In 1989, an isolated herd of horses on the Wilbur-Cruce ranch in Arizona was discovered to be the genetically pure descendants of the Spanish horses brought to the Americas in 1519. The early Spanish culture relied heavily upon their horses, derived from thousands of years of careful breeding, to support their demands in life. Their intelligence and superior physical attributes allowed them to perform in a variety of ways, sustain heavy workloads with great endurance, assist in agriculture, and carry soldiers into battle, while also providing companionship and loyalty. Because of their versatility, the Spanish horse was the most sought after in the world at that time and later became the ancestors of most of the indigenous breeds of America. For multiple generations, the Wilbur-Cruce family dedicated itself to preserving the purity of this line by not allowing them to be influenced by other gene pools. Unlike Spanish mustangs, that were crossed with other types of equines, the Wilbur-Cruce horses remain to this day a truly unique living example of the Spanish horse of the 16th century.
These rare and genetically important group of equines have come to be recognized as the Colonial Spanish Wilbur-Cruce Mission horses and were trusted to the care of very few individuals. These horses are living examples of the full-bodied, colorful battle horses depicted in many of the paintings of the early renaissance period. They still possess the stoic attributes, strength of character, and hardiness that would have been required of the horses that survived the journey across the Atlantic to build the Americas in the 16th century. That adaptability has been carried throughout time and the traits that were endowed to the ancestors of these horses that enabled their survival in the New World is now being utilized once again to aid in humanity in various forms of therapy here at our ranch. Today, Rancho Del Sueño is the only facility actively dedicated to the continued preservation of this unique breed.
"The Spanish horses were brought here from Rancho Dolores in Mexico, the headquarters of Father Kino, who brought them from Spain. They were our companions from sunup to sundown and sometimes deep into the night, year in and year out. They had speed, stamina, and intelligence. Years of close association taught me their language. We loved our voiceless co-workers dearly and were quick to take offense at any slight against them."
~ Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce, A Beautiful, Cruel Country, 1987
Equine Division of Heritage Discovery Center, Inc.
The Wilbur-Cruce Horse
Rancho Del Sueño
The Wilbur-Cruce horse is a horse strain derived from Spanish colonial times which persist into the present day in as pure a state as can be determined. The need to continue to conserve this herd is great, since it represents a unique genetic resource. It also fits perfectly into the content of the Living History Museum, as it’s a major component in the development of colonial California.
In 1519, Hernando Cortez landed in Vera Cruz, Mexico, with ten stallions and six mares. These Spanish horses would become the foundation of the great Mission and Rancho herds of the New World. The superior quality and versatility of these Spanish horses made them sought after by Royal Stud farms throughout the world. This is the breed that became the ancestor to all indigenous breeds of the Americas.
In 1885, Dr. Ruben Wilbur purchased 26 horses from Father Francisco Eusibio Kino at his historic Rancho Delores in Sonora, Mexico, to stock his homestead ranch near Arivaca, Arizona. Through three successive family generations, spanning more than 120 years, the Wilbur-Cruce Spanish horses were kept in genetic isolation on the ranch.
“The Spanish Colonial Cruce horses are a most significant discovery of a type of horse thought to be gone forever.” —D.P. Sponenberg, DVM, PhD
In 1990, the riparian portion of the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch was sold to the Nature Conservancy. Due to the horses’ genetic importance, Dr. Wilbur’s granddaughter, Eva-Antonia Wilbur-Cruce, donated the direct descendants of the original herd to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). The Conservancy confirmed that these horses were pure and direct descendants of the original Spanish horses brought to the New World.
The ALBC asked Robin Collins, then President of the California Hooved Animal Humane Society and noted animal behaviorist and horse trainer, to administrate and oversee the preservation of the largest portion of the remaining breeding stock. Ms. Collins continues to sustain, nurture, and preserve the rare genetics of these endangered Spanish horses through The Heritage Discovery Center, a California 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.