Manes & Trails: Original horses of Ramona

This is the first in a series.

The horse has been part of North America since, well, forever. San Diego Zoological Society believes the horse originated in North America millions of years ago, then went extinct on this continent. Horses were reintroduced by Spanish visitors and have been a part of Southern California for centuries.

My interest in wild horses began when dreaming of the wild horses in my childhood, and wild horses in my life became a reality when I adopted Cricket. The Mustang is a descendent of the horses long gone by. In my growing passion for wild horses, one of the most exciting things I have found is an effort to save the genetic stock from our area. Yep, horses used to roam right here in and around Ramona.

Coyote Canyon Caballos d’Anza (CCCDA) was established by people interested in preserving the history of the horse in our area, particularly Ramona, Santa Ysabel and Anza Borrego.

According to CCCDA, wild horses had roamed since somewhere around 1769 when the first mission was built in San Diego. As open range was the custom for management of livestock, the mission horses soon spread to the outlying rancherias in the mountain and desert areas.

THREE GENERATIONS— Patty, filly born March 17, is with her mom, Ocho, and Ocho’s mom. Photos/Kay Levie

Through the study of history, they were able to discern that by 1840 the last great horse raid on Southern California ranchos occurred, driving 3,000 horses into Utah. Not until 1974 were remnants of this herd discovered.

Coyote Canyon Heritage Hoof Prints

The story begins in 1769 when the first mission was built in San Diego to bring Catholicism and establish a land trust for the indigenous people. The missions supplied Spanish bloodstock to the outlying rancherias, including present-day Warner Ranch. When Spaniards first visited the hot springs at Warner’s Ranch in 1795, they encountered the Cupeno Indians on a rancheria located there. To the south and west were the Dieguenos, and north were the Cahuillas.

After the Spanish Mexican War and by 1833 the Indians and ranchos possessed great numbers of horses, cattle, sheep and other animals. Newcomers to the area began maneuvers to acquire these properties, and tragically the Indians were displaced from their homeland. A small worn plaque near the tiny Warner Springs Chapel and Cupa cemetery bears their heart-rending words. By 1840 the last great horse raid on Southern California ranchos was led by Pegleg Smith and Chief Welkara. Approximately 3,000 horses of Colonial Spanish bloodstock were driven into Utah along the Old Spanish Trail. The native peoples and their lands were further segregated from the original trust after Mexico ceded its territory to the United States by Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848.

John Turnbull Warner arrived in San Diego about 1846. He applied for, and was granted, a Mexican grant to the Indian Trust. By 1850 Indian resentment culminated in the Gara revolt and massacre at Warner Hot Springs, where the Indians reclaimed cattle and horses and drove them into Coyote Canyon. For 150 years, even after the Indians abandoned their villages in the canyon, the animals ranged freely, as was the custom.

Not until 1974 were remnants of this herd discovered on the Mountain Home Range by the Bureau of Land management. By 1984, however, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park acquired the lands and removed the last remnants of Indian cattle, and in 2003 removal of the Coyote Canyon Wild Horse Herd began. The State Parks Department claimed they were feral and invasive. All wild horses (and burros) have been gathered and removed from Coyote Canyon in the San Diego area, with the final removal in 2007.

Ocho and Patty

Only four known stallions remain from this herd. They are listed by the International Equine Conservation nonprofit Equus Survival Trust as Critically Endangered/Nearly Extinct.

For purposes of genetic recovery, CCCDA worked with the BLM and sent 14 mares from the Southern Utah herd to be bred to the Coyote Canyon stallions. The stallions and mares represent a distinct population segment of species that evolved and survived the harshest desert environs and nature’s challenges.

The Coyote Canyon stallions and mares are held in trust locally by CCCDA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is dedicated to the repatriation of San Diego’s last Heritage Herd to their native ranges and preservation of historic routes.

The stallions of today reside with the Haydens near Warner Springs. The mares are living in Ramona, and foaling season has begun! Check back in the weeks to come for updates and photos.

To support the CCCDA and original horses from our area, contact Robert and Kathleen Hayden at: P.O. Box 236, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070, 760-782-3340;  or, and visit the  Coyote Canyon Heritage Herd Facebook page.


Related posts:

  1. Manes and Trails: Rattlesnakes and your horses
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  3. Manes & Trails: Ramona Community Park — by foot or by hoof
  4. Manes & Trails: NERN Puts a Dent in Future Equine Population
  5. Manes & Trails: Community help needed to restore Ramona’s Historic Rodeo Arena

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Posted by Karen Brainard on Jun 28 2012. Filed under Columnists, Columns, Country Living, Manes and Trails. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

6 Comments for “Manes & Trails: Original horses of Ramona”

  1. Deborah

    Great article Karen, cant wait to to hear more. Thank you for supporting this wonderful part of our heritage and helping to make sure it is not lost to us forever…except in old timers memories and various historical books when we have the opportunity to keep it as a living symbol and inspirational American Icon unique to Southern Ca.

  2. KimJ

    The Mountain Home horses have been known by the locals since the early 20th century. The first round up occurred in the late 1980's by the BLM and it wasn't until the genetic report by Dr. Gus Cothran of the University of Kentucky in 1997 that the BLM even realized that the herd was genetically Spanish. In regards to if the Spanish type Sulphur horses (the HMA has mixed and non-Spanish populations and recently has been confirmed to NOT be the same stock from the 1990's (Spanish) thanks to the mismanagement by the BLM).Whether the Coyote Canyon stock and the Spanish type Sulphur horses are genetically related is yet to be seen. They do not look similar in phenotype, but regardless, it is great that this Mustang herd will hopefully be reestablished in San Diego as they should have never have been removed in the first place.

  3. After all this time, Kat, the real truth may be known to the citizens of Southern California. These Spanish Colonial horses are not feral, they are decendents of a destinct species that is integral to the history of this area and they must be preserved.
    Thanx to you, Robert and many others involved in CCCDA, they may survive.

    • KimJ

      Best not to get ahead of yourselves. The original Coyote Canyon herd has yet to be confirmed by the respected experts as a colonial Spanish type of horse (as far as I know. Correct me if I am wrong Kate). Many horses including all North American saddle breeds have Spanish markers in their blood due to Spanish influence. Spanish influence does not make a horse Spanish by breed which means you also have to be careful when reading a genetic report. It is yet to be seen if the Coyote Canyon horses and the Spanish type (or other type) Sulphur horses are related or connected genetically. They do certainly look different. I have known the Sulphur herd since 2001 and have since done an enormous amount of research on them as well as on Spanish history and proper Spanish phenotype. I currently own two Spanish type Sulphur mares not too far from where Kate lives in San Diego (that will be foaling next year). I don't mean to sound like a troll here and I certainly support Kate's project in regards to her vision, but I think it best to not be hasty in your remarks that are not published by experts or accepted… yet.

  4. Deborah

    Kim J. the Coyote Canyon horses have been confirmed by Dr. Cothran. the Sulphur herd was chosen in part to the almost identical Spanish markers. While many horses ran wild in San Diego at one time in history, and many were mixed with TB stock to increase wither size ect. by the military at a point in history. We have documented the Coyote Canyon horses whom were hidden by Native tribes in the canyon stayed isolated and became definitively separate. this kept the gene pool intact but also kept them from being found by local mustangers ect from being trapped and taken. the coloring is most certianly different Kim as the CCherd were mostly all a form of chestnut but confirmation is not really so different in my opinion.

  5. Kathleen Hayden

    The amount of spanish genetic markers pale in comparison to their historic contribution and survival of the only four stallions from Coyote Canyon. The mares from the Sulpher Herd in Utah were the only herd that could be directly traced to Southern Ca. Geneticists recommended them as foundation mares to replace the Coyote Canyon mares that were lost forever to us. For generations folks traveling through Coyote Canyon thrilled at catching a glimpse of this wild herd before they were removed by agency gross oversights. Thanks to Congressman Issa we are making strides to restore this heritage, by community , group and corporate endorsement. The hoofprints of the Coyote Canyon herd have been traced and documented since 1769 in several books including but not limited to: Favorite Trails of Desert Riders 1991, History of Warners Ranch1927, Old Time Cattlemen and Other Pioneers of Borrego Valley, Journal of San Diego History and many more accounts. Since their evolution connecting Spanish occupation, Indian Ranching, Mexican and Western settlement this herd truly represents our local heritage.

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