, so they’re working with UC Davis to very fastidiously and slowly introduce extra genetic range into the road.

“It was necessary to search out related horses, with calm inclinations and related physique varieties,” stated Reich. “We have now been capable of finding some matches within the Lusitano and Andalusian bloodlines; they’re at the moment on maintain to see how these offspring develop. We take our management of those island horses very critically.”

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