An old Andalusian proverb has it that Spanish horses have:
The nobleness to be ridden by a king
The kindness to be ridden by a child
The braveness to be ridden by a hero
The intelligence to be taught by a high-school [dressage] master
The endurance to be ridden by a cowboy
The “estampa” (presence) to be painted by a Velazquez
And the heart to be loved by all.

Here at Rainbow’s End Farm we breed Colonial Spanish Horses of the Spanish Mustang or Western strains, we offer boarding services, breeding/foaling services, train/start babies, and offer hoof care services as well. We are awfully busy these days trying to get it all done but I’m not sure I’d change a thing if I could. I’m living a life long dream of having such a farm and breeding horses that I believe in and enjoy riding. I felt that it would be helpful to share what we are “about” here at Rainbow's end and our breeding goals.

My background has always been in sport horses. I competed in eventing for many years and competed as well in dressage and hunters. I was quite serious about it for many years but never had a big time horse but always took horses that were very green or completely unstarted and “made” those horses into solid competition horses. I have worked with a variety of breeds...from a full Arab to thoroughbreds to quarter horses and had quite a bit of fun and reasonable success. It wasn’t until I rescued a BLM Mustang from almost certain slaughter and made him into a fun and successful little event horse that I realized how much I enjoyed this little guy over the bigger heavier horses I’d ridden all my life. I owe a lot to that little mustang for opening my eyes and mind to other possibilities. Nevada Star is fully retired now after two bouts with EPM that left him unrideable.

Nevada started me on the journey to find more horses with his qualities and my journey truly began with a visit to the Cayuse Ranch in January of 2004. I found a young stallion and several mares that I fell in love with, made arrangements to purchase and ship them, and they arrived in April of 2004....only one month after Nevada fell ill the first time with EPM. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

I spent a lot of time with that young stallion, Cayuse Gold; and, in the process, lost my heart completely to these little Spanish horses. Cisco, as we call him, impressed me so much with his character, his “try”, and his intelligence. He didn’t know much when he got here but since then he’s competed in dressage locally and hauled nearly 15,000 miles in promotion of his breed. He has been presented in large venues such as Kentucky Horse Park and the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and numerous smaller local events. We have his sixth foal crop on the ground now and several of his foals are now in Europe also.

Our first foal crop was born in NC in 2005...two fillies and a colt. That little dun roan colt, RE Cisco’s Ricochet or Rico (to those who love him), is now a four year old gelding recently returned to us to be started under saddle. I truly could not have enjoyed starting a youngster more than Rico . He is a fast learner, sensible and shows the kind nature of his sire. He has the physical ability to do anything for his owner. He has three very good gaits that could serve him well in dressage, the sound feet to carry him across miles of trails, the toughness to do endurance, he is brave and goes willingly into new places and down new trails, and he has the brains to keep his rider out of trouble. He is an attractive, correct, and typey Spanish I am very proud to have produced. Some might call him “pretty” too...and that is in the eye of the beholder....but what he is really is a very functional and excellent example of the breed. I feel like we’ve come full circle now....I simply could not ask for more. Each and every youngster of our breeding that we've started since Ricochet has only confirmed that we have chosen the right breeding stock. Not only are they beautiful horses but they are sane and very easy to work with. They want to please you and enjoy attention.

Because of my sport horse background and interests in those disciplines, I’ve picked breeding stock that would serve that purpose well. I also believe that Spanish Mustangs CAN make excellent sport horses and ponies. I also feel like our breeding stock are all good to excellent examples of the breed by the breed standard. I fully accept also that there is variation within the breed and everyone should breed what pleases them or serves their uses. In my case, I want to breed horses like Rico...horses nice enough to be competitive in the sport horse world in open competition, horses that can go down the trail calmly and hold up heavy work, and horses that would be equally at home in harness or on an endurance ride or chasing cattle. That is my primary breed attractive, correct, sensible, good moving, useful, and sound Spanish Mustangs. My secondary goal is to breed for sport horse type and movement while retaining those other unique and important breed characteristics. At no point do I intend to change this breed to make it more marketable...larger, etc... and will be subjecting my stock to inspection by registry inspectors. Being held to a standard is important to any breeding program and adds credibility to a breed. I think this is very important to the preservation of this breed to maintain the original type.

I am not a “color” breeder; however, my horses come in many colors as modifying genes are very common in this breed. I am not breeding for roans, duns, paints or appaloosas...but I have those colors in my breeding colorful foals are going to happen...but to my delight I got a "plain" bay foal this year....such a lovely filly also. I do screen for OLWS (Overo Lethal White Syndrome) and am very careful with that gene in making crosses. Some of my horses do carry it, as do most horses with the frame overo pattern, but when bred intelligently, produce lovely paints. We recently found that we may have splash overo in our horses also and are going to participate in a study to help identify that gene and carriers of it. In all ways we want to be responsible for the horses we create.

Because of my background and my location I do things differently from some other earlier Spanish Mustang breeders. I do not have thousands of acres to run my stock on... I have 26. My horses live outside where they can move and play and run and are not kept in a stall...but in no way do I pretend to be keeping them as a wild horse. A wild horse would move 30 miles a day in the search of food and water, he would wear his feet hard as rocks, and never graze in the same place and have a low risk of parasites. He would probably lick up minerals from the ground and be free to go find what he needs. 99.9% of all Spanish Mustang owners can never hope to duplicate a truly feral horse situation and we should not fool ourselves that we are doing so.

My climate is hot, humid and wet and parasites and insect borne diseases are common. I vaccinate and worm my horses to ensure their health, and we feed hay year around here as we do not have enough grazing to sustain the horses otherwise. Also, our grass can be so rich at certain times of the year that unlimited grazing can lead to other health issues such as Insulin Resistance. Virginia pastures are way richer in sugars than prairie grasses. Their diets are balanced and we add minerals to make up deficiencies that are known to exist in our forage. Each horse is fed as needed to maintain good condition. The vet is called when horses are injured or sick, and they receive the best and most humane care possible within our means. Since I am trained as a barefoot trimmer, I trim the hooves of the horses we own myself and try to keep them in reasonably good condition...and that is hard also in our climate with soft wet footing.

Due to fescue toxicity issues with the grasses that grow in this area, mares must be pulled off of pasture for the last few months of gestation or the risk of foaling complications is very high. For that reason my mares are confined to small dry paddocks, and they are stalled at night to allow them privacy to foal that they would not have otherwise. Because they are stalled, I am able to and try to attend foalings as well. Each foal is precious to me and my program, and I have seen too many things go wrong with foalings over 30 years of working with horses to just wake up in the morning and count heads or find a mare in trouble or a dead foal that I could have saved. At least this way, I can try to help mare in trouble...I may not save them...and sometimes you can’t....but I cannot blame myself for not being there.

I fully understand and accept that there are many valid ways to manage horses and my ways are not necessarily the “best” for anyone else, but they are best for me. I do not buy the argument that by giving my horses the above level of care, that I am causing the demise of the very traits that allowed these horses to survive for 500 years. I don’t think ANYONE can preserve these horses the same in a domesticated environment where WE make the decisions versus nature so that is total complete nonsense.

We decide who breeds to who by our own criteria...who gets gelded...who does not...who is sold, who is kept, etc... We confine them to a pasture...and it does not matter if it’s 3 acres or a 1000 acres. We have changed their behavior from the wild model and domesticated them...introduced them to problems like parasites that plague domesticated horses and limited their ability to forage..and the moment we did that, we assumed responsibility to meeting their needs and ensuring their humane treatment. In the wild, predators would take down old horses and domestication, we protect our foals and feed the elder horses soft food they can chew. To say that doing so is not natural and will ruin the breed is absurd. We changed them the moment we took them from the wild, and modern law and society also dictate that animals should receive a certain level of care and humane treatment. I will not do less...and my situation and ethics require that I do more.

Preservation of our horses as they were and as they have always been, will only be achieved by intelligent management based on each owner’s situation, climate, and personal breeding goals. They will remain as they are now if we make the right choices in breeding only good solid, true to type, foundation stock that meets the breed standard, proves themselves in performance and temperament, and we cull out those that do not. They will remain as they were 500 years ago by our own will and desire to preserve them...not by trying to mimic nature in a paddock or pasture.

Sharon Sluss
Rainbow’s End Farm

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