The Florida Cracker horse is the state’s official horse. It is a gaited cow-pony of Spanish blood which played a very important role in the agricultural history of Florida. Named after the cowboys that rode them (they cracked bullwhips), these horses were prized for their cow sense, stamina and ground covering gait. On May 2, 2008, the Florida Cracker Horse became the official heritage horse of the state of Florida.
The Florida Cracker horse is a descendent of the horses brought to the American continent in the early 1500’s. Its roots can be traced to the Iberian horse from Spain. The other breeds that contributed blood lines include the Spanish Sorraia, Spanish Jennet, Barb, and Andalusian. It also shares characteristics with other Spanish origin breeds such as the Criollo and Paso Fino. Some may recognize the other names that these horses have been identified as: Chickshaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Marsh Tackie, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse and Florida Cowpony just to name a few.
The Seminole Indians of Florida were the first to utilize these horses. Later, as the state became settled and agriculture flourished, they were used by cowboys for ranch work, hauling loads, working the land, and drawing carriages.
In the 1930’s, the horses faced a decline in population. With the Great Depression came changes in the agricultural practices of the region. More cattle moved out of the Dust Bowl and into Florida. They brought with them screw worm which caused changes in livestock handling to include different roping methods and the doctoring of sick cattle. It was at this time that most cowboys replaced their Cracker horses with larger and stronger Quarter horses who could handle the roping and tying of cattle.
Over the last 50 years the breed has survived due to the efforts of a few ranching families who have continued to breed and use them. They are quite rare, but there is the Florida Cracker Horse Association (formed in 1989) which is dedicated to preserving their heritage and promoting their use as a stock and pleasure horse.
Standard and Temperament
The following is a summary of the breed standard as defined by the Florida Cracker Horse Association:
- The Florida Cracker Horse is a small horse, generally standing between 13.5 hands and 15.2 hands, and weighs between 700 and 1000 pounds.
- They have a refined and intelligent head, with a straight or slightly concave profile.
- They have a prominent throat latch and a short and well defined jaw.
- The eyes are keen, have an alert expression and reasonable width between them.
- The eye colors are, dark with a white sclera, grey or blue.
- The neck is well defined, fairly narrow, not excessively crusty, and is proportionate to the back.
- Withers are pronounced but not prominent.
- The chest is medium to narrow. The shoulders are long and sloping with a 40 to 50 degree angle.
- The back is short, narrow and strong.
- The point of withers and croup are equal in height.
- The underline is longer than the top line, and the croup is sloping and short.
- The tail is set medium low.
- Any color is acceptable, but the most common colors are solid and grey.
When riding a Cracker Horse, one can expect to find a comfortable gaited horse. Its gaits include the flatfoot walk, the running walk, the trot, and an ambling gait. They are horses of willing attitude with great stamina and endurance.
They have great cow-sense and are still used as ranch horses. They might also be found on the trail, at a show competing in the reining, pleasure, working cow horse, or at a team roping or team penning. They are also good driving horses.
American gaited horses in Australia
According to the American Saddle-breeds and Sports-horses Registry of Australia (ASSRA), the importation of American saddle breeds began in the early 1970s. These horses were favoured for their 5-gait abilities, which basically means that they possess two extra gaits on top of the standard three (walking, trotting and cantering), these being the slow gait and the 4-beat rack. The extra gaits can really enhance the horse’s abilities in the show ring. The Florida Cracker Horse fits into the category of a gaited horse due to its ground-covering gaits and this means a much smoother ride for horse and rider.