American Indian Horse

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War Chief - Nokota Horse -photo credit: Dr. McLaughlin
War Chief - Nokota Horse -photo credit: Dr. McLaughlin

American Indian Horse

The American Indian Horse is any horse of Spanish origin that has evolved to adapt to a particular environment within North America, with or without breeding from humans. The title American Indian Horse does not refer to one specific breed; rather, it applies to any breed that has proved itself capable of withstanding a distinct ecotone, whether it be the high plains of the Midwest or the low swamplands of the South.

There is no single characteristic typical of the American Indian Horse. the American Indian Horse Registry has not just one single breed or stock but rather a group that has developed over time throughout the Americas from Spanish stock. The American Indian Horse stands between 13 and 15 hands high and comes in any color from solid to lilac roan or peacock spotted leopard, and does not have small feet in comparison to the body structure, overly muscled/fat body style of the "modern" horse breeds or overly straight legs.

Early Indian ethnologists believed the feral Spanish mustangs roaming the Plains descended from Spanish horses lost by Cortez, and the Plains Indian horses came from these wild Spanish horses. Roe and others showed this was not the case. American Plains Indians acquired horses, and the knowledge of how to handle them, through trade with the Indians of the Southwest. American Indians had to learn to ride and handle horses just like everybody else.

Prior to the Pueblo Revolt, the only Indians familiar with horses were a few Apache and Navajo that worked on Spanish rancheros. When the Spanish abandoned the rancheros, thousands of horses were left behind. Alan Taylor, American Colonies, states the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, resulting in thousands of loose horses, was the greatest setback inflicted by American Indians on European expansion in North America. Within fifty years after the Pueblo revolt, horses had spread as far north as the Cree and Assiniboine Indians in Canada. Fifteen years after being driven out by the Pueblos, the Spanish retook the land, and the Spanish missions were re-established.

By the 1750s, all the tribes of the Great Plains had horses. They had become experts at raising, training and riding horses. They became experts at horse medicine.

Each Indian of the Great Plains could ride a horse by the age of five. As an adult, a young man would have a special horse for work. Another horse would be trained for hunting. And another would be trained for war. An Indian warrior's success depended upon how closely he and his horses worked together. The coming of white settlers to the Great Plains was the beginning of the end of the buffalo and horse culture of the American Indian. Many of the Great Plains tribes that survive today work hard to keep their traditional cultures.


Mesohippus was a three-toed horse that lived approximately twenty-five million years ago

Mesohippus was a three-toed horse that lived approximately twenty-five million years ago. The precursors of the horse family came into existence about fifty-five million years ago. The first was Eohippus. These prehistoric horses weighed about eighty pounds, had four toes on its front feet, three toes on its rear feet, and small teeth suitable for a diet of fruit and leaves. As these prehistoric horses increased in numbers and diversity, they spread across North America and, via the Bering Strait land bridge, to Europe and Asia. About fifteen thousand years ago, the North American habitat started to change and the prehistoric horses began to disappear. Horses were also a food source for Paleo-Indians, which contributed to horses becoming extinct on this continent.

Unlike earlier horses, Mesohippus' teeth were low crowned and contained a single gap behind the front teeth, where the bit now rests in the modern horse. In addition, it had another grinding tooth, making a total of six. Mesohippus was a browser that fed on tender twigs and fruit. The cerebral hemisphere, or cranial cavity, was notably larger than that of its predecessors; its brain was similar to that of modern horses. Like many fossil horses, Mesohippus was common in North America.

Native American Horse Breeds

The descendants of Indian horses are still with us, including some of the most popular breeds in America today.

American Quarter Horse
This breed descends from an 18th-century cross of Chickasaw ponies, with their superior speed and agility, and English thoroughbreds. Named for its ability to easily win quarter-mile races, it may be America's most popular breed.

The Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek captured their first horses from the Spanish and became avid horse breeders in their original homes in the Southeast. Following the removal of these tribes to Oklahoma, they continued to breed horses. In recent years the breeds have diminished due to the deaths of elderly breeders, but work is currently underway to preserve the Southeastern horse breeds before they are lost forever.

This spotted horse descends from animals bred by the Nimíipuu (Nez Perce), who once owned the largest herd in North America. After Chief Joseph's War (1877), the U.S. Army disbanded the tribal herd, but since 1938 the Appaloosa Horse Club has been working to preserve the breed.

Meanwhile, the Nimíipuu are re-establishing their own Appaloosa herd with an ambitious breeding program that incorporates the Akhal-Teke horse of Turkmenistan. This magnificent horse with a golden coat may be the oldest of domesticated breeds.

Fur Trapper. com
Spanish Colonial Horse and the Plains Indian Horse Culture-
en.wikipedia -
The American Indian Horse Registry-
National Museum of the American Indian
Wild Horses - Bureau of Land Management
Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks
American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Preservation and Sanctuary
Adopt a Living Legend; Wild, Beautiful, Adoptable
Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Internet Adoption
Assateague's Wild Horses
Equine Advocates | Promoting the Humane and Responsible Treatment of Horses
Horse Slaughter Ending in United States
Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue
Wild Horse Sanctuary
Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range (BLM)
Frequently Asked Questions - Horses

A Song For The Horse Nation - Horses In Native American Cultures

Return of the Buffalo Horses


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