By  Mike Miller  Updated August 1, 2023

The Florida Cracker horse is descended from the first horses brought to Florida by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

A playful yearling. Credits:  Mary Kate HerronA playful yearling
Credits: Mary Kate Herron

These small saddle horses were favored by the early Florida Crackers because they were smart, spirited, fast, strong, and easy to ride over the rough ground that was typical of frontier Florida.  They also have a strong herding instinct.

The early explorer, William Bartram, referred to the horses on his 1791 visit as to Florida as

"The most beautiful and sprightly series of that noble creature that I have ever seen"

Cracker horses in a Florida pasture.  Credits: Fl. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer ServicesCracker horses in a Florida pasture
Credits: Fl. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Cracker horses in Florida are also known by other names including Grass Gut, Florida Cow Pony, Florida Horse, Prairie Pony, Marsh Tackie, Seminole Pony, and Chicksaw Pony. 

Handsome cracker from the Florida Agricultural Museum herd.  Credits: Stephen MonroeHandsome cracker from the Florida Agricultural Museum herd
Credits: Stephen Monroe

Florida had horses before these Cracker versions, but they became extinct 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and nobody seems to know why.

Ponce de Leon brought the first horses to Florida in 1521.  Other Spanish explorers in the era brought even more.

A late 19th century Florida cow hunter and his horse. Credits: Florida ArchivesA late 19th century Florida cow hunter and his horse
Florida State Archives

One Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvaez, was said to have released many horses near the mouth of Charlotte Harbor.  He put these horses off his ships because their weight was making the draft of the ships too great, preventing them from sailing into the harbor.

A new addition to the herd.  Credits: Mary Kate HerronA new addition to the herd
Credits: Mary Kate Herron

The Cracker Horse population began to increase quickly in the late 1500s when the Spaniards started cattle ranching. 

By the end of the 1600s, Florida had 30 cattle ranches, some with as many as one thousand cows and horses.

Florida was one of the major suppliers of beef to both the Confederate and Union armies in the Civil War. 

The Florida Cracker horse was highly prized for its ability to work the cattle herds and as a riding horse.

After the Civil War, the cattle industry became even more important. 

Florida cattle ranchers had a booming business shipping their cattle to Cuba and other Caribbean destinations from several ports, especially Punta Rassa.

Cow Hunter Bone Mizell, by Frederic RemingtonCow Hunter Bone Mizell, by Frederic Remington

Bone Mizell  is a legendary Florida "cow hunter" shown in this Frederic Remington sketch on what is probably a Florida Cracker horse.

Florida Cracker horses are still an important part or the modern cattle industry.  In 2008, the State of Florida legislature designated the breed as the State's Heritage Horse.

Florida's Heritage Horse.  Credits: Florida Agricultural MuseumFlorida's Heritage Horse
Credits: Florida Agricultural Museum

The University of Florida IFAS Extension probably has more information about this unusual animal than any other source.

The photos on this page and much of the information came from one of their articles.

Here is a link to that article published some years ago.


More information about Florida Crackers and their culture is available on our website at:

What is a Florida Cracker?

Florida Cracker Restaurants

Florida Cracker Recipes

Florida Cracker Genealogy

Florida Cracker Trail

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