Mustang, a Spanish horse as an American symbol
The mustang horse, a symbol of USA, was originally brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors. The original Spanish horses came from the Doñana Nature Reserve. From the colonial period onwards, horse numbers grew rapidly and the animals scattered throughout the continent.
The history of the mustang horse interested film producers at Azul Media, who decided to make its origins known to American and Spanish audiences. Their documentary film, Mesteño: El caballo de la Marisma que conquistó América (Mustang: The Horse from the Wetlands that Conquered America), is centred around the history and habits of the free-roaming horse populations from the Doñana wetlands: the Retuertas and Marismeño horses.
From Seville to America
‘The discovery of America and the ensuing livestock exports from Spain are illustrated in valuable documents housed in the Archives of the Indies in Seville. Recently, researchers at the University of Córdoba and American research centres performed DNA tests whose results indicate that the American mustang is descended from the wetlands horses in Doñana,’ said Antonio Márquez, Executive Producer at Azul Media.
Legend has it that the horses from Doñana arrived in America almost by chance. Apparently, Columbus wanted to bring Spanish Arabian horses with him, but prior to his second voyage, some livestock traders swapped in wild horses from Seville for the thoroughbred animals.
‘The new animals were shorter and more unpleasant to look at, but they could easily tolerate lack of water and food, which was really useful in long sea voyages. They also showed great endurance and were brave when ridden in warfare,’ Antonio added.
Protected horse breed
Centuries passed and, with time, the original horses were crossbred with others imported from England, Germany or France. But the genes of the horses from Doñana have survived in mustangs.
At present, Mustang horses are highly appreciated in USA, where an act was passed in Congress that gives protection to this breed. Similarly, huge areas in several states have been designated as protected habitats.
The project led by Antonio Márquez kicked off in 2015, when he shot the traditional Saca de las Yeguas (mares’ roundup) in Almonte. His team studied the history of the wetlands horses in Doñana, and they found out that they had been exported alongside horse-handling traditions and gear that were later used by gauchos, cattle herders and even cowboys in the American West.
The documentary is a journey to Doñana through the four seasons. It shows the history of the Spanish horse and its conquest of America, the research on its genetic origin and evolution, as well as its links to the life and culture of the inhabitants of Andalusia.
The film will be distributed across USA and the information will be sent to mustang horse protection associations in the country, whose members count in the hundreds.
Side activities and tourist promotion
The film is just a featured element in a programme full of activities. ‘During the “Saca de las Yeguas”, people working with the mustang horses (researchers, managers, entrepreneurs) will be invited to take part in workshops and talks with their Spanish colleagues. They will also be able to visit the area where the predecessor of the mustang horse came from,’ Márquez said.
The initiative enjoys support from the Hinojos Council and the Tourism Department of the Provincial Government of Huelva. It will be promoted through conventional channels and social media related to the mustang horse.
The Mesteño project is aimed at showing traditional Spanish practices involving the Doñana horses in USA so as to attract American travellers. The most interesting of these practices are those already mentioned that take place every year in Almonte and Hinojos.
With the support of local agencies, managers from big American mustang horse associations will be invited to attend these traditional events and get to know the facilities in the area. The idea is to forge partnerships for the promotion of the natural habitat of the predecessors of mustang horses as a travel destination in Spain.