The Barb horse is a light breed from the Maghreb in North Africa. These horses descend from Berber horses of the region used by indigenous people thousands of years ago.

Barb horses has a significant impact on the development of Iberian breeds in Spain. Many breeds in the Western Hemisphere can trace their ancestry to Spanish Barbs brought to the New World by European explorers and settlers.

Modern owners cherish this historic breed for their unique personality and physical traits, which allow Barbs to excel as riding horses. Researchers also emphasize the importance of preserving Spanish and North African Barb horses to protect their distinct genetic heritage.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Barb horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Barb horses.

Barb Horse History

Barb horses are one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. While several outside influences have shaped Spanish and North African Barbs throughout their long history, Barb bloodlines have also played a pivotal role in developing new breeds.


The history of horses in North Africa is still a matter of debate. Archeological findings suggest domesticated horses first came to the region in the second millennium BC. [1]

There is no evidence of horses inhabiting the African continent during early prehistoric times. Historians believe Equus caballus migrated to Africa together with humans through Egypt and the Strait of Gibraltar. [1]

The origins of the North African Barb horse has been traced to the Barbary Coast in the Maghreb. Today, the Maghreb is home to the countries of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Peaking in the 7th century, the region served as a busy transit route during conquests and migrations.

Heavy warhorses brought by the Romans likely influenced the breed, along with Arabian horses ridden during the Arab conquests of North Africa. [1]

Throughout the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from the early 8th to the late 15th century, there was frequent migration of horses between North African and Iberian populations. Native Iberian breeds crossed with African Barb horses to produce the Spanish Barb.

Arabian influences eventually threatened the survival of the purebred Barb horse in their native Maghreb region as Arabian-Barbs and other crosses gained popularity in the late nineteenth century. However, recent genetic studies have found substantial diversity in early sire lines. [1]

Historic Use

Ancient civilizations in North Africa relied on horses to transport goods and people across the Mediterranean shrubland and the Sahara Desert. Horses were also used for war and conquests in the region.

The Moors used Barb horses to invade and occupy the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish Barbs descending from these war horses gained popularity in Europe as cavalry mounts, accompanying Spanish explorers and soldiers.

Horses brought to the Western Hemisphere during the Spanish colonization of the Americas had to be hardy to survive the stressful voyage. Colonial settlers relied on Spanish Barbs as all-around horses for riding, farm work, and war. [2]

Some Spanish Barbs left behind by explorers established the feral horse populations of the Americas. Today, the influence of Spanish Barbs is evident in Mustangs, Appaloosas, Criollo Horses, Paso Finos, and several other Western Hemisphere breeds. [2]

Horse breeding declined in North Africa when cavalry horses became obsolete in the 20th century. From 1965 onwards, African horse sickness significantly reduced the North African Barb population and temporarily halted the export of equines to Europe. [3]

According to census estimates, only 5500 North African Barb horses live in the Maghreb region today. While most horses with Barb ancestry in Spain belong to other Spanish breed registries, breeders are working to preserve a distinct Spanish Barb breed in North America. [1]

Breed Registry

Founded in 1972, the Spanish Barb Horse Association (SBHA) maintains and supports the selective breeding of horses in North America with a distinct Spanish Barb type to preserve the endangered historic breed.

The registry represents several foundation strains of Spanish Barbs that come from a particular area or breeder. Some of these strains of Colonial Spanish horses remained pure due to geographic isolation from feral populations with mixed gene pools.

These strains include the Wilbur-Cruce horses, an isolated population descended from horses brought to Arizona by Spanish missionaries in the late 1600s. Researchers found these horses have a close genetic relationship to North African Barbs and Old Spanish breeds. [4]

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts