Florida Cracker Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Grey Florida Cracker Horse standing saddled for a hunting trip.

 passion4nature / Getty Images

Have you ever heard of the Florida Cracker Horse? If you haven’t, you aren’t alone – this breed is quite rare, and at one point there were less than 40 horses in the breed’s registry. With a history that started back in the 1500s, this breed has been in America for centuries, and thankfully some families and breeders are working to preserve the breed and build its popularity.

This gaited horse breed is smaller than most, but it’s also agile and well-suited to working cattle. Spirited and with a strong herding instinct, these horses are right at home on a cattle ranch, but they can also be ridden and driven, too. With smooth, comfortable, ground-covering gaits and a small build that makes mounting from the ground easy, you’re likely to see this breed out on the trails, working on a ranch, or being driven down a road.

Breed Overview

Weight: 700 to 1,000 pounds

Height: 13.2 to 15.2 hands

Body Type: Small body, short back, and sloping hips; short and well-defined jaw

Best For: Saddle riding, families

Life Expectancy: 30 years

Florida Cracker Horse History and Origins

The Florida Cracker Horse’s history spans multiple centuries and originates with the Spanish horses that arrived in Florida during the 1500s. When the Spanish were ready to sail back to Spain, they discovered they wouldn’t have room on their ships for all of their cattle, horses, hogs, and the treasures that they wanted to bring back from America. So, they decided to leave some of their animals – including some horses – behind.

These horses that remained in Florida had descended from the Iberian Horse, and their bloodlines included influences from the North African Barb, Spanish Sorraia, and Spanish Jennet. The horses were closely related to the Spanish Mustang, Peruvian Paso, and the Paso Fino, which had also evolved from the horses that the Spanish had brought to areas like the Caribbean.

The Florida Cracker Horse evolved into a small, agile horse that was ideal for working cattle. These horses served as cattle horses, driving Scrub and Cracker cows throughout Florida. However, with the Great Depression, the practices of raising cattle changed from driving free-roaming cows to roping and holding cattle for treatment. The Quarter Horse, which is much larger than the Florida Cracker Horse, was better suited for this job where strength and size mattered, and demand for the Florida Cracker Horse decreased.

Since the Great Depression, this unique breed of horse has become very rare. During the last 50 years, some ranching families bred Cracker Horses for their own personal use, and are largely responsible for preventing the breed’s extinction. Today, only about 1,000 of these horses exist.

Florida Cracker Horse Size

The Cracker Horse is a small equine. Measuring just 13.2 to 15.2 hands high, some of these horses qualify as ponies in terms of their size. These horses weigh just 700 to 1,000 pounds.

Breeding and Uses

Thanks to its small size, the Cracker Horse makes a handy cattle or light farming horse. It’s also popular as a pleasure mount, and offers the advantage of being able to mount from the ground. Its gaits are comfortable and ideal for riding, but you’ll also see this breed occasionally used as a cart horse. Its versatility makes it handy to have around a family farm or ranch.

Colors and Markings

Cracker Horses can be any color, though solid coats, particularly grey, occur most often.

Grey Florida Cracker Horse eating from a hay net.
Image by Passion4nature / Getty Images.
Herd of bay Florida Cracker Horses in a field.
Image by jrubacha / Getty Images.
Bay Florida Cracker Horse grazing in a field.
Passion4nature / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Florida Cracker Horse

The Cracker Horse has strong natural herding instincts, which is helpful when working cattle. Their ambling gait makes them comfortable and covers ground well, so it’s possible to ride them for hours at a time when working cattle or traveling across a ranch. The breed got its name because of the “crack” of the whip that Florida riders used when working cows. Those riders earned the name “Crackers,” and it transferred onto their horses.

In addition to being called the Florida Cracker Horse, this breed is also sometimes referred to as the Florida Horse, the Florida Cow Pony, the Chicksaw Pony, the Mash Tackie, and the Seminole Pony.

With so few of these horses in existence, the breed has been at risk of extinction, but today there are a handful of breeders working to preserve the breed. The Florida Cracker Horse Association was created in 1989 to help find and preserve these horses. At the time of the association’s creation, there were only 31 registered horses, but the registry has grown to encompass over 1,000 horses today. The Cracker Horse was voted as the official horse of Florida in 2008.

Diet and Nutrition

Florida Cracker horses require a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and water in their diet. They can sustain on fresh grass, hay, rolled oats, and other grains, such as barley and bran. Treats, such as carrots and apples, can be given in moderation.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Florida Cracker horses are typically highly trainable, gentle, and eager to please. But they are prone to certain health issues. They include hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, polysaccharide storage myopathy, and malignant hyperthermia.

Grooming

Daily grooming can help an Florida Cracker horse maintain a healthy coat and clear skin. Before a ride, brush the legs, face, girth, and saddle areas to ensure the horse is comfortable and all the oils have been evenly distributed on its body. Grooming a horse after riding can also help distribute the oils and sweat, especially in the summer. Try a detangler to brush out the horse's tail, which will make it bushier and more adept at swatting away flies. In the winter, use a waterless shampoo to clean, condition, and detangle the horse's mane and tail.

Pros
  • Adaptable to different gaits

  • Natural herding instincts

  • Family-friendly

Cons
  • Rare to find

  • Prone to common equine diseases and conditions

Champion and Celebrity Florida Cracker Horses

Because the Cracker Horse breed is so rare, there aren’t any well-known champion or celebrity horses of this breed. If you’re lucky enough to meet one of these horses in person, then it’s somewhat like meeting a celebrity because so few of them exist in the country.

Bay Florida Cracker Horse grazing in a field.
Image by Passion4nature / Getty Images.

Is the Florida Cracker Horse Right for You?

The Florida Cracker Horse is a suitable mount for smaller adults and children. Its gaits make it a comfortable ride, and while it’s a spirited horse, it’s also willing, so many intermediate to advanced riders pair well with this breed. If you’re looking for a horse that can work cattle but that also makes a pleasant trail riding mount, this might be the breed for you.

The challenge comes in finding a Florida Cracker Horse. While there are some breeders who have these horses for sale, they’re so limited that you may need to travel a great distance to find a Cracker Horse of your own. If you’re willing to travel multiple states and ship a horse home, then a Florida Cracker Horse might be a great choice for your next mount.

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