Santa Cruz Island horses are some of the rarest horses in the world. They are the purest form of Spanish Horse and are in fact one of the purest horses of any kind in the world. Dr. Gus Cothran, a world renowned equine geneticist, has analyzed the DNA of the Santa Cruz Island horses, also known as the “Heavenly Heritage Herd,” and found that these horses are from a genetic strain that originated in the Iberian Peninsula. His genetic analysis confirmed that these horses are a unique strain whose low variation shows that they were isolated without any recent introductions into the population. The closest relative of the Santa Cruz Island Horse are the Pasos of Peru and Columbia 

The story of the Heavenly Heritage Herd started in the 1830s when a group of Spanish horses were brought up from Mexico and introduced to Santa Cruz Island. For several decades these strong, intelligent horses were used in the construction of roads, and buildings on the island and were an integral part of ranching and agricultural operations. In the early 1980s all ranching operations on the island ceased and thus the horses were released to roam free on the island. By 1997 it was determined by the ages of the horses that they were all born in a wild state.


In 1997 the National Park Service purchased Santa Cruz Island from a private owner and determined that all “exotic species,” which they defined as species introduced after 1542, be removed from the island. This of course included the Santa Cruz Island herd which had by now been dubbed the “Heritage Herd.” These remarkable genetic treasures were to be left without a home.

Thankfully, Christina Nooner of Sunshine Santuary stepped forward. With the help of Dr. Gus Cothran and Dr. Phil Sponenberg she developed a breeding program and has continued to grow the herd.

These horses are truly amazing and quite unique. Unlike other horses they have year round breeding and foaled between October and February in the wild. They also have shorter, thicker leg bones; with more bone marrow resulting in a stronger endurance horse, an A frame chest bone giving them superior agility and sure footedness through rugged terrain and text book perfect feet. These horses, like other Spanish horses are also gaited. In addition to these remarkable physical characteristics they also have exceptional temperaments and form close connections with children.