The Oklahoma Colonial Spanish Horse was designated the official Heritage Horse in 2014. According to the resolution, "the Oklahoma Colonial Spanish Horse, which originated from Spanish Horses brought to the Americas with early settlers, is unique in its genetics, history, geography, and contributions to the people of Oklahoma" (SCR34, 2014) The resolution recognizes that "the Oklahoma Colonial Spanish horse maintains 100 percent Spanish genetic markers and has been considered the purest free-roaming Colonial Spanish horse in the United States, and since 1980 their genetics have been preserved in the foundation herds of Bryant and Darlene Rickman of Southeastern Oklahoma." ~www.okhistory.org
What is a "Heritage Horse" and why these particular horses?
The term "Heritage Horse" was carefully selected with the full support of the 39 recognized tribes represented by the Oklahoma Native American Caucus. The horses do not belong to any one specific tribe as most tribes have their own unique history involving these horses. In fact, some of the tribes had their own breeding practices that developed into very specific strains of DNA such as the Huasteca, Kiowa, Comanche, Choctaw, Cheerokee and Chickasaw along with the Gilbert Jones lineage. Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, Professor Pathology/Gene Department of Biomedical Sciences at Virginia-Maryland college of Veterinary Medicine and with The Livestock Conservancy, collected hair and blood samples for DNA testing and helped catalog the Foundation Herd. In the year 2014, The Livestock Conservancy (formerly known as the ALBC) presented Bryant and Darlene Rickman with a Bixby-Sponenberg award for their heroic efforts in saving the Choctaw Horses from extinction. Dr. Sponenberg said "Bryant and Darlene Rickman have diligently worked to keep the Choctaw horse from extinction. This effort also includes the Cherokee and Huasteca horses. Without the Rickmans all three of these strains of Colonial Spanish Horse would have disappeared long ago. This effort has extended over decades, and has involved heroic action including the maintenance of a herd of equine infectious anaemia (EIA) infected horses in order to assure that their infection-free foals could continue rare bloodlines on into the present". Here at Chahta Isuba Ranch (The Choctaw Horse/Pony Ranch) we are proud that some of those very bloodlines call our ranch home and we are in the process of collecting and preserving the history of the horses relating to all the recognized tribes of Oklahoma. There were horses in Oklahoma prior to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which is documented by Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe; a French explorer who traveled through Oklahoma in 1718 and most likely camped at a site located on our sister ranch where the horses are still running wild today! Many more horses made the journey to Oklahoma on The Trail of Tears with the displaced Native Americans, literally carrying their burdens and their sorrows. The horses saw days of plenty and days of despair, but their spirits have remained eternally strong. This information can be found on the Oklahoma Historical Society website under the symbols tab. www.okhistory.org and The Livestock Conservancy website www.livestockconservancy.org
The story of how the horses became the official "heritage horse" of Oklahoma
Back in 2012, my father (Jim Stephens) was talking with Jeanette Beranger (senior program director at The Livestock Conservancy) about how to promote these unique horses. Jeanette is the co-author of the book "An Introduction to Heritage Breeds" and works tirelessly to protect, preserve and promote heritage breeds in the United States. She suggested going to the state to preserve this "Oklahoma treasure" as the State Heritage Horse and that got the ball rolling! Jim Stephens and Bryant Rickman asked researcher Francine Locke-Bray to prepare a presentation and they, along with a few other "like-minded" individuals who had the horses and the Rickman's best interest at heart, pleaded the case to the State. Since the horses have been DNA tested and are considered the purest free-roaming Colonial Spanish Horse in the United States and the significance they hold for the Native American people of Oklahoma; it was an easy decision for the State to declare them the official Heritage Horse! I just want to thank all the individuals involved and especially the efforts of Senator Jerry Ellis, State Rep. Lisa Billy, State Rep. Curtis McDaniel, the Rickman's, Jeneatte Beranger, Francine Locke-Bray, Dr. Phil Sponenberg and The Livestock Conservancy for working so hard to protect these horses and preserve their place in history! I am sure there are other people out there that helped and I certainly did not leave anyone out intentionally, the truth is... Protecting, promoting and preserving these beautiful horses is bigger than one man, one family or one group. A lot of things "take a village" to accomplish, but this truly takes a nation or perhaps many nations. This is why we at Chahta Isuba Ranch have joined with other horse groups that share similar goals and formed The Native American Horse Trail, because we recognize the struggles and problems every group faces when trying to save America's wild horses. Our hope is to provide opportunities for people to learn the history of the horse in the Americas, and to experience these creatures in their natural environments or on traditional lands.