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Florida Cracker Horse

The Florida Cracker horse, like the cattle breed of the same name, traces its ancestry to Spanish stocks brought to the Americas beginning in the 1500s. The formation of the Cracker horse breed was parallel to that of the Spanish Mustang and Spanish Barb further west. The Cracker became a distinctive part of this breed family due to its geographical isolation and location. The long history of horse trading between Florida and Cuba meant a regular and continual introduction of Spanish genetics from Cuba into the Florida population.

Cracker horses were an essential part of the cattle industry in Florida, which began almost 500 years ago and flourishes today. Florida cowboys were nicknamed “crackers” because of the sound made by their whips cracking in the air. This name was also given to the small, agile Spanish horses that they used to work their Spanish cattle.

The Cracker horse suffered a reversal of fortune in the 1930s. The Great Depression led to the creation of a number of relief programs, one of which encouraged the movement of cattle from the Dust Bowl into Florida. With the cattle came the screwworm parasite, and this changed the practice of cattle raising. Before the screwworm, cowboys used horses to herd and drive cattle; with its arrival came the need to rope cattle and hold them for veterinary treatment. As a result, ranchers turned to the larger, stronger Quarter Horse, and the Florida Cracker horse declined.
The breed’s survival over the last fifty years resulted from the work of a few families who kept distinct bloodlines alive in their herds. Several of these lines – such as Ayers, Harvey, Bronson, and Whaley – are still very important within the breed. The Florida Cracker Horse Association was organized in 1989, with its first task the search for remnant herds of Cracker horses. A registry was established, and foundation animals were registered based on their history and external type. Stringent application of the rules has resulted in a very consistent breed. Today, the Florida Cracker is promoted as a valuable and vital part of Florida’s heritage, though it is still quite rare with just over 200 horses having been included in the registry.

Florida Crackers are small riding horses, standing 14-15 hands (56-60") at the withers and weighing 800-900 pounds. They have wide foreheads and finely made faces, with straight or slightly roman noses. Croups are sloped and tails are set low. While this external type is distinctive, breed proponents insist that the best way to tell a Florida Cracker horse is to ride one, for its easy, ground-covering gaits rarely occur in other breeds. The breed is found in many colors, with dark bay and black most common, and gray, chestnut, and various shades of dun also present. Enticing leads of paint and roan strains still persist, and these other colors (historically present in the breed) may yet be located in some remote corner of Florida.

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