History, culture and science come alive with horse visit at Barringer Road

Some of the best school lessons come outside the physical classroom.

That was the case for Barringer Road fourth graders on Wednesday, June 7, when they met two Colonial Spanish Mustangs. The horses, Little Creek and Montego, are rare Spanish Colonial Mustangs belonging to Jeff and Maria Engelbrecht of Spirit Dogs Farm in Frankfort. The Engelbrechts had visited Barringer Road last November, sharing the story of the horse breed, their individual horses, and their role in preserving and promoting these rare animals.

On Wednesday, they quickly recapped their previous visit and answered student questions. Then pairs of students stepped up to the temporary corral to pet the horses and remove Spirit Beads from their manes. Native Americans used Spirit Beads to decorate clothing and animals to symbolize the elements mind, body, spirit, and emotion.

A few lucky representatives of each classroom then dipped their hands in washable paint and placed their hand prints on the horses. In Native American cultures, a hand print represented having accomplished something noteworthy. The idea is similar to a football player’s helmet decals for scoring touchdowns.

Learning in a real setting

Important lessons wove throughout the presentation.

History:  Spanish explorers and conquistadors brought their horses to North American as transportation. Until that time, horses were only found in Europe and Asia. Native Americans initially thought the animals were some type of dog and called them as Spirit Dogs. Over time, horses escaped or were abandoned and began breeding in the wild. Native Americans captured and bred the horses.

Culture:  Native Americans soon adopted the horse as an integral part of their lives. Horses carried people and goods. They were used to hunt and in war. Horses bore important spiritual markings and decorations.

Science:  The Colonial Spanish Mustang arose from the Iberian (southwestern Spain) horse.  Because each Native American tribe was geographically separated, each generation of horses began to take on specific and unique characteristics. Little Creek is a Choctaw and Montego is a Grand Canyon Colonial Spanish Mustang. Several of these individual strains exist in declining numbers across the country. Knowledgeable horse owners, such as the Engelbrechts, are part of a nationwide conservation effort to conserve the genetics. As a breed, Colonial Spanish Mustangs are smaller and stouter than most horse breeds. They are known for great strength and endurance and gentle dispositions.

When Jeff and Maria had visited Barringer Road last November, foul weather prevented them from bringing their horses along at the time. They promised to return this spring, but again the weather refused to cooperate. Wednesday’s sunshine and moderate temperatures finally made the visit possible.