The wild Cracker horses we saw near the visitor center at Paynes Prairie descended from the original horses brought to Florida by the Spanish. Left here by the Spanish, the Seminoles caught and rode these wild horses, as did the Florida cattleman. The horse breed became known by several names including Seminole ponies, Florida Cracker horse, and marsh tackie. Eventually other horses replaced them where needed, and the breed nearly died out. Kept alive by a few farms in Florida, eventually Paynes Prairie became the home for this herd. The Florida cattlemen at that time were called Crackers, and we use the name Florida Cracker horse today. However, read some early novels or history of Florida, and the names Seminole pony and marsh tackie come up.
Why were the cattleman called Crackers? We heard a variety of explanations over the years, but the one most commonly used is that they had a specific type of cow whip that they cracked to drive the cattle. The men became known as Crackers because of the sound of the whip. A few years ago we attended Rural Days at Stephen Foster Park in Florida. We saw the making of one of these leather cow whips by a man who preserved the tradition. He explained the cow whip is shorter than the better known bull whip. He and Karl talked for some time on the making of the whip and the traditions, and Karl took several photographs.
Karl and I both took photographs of the wild Cracker horses grazing near the Visitor Center at Paynes Prairie. Using his Sony A73 with the Canon 24 – 105 mm Karl captured both of these beautifully framed shots of the peaceful scene.
The horse lying down was sitting there when we arrived. He obviously decided we were no trouble and lay down to take his nap. The others stood quietly, watched us as we came into sight but then went back to grazing. We have seen the wild horses several times over the years, whereas the bison we saw only the once. The horses are used to people being around, but are wild and should be given their space.