I was a senior citizen and retired when I got involved with the horse world. Since that time, my wife and I have both been taking riding lessons and own our horses. As one who is interested in history, I was curious about how horses got to this country. I heard many accounts about it. But I decided to research it myself. Here is some of what I found.
Horses did exist in prehistoric America, but they died out before any human saw them. According to some scientist, a great plague swept across the Americas and wiped them all out except for a few survivors. Those survivors probably crossed over the land bridge and spread to all corners of the globe except Australia and Antarctica. Others say it was the “Ice Age” that forced the horse to cross the land bridge in search of food.
Obviously, horses are here. So then how did they get back to this continent?
It is generally accepted it wasn’t until the arrival of the Spaniards that horses were reintroduced to the Americas and they quickly multiplied. All horses in North America today are descendants of those European horses.
It was on Christopher Columbus’s second voyage in 1493 where he brought the horse back to North America, specifically the Virgin Islands. Queen Isabella gave Columbus a variety of breeds to take with him on his voyage. They were of Spanish and Barb bloodlines and included the powerful Andalusian, the hardy Sorraia and the gaited Spanish Jennet. They were domesticated but were also a very valuable war tool.
Spanish conquistadors, like Cortez in 1519, used them in their conquest of the Americas Indian culture. Until the arrival of the Spaniards, the Native Americans he encountered had never seen horses.
The Native Americans believed Christopher Columbus and the Conquistadors were Gods. Many, who did not submit to the demands of the Conquistadors, were easily killed by these mounted Gods. The Native American believed the thing that carried the mounted Gods into battle had to be valuable, so like the Gods who rode them, the horse was feared.
Eventually some of the horses were captured during battle. Off the shores of the Americas were wrecked ships. Some of the horses on them swam ashore and formed wild herds. These domesticated horses were smaller and suited to the travel restrictions imposed by the size of the ships. Horses captured by the Native Americans were eventually tamed and trained. And it is from these horses that the American horse history begins.
According to American author and photographer, John S. Hockensmith, the natives were forbidden to ride horses. Riding them would be punishable by death. The Spaniards knew that if the natives got horses they would rebel. Natives were kept in total fear until an Indian uprising in 1680 in Santa Fe. The settlers fled, leaving behind 3,000 horses.
The horse’s arrival in the Americas had a big impact on the Indian culture. Once the horses were trained, they could now kill buffalo while mounted. The horses could be used for trade and status and they could travel farther distances to better winter and summer grounds. By the 19th century, horses were impeded into the American way of life. They had may jobs. Cowboys used them to handle cattle. City dwellers used them for horse-drawn public transportation and hauling freight. Even though steam powered equipment was available, sometime labor provided by the horse was thought to be
more efficient. New York city used over 130,000 horses. As a result, in 1866 the first ASPCA was created.
Today, there ae many descendants of those horses in America, including, Arabian, American Paint, Thoroughbred, Mustang, American Quarter Horse, American Warmblood, Morgan, and Appaloosa. All of them used in various forms of recreation, work, and competition.
*The earliest member of the horse family is the appropriately named “dawn horse,” or “Eohippus.” It dates back 55 million years.
*Paul Revere borrowed a mare from merchant John Larkin to use in the famous ride.
*In the early 20th century, cars were believed to be an environmentally friendly solution to horse drawn carriages because horse poop and carcasses polluted the city. One city horse could produce between 15 and 30 pounds of manure day. *Plowing a 40-acre field with a team of horses took a 19th century American farmer approximately 16 ten-hour days That farmer and his team would also walk 330 total miles walking back and forth along the furrows.
*The first trans-continental U.S. mail service delivery was made in October 1858 via John Butterfield Company’s stagecoach. The trip took 22 days and over 2800 miles to complete.
*In 1900, there were 15,000 horses in New York City. They produced enough manure in one year to create pile 175 feet high, covering an acre of land, and breeding 16 billion flies.
*There are about 58 million horses in the world.