Abaco Horses Become "Abaco Barbs,"
Gain International Recognition -
Long Version
On the sun swept stage of a small island 150 miles off Florida’s gold coast, 16 rare and endangered horses have made their debut to the world. Work begun in 1992 recently resulted in having the horses designated a pure strain of the critically endangered Spanish Barb breed by the Horse of the America’s Registry. The Abaco Barbs, on the Island of Abaco in the Bahamas, are fighting for their lives as inappropriate human intervention and a drastic change in habitat have taken a severe toll.. The struggling remnants of a once mighty herd of 200 are facing extinction for the second time in their recently turbulent history.

“This is one of the top events of the ten years I’ve been working to save these horses,” says Milanne Rehor, President and Field Director of Arkwild, Inc., a not for profit U.S. corporation that works to save small endangered populations of animals. “The pheontype of these horses (characteristics that make them Barbs) has been recorded on videos and stills . We developed a tissue sampling dart so we could have three different sets of DNA analysis done without having to tranquilize the horses to draw blood. UCLA, University of Kentucky , IMD in Germany and Horse of the Americas Registry all came to the same conclusion: “Spanish. ” (Horse of the Americas Registry registers only horses of irrefutable Columbian era Spanish descent.). In addition, many of the horses show a rare color pattern, splash white. Geneticists have suggested that a gene for this rare pattern may be developing. The lineage of the Abaco Barb goes back to the horses of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. In Spain the horses were developed into the Spanish Barb. Throughout the world the Barb is recognized as critically endangered. Abaco and the Bahamas are curators of possibly the purest strain remaining in existence.“

There are at least 13 Columbus era Spanish ships on the reef strewn coast of the islands lying just offshore Great Abaco, and Spanish ships of the Conquest always carried horses so their presence on the island makes sense. It would have been an easy swim across to the ‘mainland’ island where forage and water were abundant in the pine forest of Great Abaco. The forest was an equine paradise. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. In the 1960’s a road opened up the forest to boar hunters who shot the horses when their dogs chased the horses instead of boar. A tragedy involving a young child who kicked a gentle, captive wild horse when she climbed up on it, was killed when the horse mistook the signal and bolted, dragging the child to her death. Retribution was swift and cruel.

In the 1960’s the herd was reduced to three horses. Several Abaconians intervened and brought the three horses to a farm near Treasure Cay. A herd of 35 built up again, yet since 92 over half the horses have died. These losses were almost all entirely preventable. The stallions fight, without medical care sometimes the wounds are fatal. Mares have died giving birth, foals are killed by packs of dogs, and in one case, by a human. Having lost the knowledge of the forest as home, the horses stay closer and closer to the center of the farm where they eat too much food raised with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, resulting in obesity. Not enough movement results in extremely bad hooves. There have been no foals since 1998, though there was one abortion (stallion rape) and one foetus aborted for unknown reasons.

Arkwild, Inc. and the Friends of the Abaco Barbary Horse, a local support group of Bahamians and visitors, are working hart to see that these horses get an appropriate and suitable preserve on land which is available right next to the farm, in their ancestral forest. It is their goal to enable visitors to Abaco to see the horses living free in the natural setting where they thrived for 500 years.

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