The story of the Abaco Barb sounds like a movie script, and perhaps the credits haven’t yet rolled. The breed comes from Spain, and the horses first crossed the Atlantic during Columbus’ journeys during the Age of Discovery. The name Barb comes from the Barbary horses of North Africa, which were bred with already-famous Spanish horses to create the rare breed. Many shipwrecks occurred in the area of the Bahamas during the 15th and 16th centuries, and the horses likely swam to the islands after a storm. Abaco Barbs created a niche in the island forest ecosystem where they thrived for decades. However, a hurricane destroyed much of the Abaco Barb’s habitat, and manmade threats created more issues. The herd’s numbers dropped, despite heroic efforts, and in 2015, the last Abaco Barb died. However, tissue samples were saved in a laboratory, with hopes that the breed might someday be cloned, giving it a fresh start.
Finding horses with pure Barb blood is difficult. These horses have been interbred with other breeds, especially Arabians. In the 1950s David Painter gathered as many horses with distinctive Barb characteristics as he could to help preserve this ancient breed. These high-spirited horses remain quite rare.