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And Then There Was One: The Abaco Colonial Horse

A pine forest on a subtropical island, a ghostly apparition passing through the trees. It is covered in shadows, partially hidden by the towering pines...a brief glimpse as it emerges from the shadows. A horse, but this is no ordinary horse. Dark ears, a white face, blue eyes ...then, as if by magic, it is gone, once again lost to the forest...A ghost...

Abaco Colonial Horses

Abaco Colonial Horses

The Abaco Colonial Horse

The horses found on Abaco Island in the Bahamas are like no other. They are small, and fleet but perhaps their most striking feature is their white spotting pattern. Called Splashed White, the white pattern is known for creating bald faces and blue eyes as well as high leg and body white. In the past, many of the animals carried two copies of this white pattern giving them a distinctive half white appearance. The presence of Splashed White in their population however, is not their most important feature. Genetic testing has confirmed that these horses have a unique genetic heritage. The horses of Abaco Island are of direct Spanish Descent. With only a few populations of these Spanish Colonial Horses left in the world today the Abaco Colonial Horse is priceless, a repository of equine genetics seen nowhere else in the world.

Bald face of an Splashed White Abaco Horse

An Abaco Stallion Named Capella. He was most likely homozygous for Splashed White. He has not been seen in several years and is presumed deceased.

Their History

The Abaco Colonial Horses were originally brought to the Abaco Island in the late 1800’s from Cuba for use in the logging industry. They were abandoned, however, when the logging industry began using tractors in the 1940’s. They went feral and survived, roaming the pine forests in numbers up to 200. Then in the 1960’s disaster struck. A road was pushed through their forest home leaving them vulnerable to humans. Many were mistreated and hunted for sport. The death of an unsupervised child by a tamed horse sealed their fate. A wholesale slaughter of “vicious” animals ensued. Only a handful escaped.

Three individuals, allowed to shelter with a herd of cattle by a friendly farmer, survived and with help their numbers were on the rise. They were released back into the wild and in 1992 numbered 30 individuals, however, due to a combination of factors their numbers once again began to fall. Hurricanes, pesticides, poisonous plants, and too rich a diet all took their toll on numbers. Possibly suffering from pesticide poisoning and/or inbreeding depression, fertility fell. Only one horse, a mare named Nunki, now remains. With the source population in Cuba now extinct, Nunki remains the last and only hope to save the Abaco Colonial Horse and it’s unique genetic heritage.

Nunki, The last remaining Abaco Colonial Horse

Nunki, the last remaining Abaco Colonial Horse. She carries one copy of Splashed White (SW1)

Yet the Fight Continues

Still, the fight to keep this historic animal from being only that...history, continues. A team lead by Milanne Rehor, who has championed the Abaco Colonial Horse for more than 20 years, is looking for a stallion to cross with Nunki. The stallion must be from one of the remaining Spanish Colonial Populations and preferably also carry the Splashed White (SW1) pattern. Working with genetic and reproductive specialists they hope to use Nunki and the chosen stallion to restore a healthy population of Abaco Colonial Horses to the Abaco Island where they now have a preserve that has been dedicated to their survival.


How to Help

If you think you have a stallion that fits the need of the The Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society or if you would like to help the Abaco Colonial Horse in another way. Please contact info@arkwild.org

You can also read more about the Abaco Colonial Horse at their website. http://arkwild.org/blog/

All photos are property of and courtesy of The Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society

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