THE SACRED SABINO
For The Truly Traditional Peruvian Horse Breeder
By Kim La Flamme - 1999
With all of the recent genetic research on the origin of gait, color, and patterns of the horse, we need only to combine this research to more fully understand why the ambling gait and the painted pinto pattern keeps reappearing in every horse breed through out the world. This is in spite of all the attempts to eliminate them. There have been breeders, registries, and even entire cultures that have tried over many generations to eliminate them by creating old wives tales and prejudices. They have even crossed in other unrelated breeds, creating the wrong conformation for function, and still the sabino will reappear.
We can now trace back the spotted patterns. You find them painted on ancient cave walls, and also the ambling, gaited footprints in the ancient mud from pre-domestication. These pre-historic horses were believed to have originated in North America and spread all the way into Asia and Africa.
The Barbary Coast in North Africa is where they were first referred to as barbs. These ambling barbs were first introduced to the Greeks long before Christ by the Numidians. One Greek historian talks of the barbs ridden by Numidian mercenaries in Hannibal’s army, “on their spotted horses, whirling about, a weapon in each hand, wiping out the enemy before them.”
These pinto marked barbs or Iberian horses spread out over all the Old World countries, bred with jennets, changing only slightly in different areas.
At this point the Greeks, having ambling camels for long distance travel through the desert, were the first to begin breeding some of their horses for the trot. These trotting horses were bred for work and pulling chariots, certainly not for riding. This is where the Arabian origins began.
It is believed that the Vikings were the first to bring their ambling, cob cross barb type horse to the New World, where they had gone extinct. The Spanish were next, and in a fifty-year period of time, starting in the early 1500’s, these Spanish barbs spread over both American continents. This allowed a niche to be filled to create some of the best horseman ever within the Plains Indian culture, within the same 50-year time span. The Dutch, French, and English were soon to follow with their barb type amblers, many of which were spotted.
According to the cargo manifests of that time, there were many pintos in those shipments. Pizzaro brought many spotted pintos with him for his conquest of the Incas in Peru. During all the later shipments from Spain or the New World, where they were then being bred, there were also many pintos recorded.
Out of the 500 years of breeding the Peruvian Paso in Peru, it has only been the last 60 years, since the 1940’s, that the Peruvian registry has introduced the “no excessive white” rule. I find it a little ironic when some people ask me “Isn’t it un-traditional to be breeding pinto Peruvian horses?” My response to that is that bringing back the pinto Peruvian Paso is about as traditional as you can get, how far back into tradition would you like to go?”
Around the same period of time, and even earlier, the same cultural prejudices against the painted Indian shufflers were going strong here in the U.S. and in Canada, plus horse racing and the thoroughbred became increasingly more popular. Breeders began crossing in Arabs and turning out thoroughbred stallions with the Spanish barb Indian Mustang herds. At the same time showing became popular, where a pinto stands out too much and the ambling gaits were common, so, America and Canada’s saddle horse breeds were shipped elsewhere. Solid colors became more popular. Plus roads started improving and trotting horses were easier to breed for pulling the wagons and carriages. The Calvary wanted all their horses to conform and they thought “the bigger the better.” The Calvary hated those painted Indian shufflers that darted around and could travel through rough country seemingly forever on very little feed. Therefore, they shot them whenever they could.
The Native Americans cherished their sure-footed, ground covering amblers. Their entire culture revolved around horse training and breeding. The Indians believed the sabino, war bonnets, medicine hats and shields etc… had magical spiritual powers. These horses are close to being extinct today due to so many out crosses to other breeds. However, with new D.N.A. research, there has been more and more interest in identifying these colonial Indian amblers and barbs. Individual Indian Reservations and Spanish Barb registries are organizing and saving many of these old special bloodlines.
My grandfather would herd up and then pick through groups of wild Indian mustangs. He would save all the gaited individuals. When spotting the amblers within a large herd, with his field gasses, he would always tell me “the elders knew what they were talking about. Watch for the sabino, they seem to always have the best gait.” He had a line of gaited Indian shufflers that he bred. The drovers would pay 10 times the price of a trotter for those smooth, sure-footed, Indian horses, sometimes with it even coming down to a gunfight over the amblers.
Even after hundreds of years of culling out the pintos and amblers in the Arabian breed there are still crop outs of both. The Godolphin Arab, one of the foundation lines of the thoroughbred breed was actually the Godolphin barb. Plus the Crabbet line of the Arabs was known for their ambling abilities, which were used in the foundation lines of the Tennessee Walking Horse. It goes on, the thoroughbred started being crossed into the quick Spanish cow horse -- the barbs that eventually came to be called the quarter horse. With the prejudices still going strong, and the popularity of the solid marked racing thoroughbred going strong, the quarter horse registry decided to ban the Indian shufflers and those Indian paints along with it, no white above the knee and no wide blazes. There were so many nice crop outs in both the thoroughbred and quarter horse breeds that a new color registry started. The paint horses registry started. The color registries have since grown so big with so many nice athletic cutting and reining horses to compete with the quarter horse “working line.” The quarter horse registry is now discussing; “well maybe we should accept crop out paints in our lines in the quarter horse registry.” The Jockey Club has also started registering the famous winning sabino bloodlines of the thoroughbred. Even in Peru, many of the old family breeders want to have this changed, bringing back the pinto to Peru. Many of them remember when they, or their fathers, rode their beautiful pintos. Most were used for work.
When showing became popular so did the “no excessive white rule.” It became fashionable to breed the so-called “classier solid showy Peruvian Paso, as compared to the “working horses.” All the light colors became unpopular at that time. Until Mantiquilla proved himself in the show ring, even the palomino was shunned.
When asked if I would consider selling and shipping Peruvian pinto’s back to Peru, I try to explain, the sabino gene is still there in all the bloodlines, all you have to do is breed best to best and don’t eliminate the high white socks and wide blazes. If you just don’t breed for solid colors it happens on it’s own. I’ve had many of the “old family” breeders tell me, “the worst thing the “modern breed changers” did to the Peruvian breed was to eliminate so many good excessive white horses from the breeding pool.” They understand the huge loss from the breed in gene variability and quality of gait it has caused in the last 60 years.
Working, traveling, and functional type breeds, be it dog, or horse etc., should never be bred for it’s color or markings. All animals should be bred for their conformation, character and form and it’s ability to do the function it was intended.
One of the most common excuses I’ve heard from self proclaimed “traditionalists” for breeding for solid horses is “white skin and hoofs are weaker then colored.” In my personal opinion, through logical research, and talking with professional farriers, vets, riders, and breeders, none have found anything to suggest or confirm that white is weaker in anyway.
Just a few examples of the strength of sabino are amongst a group of pure colonial Spanish barbs, feral and left on their own for many years (survival of the fittest) the almost white, blue eyed, bald face, white hoofed, 18 year old sabino stallion had the biggest brood band of mares -- 22! He had sired more sabino foals and had the healthiest band than any of the other stallion bands in the herd of 165. Most of the other stallions were solid marked with dark skin and hooves. For many years, every single day, the sabino stallion had led his band across a rough mountain range for grass and then back across the mountain for water. I wouldn’t consider these horses weak.
There’s the famous legendary, wild, white mustang, that stole mares right out of barns and corrals. Covering a three state area, this white mustang, out distanced the mustangers and bounty hunters for many years at a single foot gait. Then there is the sabino Indian mustang that won the 3,000 mile endurance race in the Middle East, days ahead of the second place Arab, and the list goes on.
When I first started researching the sabino gene in gaited and non gaited breeds, I started to realize it wasn’t just a coincidence that the gaited individuals that were pinto marked had a noticeable tendency towards a stronger natural gait, “squarer and looser” than their solid sisters and brothers. At first I figured it must be the pinto marking meant they had more of the old barb, jennet type bloodlines cropping-out, especially in the trotting breeds, because it is very easy to spot the more lateral single footers from the two beat trotters. This conclusion sounded very logical to me, but in the last 20 years that I’ve been researching, riding and breeding the pinto Peruvian horses, it still holds true. This blows my original theory all to smithereens. The Peruvian, as a breed, could not be more naturally gaited or squarer in its efficient, ground covering, sure footed Paso llano. Also they couldn’t be purer, or closer related to the ambling Spanish barbs and jennets that brought the pinto pattern to all the other horse breeds. So was my grandfather right? Were the Native Americans beliefs about their sacred sabino actually based on facts or myths? Could this special sabino gene carry all these other colors and pattern genes, and factors, plus be somehow linked to the ambling gaited gene? The Native Americans bred as many different breeds of dogs as were developed in the Old World European countries. In my opinion having personally bred these dogs, for 40 years, this gave the Indians an even better understanding of nature and selective breeding of animals. Research shows they bred the dogs for different gaits, and this shows why in just 50 years they were training and selectively breeding great horses, also for their gait.
I think the original Peruvian breeders that refused to surcome to prejudice, fads, and crossing in other breeds, would be rolling over in their graves if they knew for 60 years their inheritors have been destroying a large part of the gene pool. Just breeding for certain colors or patterns for no real logical reason, is sure not my tradition. It may be time for some people to think about “redefining tradition.”
The nice thing about sabino crop outs is you don’t have to breed for it, you just let it happen and it will if you just breed your best to your best.
One of the biggest misconceptions of the sabino pattern is the association some people give it to the gray color gene. Although the roan color may be common in the sabino pinto, roan doesn’t carry the same factors to make it more susceptible to skin cancer as gray does. There are no grayer sabino colors than any other colors or in any other breed. The white areas on pintos are also no more susceptible to cancer or any other weakness, then any other skin area on any other solid horse. Sabino is not a color; it is a pattern or better put, a catalyst for a number of patterns. To make it even more confusing, it changes itself into yet other factors, patterns, and changes other patterns into yet others. It seems to be a dominate gene, but doesn’t seem to be capable of homozygous. It can disappear for generations or even crop out later in cross breeding. The blaze, a star, the one white sock, is the first indication of sabino trying to come back. I’ve seen a sabino crop out of two completely solid parents. There are some factors and/or colors that seem to click, or bring out, sabino more then others. Roan seems to be first in all its color phazes. Chestnut next from the rare lilac to dark liver, palominos, champagne to gold, buckskin, creams and duns. Then bay and browns, and the rarest and hardest to get are silver dapples and blacks. These darker contrasting colors have been mistaken for toveros and even tobianos in other breed registries. I bred a sabino to the rare snowflake, or ticking pattern, both parents Peruvians. The surprising result seems to be an appaloosa sabino, strawberry roan, with darker liver chestnut ticking or small spots. Not unlike leopard markings, with more on the rump “blanket area.” I’ve heard of pintaloosas but perualoosas; maybe appaluvians, time will tell if the sabino carries the appy gene or brings it out of the snow flaked ticking pattern. I have heard, and also made a breeding of a sabino to a foundation appy chestnut w/blanket. The sabino x tobiano, produced one Medicine Hat, and a solid white. Is this caused from the two dominates or does sabino become even more dominant or even homozygous with tobiano?
With solids and overo crossed to sabino you can get toveros, framed overo, sabino, calico, white, and very small percent of solids. sabino crossed with sabino also gives you the same patterns and percentages. The only difference between the overo and sabino breeding seems to be that, overo crossed to overo can produce lethal whites, but overo crossed to sabino has no lethal whites. These whites are all nice and strong to old age. I’ve had two of these breedings.
Is it possible that sabino is there behind every pattern, color, and breed of horse on the planet? Why is it that tobiano is either there or not, but sabino can crop out of two solids? Yet two sabinos can produce a solid. This solid breeding stock, in return, can produce a higher percentage of sabino then a non-sabino produced solid.
Up until a few years ago, the paint horse registry had been unknowingly registering a lot of their sabino marked horses as crop outs, overo, toveros, and tobiano. Now that there has been more and more research, we can all have more understanding. In the Peruvian registries there have also been mistakes or ringers that no one has been aware of. Registered as roans, grays that where actually whites, belly spots gone un-noticed, snowflakes thought to be rain scald etc.
In some of the non pinto registries, that have since changed to accept pintos, now have mysteriously produced tobiano, when all they had to start with were crop out sabino supposedly. Did they sneak in a ringer, or are all crop outs simply sabino that when combined produce overo, then tovero, and tovero crossed to tovero gives you tobiano, and tobiano crossed to tobiano you can get homozygous, and here I didn’t think I would ever experience a pure registered pinto Peruvian in my lifetime. Now in just 20 years I have bred many pure registered Peruvian pintos, approximately 15 pintos, a tovero filly and two colts. My ancestors aren’t rolling over in their graves; their hearts are smiling and so is mine.
For many years I’ve had a lot of flack from those claiming to be traditionalists. Accusing me of trying to change the Peruvian breed. They have claimed that I am breeding just for pintos. Any good breeder knows better. I have many solid colors in my breeding program. To me they are the prejudice breed changers, trying to create an all-solid breed from one that wasn’t. It’s a nice feeling knowing the sacred spirit horses are back where they started. Sacred Indian paints with the sacred Indian shuffle, it’s like double icing on the cake.
There is still a lot of research needed, but I know one thing, “they're back” and they are back in my breeding program to stay.
I would like to mention the following individuals for their contributions and research towards the better understanding of Spanish barbs, Peruvian Pasos, Indian horses and the sabino gene;
Robin Keller, for allowing me to research and film her Colonial Spanish barbs.
Frank Holms, for his research and article in the Painted Horse Journal,” a lighter shade of red, the sabino coat pattern, sometimes misidentified and often under appreciated, has much to offer the serious paint breeder.”
Dr. Deb Bennett, all of her books and research on horses, “The Conquerors”
Vern Albright, for his encouragement and help in research and for helping to achieve more acceptance and understanding of the pinto Peruvian Paso, his article “Over The Rainbow”, his book, “Peruvian Paso and his Classic Equitation.”
Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, “Equine Color Genetics.”
My dear friend, who has now passed on, William Pferd III, who wrote "Dogs of the American Indians” and his research on the Native Americans selective breeding abilities. And my thanks to all the people, too numerous to mention, doing research, breeding, riding, and who understand the ancient sacred pinto Peruvian horses, without prejudice.