Wild Cracker Horses Live in Gainesville
By Grace Hudgins, UF Student
Wild Spanish descendent horses are much closer to the Gainesville community than people think. A trip down to Paynes Prairie is proof enough that the historic species are a sight worth seeing.
The wild Cracker Horses display a cultural value and wild lifestyle on the La Chua Trail, part of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, in Gainesville.
Amber Roux, parks service specialist for Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, said this species of horse has been living in the area since the Spanish came over to Florida more than 500 years ago.
“The horses represent a story here on the prairie,” Roux said.
This herd of horses was reintroduced by the Friends of Paynes Prairie to be wild on the prairie and represent their heritage, Roux said.
The horses on the trail are completely wild, Roux said. They are not fed or groomed in any way and walk freely around the prairie.
“We don’t take them to the vet or anything like that, they just live wild,” Roux said.
The horses were a favorite sight for guests who took the wildlife walk a few weekends ago with Park Ranger Howard Adams. They are large, quick and strong. They vary in many colors with solids and grey as the most common, according to a Paynes Prairie fact board at the La Chua Trail.
There are about 25 wild Cracker Horses living on the La Chua Trail, Adams said. A small group of Cracker Horses were on the trail Feb. 22 during a wildlife walk. There were seven horses in total, one just a baby foal.
The foal was born two weeks ago, Adams said. The horses move together, especially when people got too close to them. The adult horses would surround the foal when they felt threatened by their audience.
“They are very protective,” Adams said.
According to the Assistant Park Manager Matt Bledsoe, the horses mostly keep to themselves and do not interact much with other animals on the prairie.
“I’ve seen the horses and bison hang out together on the trail, but nothing more than that,” Bledsoe said.
The park specialists and guests encourage many members of the Gainesville community to come out to the prairie and witness these creatures first hand for themselves. Paynes Prairie maintains these horses as a cultural resource, while the horses represent a heritage that still exists in Florida.
“It is a cool experience to see them, for sure,” Roux said