Notably, there are about 82,000 feral horses that roam freely in the wild in certain parts of the country, mostly in the Western United States. While genus Equus, of which the horse is a member, originally evolved in North America, the horse became extinct on the continent approximately 8,000–12,000 years ago.
In 1493, on Christopher Columbus' second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. Catullus, were brought back to North America, first to the Virgin Islands ; they were reintroduced to the continental mainland by Hernán Cortés in 1519. From early Spanish imports to Mexico and Florida, horses moved north, supplemented by later imports to the east and west coasts brought by British, French, and other European colonists.
Native peoples of the Americas quickly obtained horses and developed their own horse culture that was largely distinct from European traditions. Horses remained an integral part of American rural and urban life until the 20th century, when the widespread emergence of mechanization caused their use for industrial, economic, and transportation purposes to decline.
Modern use of the horse in the United States is primarily for recreation and entertainment, though some horses are still used for specialized tasks. A 2005 genetic study of fossils found evidence for three genetically divergent equip lineages in Pleistocene North and South America.
Recent studies suggest all North American fossils of caballine-type horses, including both the domesticated horse and Przewalski's horse, belong to the same species: E. ferns. Remains attributed to a variety of species and lumped as New World stilt-legged horses belong to a second species that was endemic to North America, now called Haringtonhippus Francisco.
Digs in western Canada have unearthed clear evidence horses existed in North America as recently as 12,000 years ago. Other studies produced evidence that horses in the Americas existed until 8,000–10,000 years ago.
Equine in North America ultimately became extinct, along with most of the other New World megafauna during the Quaternary extinction event during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago. Given the suddenness of the event and because these mammals had been flourishing for millions of years previously, something unusual must have happened.
The first main hypothesis attributes extinction to climate change. For example, in Alaska, beginning approximately 12,500 years ago, the grasses characteristic of a steppe ecosystem gave way to shrub tundra, which was covered with unpalatable plants.
However, it has also been proposed that the steppe-tundra vegetation transition in Bering may have been a consequence, rather than a cause, of the extinction of megafaunal grazers. The other hypothesis suggests extinction was linked to overexploitation of native prey by newly arrived humans.
The extinctions were roughly simultaneous with the end of the most recent glacial advance and the appearance of the big game-hunting Clovis culture. Several studies have indicated humans probably arrived in Alaska at the same time or shortly before the local extinction of horses.
Horses returned to the Americas thousands of years later, well after domestication of the horse, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1493. These were Iberian horses first brought to Hispaniola and later to Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and, in 1538, Florida.
The first horses to return to the main continent were 16 specifically identified horses brought by Hernán Cortés in 1519. Subsequent explorers, such as Coronado and De Soto brought ever-larger numbers, some from Spain and others from breeding establishments set up by the Spanish in the Caribbean.
The first imports were smaller animals suited to the size restrictions imposed by ships. Starting in the mid-19th century, larger draft horses began to be imported, and by the 1880s, thousands had arrived.
Formal horse racing in the United States dates back to 1665, when a racecourse was opened on the Hempstead Plains near Salisbury in what is now Nassau County, New York. There are multiple theories for how Native American people obtained horses from the Spanish, but early capture of stray horses during the 16th century was unlikely due to the need to simultaneously acquire the skills to ride and manage them.
It is unlikely that Native people obtained horses in significant numbers to become a horse culture any earlier than 1630–1650. From a trade center in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, the horse spread slowly north.
The Comanche people were thought to be among the first tribes to obtain horses and use them successfully. By 1742, there were reports by white explorers that the Crow and Blackfoot people had horses, and probably had them for a considerable time.
The horse became an integral part of the lives and culture of Native Americans, especially the Plains Indians, who viewed them as a source of wealth and used them for hunting, travel, and warfare. In the 19th century, horses were used for many jobs.
In the west, they were ridden by cowboys for handling cattle on the large ranches of the region and on cattle drives. In some cases, their labor was deemed more efficient than using steam-powered equipment to power certain types of mechanized equipment.
At the same time, the maltreatment of horses in cities such as New York, where over 130,000 horses were used, led to the creation of the first ASPCA in 1866. In the 19th century, the Standard bred breed of harness racing horse developed in the United States, and many thoroughbred horse races were established.
Horse-drawn sightseeing bus, 1942At the start of the 20th century, the United States Department of Agriculture began to establish breeding farms for research, to preserve American horse breeds, and to develop horses for military and agricultural purposes. However, after the end of World War I, the increased use of mechanized transportation resulted in a decline in the horse populations, with a 1926 report noting horse prices were the lowest they had been in 60 years.
In 1912, the United States and Russia held the most horses in the world, with the U.S. having the second-highest number. There were an estimated 20 million horses in March 1915 in the United States.
But as increased mechanization reduced the need for horses as working animals, populations declined. A USDA census in 1959 showed the horse population had dropped to 4.5 million.
Numbers began to rebound somewhat, and by 1968 there were about 7 million horses, mostly used for riding. ^ One hypothesis posits that horses survived the ice age in North America, but no physical evidence has been found to substantiate this claim.
“Evolution, systematic, and paleogeography of Pleistocene horses in the New World: a molecular perspective”. “Ancient DNA Clarifies the Evolutionary History of American Late Pleistocene Equips”.
^ Hartman, Peter D; Paula, Grant D; Machete, Ross DE; Scott, Eric; Cahill, James A; Choose, Brianna K; Knapp, Joshua D; Stiller, Mathias; Woollier, Matthew J; Orlando, Ludovic; South on, John (November 28, 2017). “A new genus of horse from Pleistocene North America ".
“Rapid body size decline in Alaskan Pleistocene horses before extinction”. “Steppe-tundra transition: a herbivore-driven biome shift at the end of the Pleistocene”.
“A calendar chronology for Pleistocene mammoth and horse extinction in North America based on Bayesian radiocarbon calibration”. ^ Slow, Andrew; Roberts, David; Robert, Karen (May 9, 2006).
“On the Pleistocene extinctions of Alaskan mammoths and horses ". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (19 ed.).
“New carbon dates link climatic change with human colonization and Pleistocene extinctions”. “Iberian Origins of New World Horse Breeds”.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture. Horses in Society: A Story of Animal Breeding and Marketing, 1800–1920.
I was reading a recent article about wild horses and their origin in North America. This article made me wonder if there were native horses in North America before the Spanish arrived.
Forty-five million-year-old fossils of Phipps, the ancestor of the modern horse, evolved in North America, survived in Europe and Asia, and returned with the Spanish explorers. The early horses went extinct in North America but made a come back in the 15th century.
Quick links: Horses have played a significant role in the history of North America and throughout the world. The evolution of horses in North America begins 60 million years ago with Phipps.
It was a small animal, standing only 13 inches and had an arched back similar to some deer. Their teeth indicate the Phipps was a roaming animal that sustained itself on foliage, like leaves and other plant foods.
He had examined the collection of ancient fossils gathered from the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Huxley believed these fossils bolstered the theory of evolution, by tracing Phipps to the modern horse.
It made its way on the scene with small developmental strides over Orohippu, with more grinding teeth, a more substantial body, and changes to its feet. Dinohippus fossils have been found in North America and date from 13-5 million years ago.
The stay mechanism allows horses to stand for extended periods without exerting much energy. 1-4 million years ago, Equus, the modern horse, debuted in North America.
It is unclear precisely what caused the extinction of horses in North America, but there are three viable theories: human overkill, climate change, and infectious disease. Humans crossed the Bering Sea and arrived in North America close to the time horses became extinct.
Equus survived by crossing the Bering land bridge that connected Alaska to Siberia. The Bering Strait land bridge allowed horses and other mammals to travel from Alaska’s northern slope when food supplies dwindled and return during times of abundance.
When the Ice Age ended, sea levels rose to cut off animals’ natural food sources. The flooding of the Bering Strait land bridge resulted in the extinction of many large mammals in North America.
Infectious diseases could have been the cause of the rapid extinction of horses ; however, there is little science to support this theory. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing horses back to North America in 1493.
Some horses escaped or were abandoned and populated large areas of the southwestern United States. European settlers brought horses of varying breeds to North America.
Horses flourished on the new continent, and they were used for transportation, ranch work, hauling freight, and farming. They theorize the Native people subdued the wild Spanish horses in the mid 16th century.
In the southwestern United States, a wealthy Spaniard established a settlement, which included livestock and horses. Over some time, the Native American helpers recognized the value of horsemanship and learned how to handle horses.
Horses were probably first ridden about 5,500 years ago on the plains of northern Kazakhstan, according to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Peter in the United Kingdom. Archeologists uncovered evidence that indicates horses were selectively bred, used for milk, and possibly ridden.
Through the use of new scientific techniques, the team of researchers confirmed bit damage caused by horses being harnessed or bridled. Related articles: To read more about the native horses of North America, click here.
1807 John Green leaf Whittier, American poet, abolitionist, reformer and founder of the Liberal Party. 1908 Willard Frank Libby, American chemist who won a Nobel Prize for his part in creating the carbon-14 method in dating ancient findings.
1936 Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Seraglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina), named to the Papacy March 13, 2013. 1937 US Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, deputy commander-in-chief for military operations with US Central Command (Forward) during the First Gulf War.
The American range and Sheep Wars of the 18th and early 19th centuries are clear evidence of this, as outlined in this Wikipedia summary: Sheep wars occurred in many western states though they were most common in Texas, Arizona and the border region of Wyoming and Colorado.
Generally, the cattlemen saw the sheepherders as invaders, who destroyed the public grazing lands, which they had to share on a first-come, first-served basis. Over the last century, this has led to the deionization of grazing animals who compete with cattle for forage on public lands.
These days most grazing herbivores, wild or domestic, have lobbies based on an economic interest. The economic value of cattle, sheep and pigs are obvious, due to the market demands for these animals as human food sources.
Below we examine the three greatest myths that the cattle industry has perpetrated regarding America ’s wild horses. These myths were relatively easily perpetrated during the time that predated the Internet, when advanced scientific information was available via relatively few and obscure resources.
In fact, all horses on the planet today originated from North America and migrated over the Aleutian land bridge into Asia sometime around 17,000 years ago. Dr. Ross Machete, curator of vertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History, has criticized the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for publishing manifestly incorrect information for public viewing on their wild burro and horse website.
Furthermore, according to Professors Kirkpatrick and Fabio, in their article Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife : “The issue of realization and the use of the word ‘feral’ is a human construct that has little biological meaning except in transitory behavior, usually forced on the animal in some manner. E. Przewalskii (Mongolian wild horses) disappeared from Mongolia a hundred years ago.
They had in fact made contact with the Lakota Indians, who resided on the plains that stretched between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and observed them riding horses and hunting buffalo using methods and tools (evolved spear designs) that were advanced at that place and time. The journals of these explorer-cartographers are now being studied from their secure locations in museums, where scientists have uncovered illuminating revelations of wild horses being tamed and ridden for centuries in America before the arrival of French explorers in the early 1600s, thus predating the arrival of any Spaniards and even the Vikings on the North American continent.
A study by Hansen, Clark and Law horn titled Foods of Wild Horses, Deer and Cattle in the Douglas Mountain Areas, Colorado shows that wild horses do not adversely compete with deer for food. Black tail deer in western coastal areas similarly have little potential for grazing competition with wild horses.
Wildlife biologists characterize the grazing adaptation shared between wild horses and corvids (the deer family) as being ‘communal,’ meaning they essentially eat from the same table without competing. Arguably one of the cattle industry’s favorite whoppers is that wild horses damage range and riparian lands.
Cattle require intensive management to minimize the extensive damage they do to pastures, especially wetlands and riparian areas. It is also important to note that cattle have an evolutionary adaptive hoof design that arguably provides extra traction in wetlands, which are their preferred homesteads in a native ecosystem.
Another ecological downside to cattle is their multi-stomach ruminant digestive system, which is quite effective at digesting most of the plant and grass seeds they consume when grazing native pastures, rending those seeds non-viable and thereby eliminating the natural reseeding process of the plants and grasses consumed. Wild horses have many other mutual isms within the ecosystems of the American landscapes they inhabit, including with trees, which they adopt as their means of shelter from the heat of summer and rains and snows of winter.
In return, wild horses graze down all the grasses and plants under the trees, thus removing fuel for wildfires. As we consider the foregoing points, it becomes strikingly obvious that millennia of evolutionary processes have led to complex mutual isms between plants, grasses and wild horses.
The cattle industry attempts to paint wild horses as a current problem on public lands by stating they are damaging to rang elands. So as we can now see, the cattle industry and others who repeat these myths and false narratives have done and continue to do a grave injustice to the reputation and the natural history of America ’s wild horses, which have been a great blessing to mankind, literally a gift from the Creator.
The discovery of a fossil bone in permafrost near Dawson City in Alaska lead to the scraping of some DNA and what turned out to be the oldest genome scanned so far. The newbie dates from between 560-780 Kay, and because of the data it reveals, the situation much further back can be calculated more accurately.
We can even spot where human artificial selection caused a lowering of variation in 29 regions of the modern horse genome. The collaborators, with lead author, Ludovic Orlando, of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, in the landmark paper published in Nature, hail from Copenhagen to California, with many countries represented.
The only trouble is that we have very few fossils of early hominids and no tissues are preserved for that length of time without the permafrost's help! The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, but by then Equus had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa.
In any case the domesticated horse probably did not arise at a single place and time, but was bred from several wild varieties by Eurasian herders. In recent years, molecular biology has provided new tools for working out the relationships among species and subspecies of equips.
For example, based on mutation rates for mitochondrial DNA (mt DNA) Ann Forster, of the Zoological Institute at the University of Helsinki, has estimated that E. Catullus originated approximately 1.7 million years ago in North America. Her examination of E. samba mt DNA (preserved in the Alaskan permafrost) has revealed that the species is genetically equivalent to E. Catullus.
That conclusion has been further supported by Michael Forfeited, of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who has found that the variation fell within that of modern horses. Indeed, domestication altered them little, as we can see by how quickly horses revert to ancient behavioral patterns in the wild.
The wild horse in the United States is generally labeled non-native by most federal and state agencies dealing with wildlife management, whose legal mandate is usually to protect native wildlife and prevent non-native species from having ecologically harmful effects. Jay F. Kirkpatrick, who earned a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, has studied fertility control for wild horses.
Patricia M. Fabio, a research fellow at the Science and Conservation Center, earned her Ph.D. in environmental history from Texas A&M University. Her interests include reproductive physiology, the monitoring of wild horse ranges, and the evolution of equips.
The map at left is from Story's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America by Judith Dotson. Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted Spain dominion over all lands, discovered or undiscovered, in the New World.
Expeditions that sought out new lands and treasures brought horses with them from the islands. The earliest exploratory expeditions went to Mexico in 1517 (Cordoba) and 1518 (Bridalveil), but did not bring horses.
By June of that year, he established the settlement of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz. During this time, Cortés received reinforcements and supplies, including more horses from Cuba.
Over the next few decades, more Spanish settlers came to the Mexican mainland bringing with them livestock from the Islands. From 1535-1542, explorers with Francisco de Coronado reached as far north as areas that are now in Arizona and New Mexico, including the Grand Canyon, and into Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
This area of Mexico is relatively isolated on the coast because of the high mountains with dense cloud forests, so the horses remained relatively pure. Preliminary results of genetic tests done by Dr. E. Gus Cochran at Texas A&M University on our Aliens show them to be closest to the Warrant horses (also called Min ho) of Portugal, a primitive horse of the Iberian Peninsula.
This gave plenty of opportunity for native peoples to take horses and other livestock, and for feral herds to develop. Over the centuries, these Colonial Spanish horse populations have bred within their own herds and have remained relatively genetically pure.
Hardy Else in the book “Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction” writing about Spanish Mustangs suggests that it is because the Spanish Colonial horses are clannish, avoiding horses of other breeds. Many of the Horse Breed accounts overly simplify history and include unsubstantiated conjecture, resulting in some erroneous beliefs and conclusions.
What we now consider Aliens are the result of nearly 500 years of natural selection within the feral herds in southern Mexico. Records also show that these horses were brought along with missionaries as they established outposts throughout Mexico and what is now southwestern USA.
Settlements in South America apparently tended to keep their horses under closer control with very selective breeding programs. Similarly, Danilo de Narvaez brought 40 horses with supplies to establish a settlement near Tampa.
Hernando de Soto came ashore near Tampa Bay in 1539 with 200 horses and his expedition traveled throughout Florida north through the Carolina's, into Tennessee, south into Alabama, west into Mississippi, Arkansas and finally Texas. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded Saint Augustine on September 8, 1565, which was thereafter continuously settled.
However, English settlers came to Florida during the 17th and 18th Centuries bringing with them their draft horses. Spanish traits remain in many of the east coast horse breeds and strains.
Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States, 1492-1570 by Jerald T. Milan and Susan Migrate Przewalski's horse had reached the brink of extinction but was reintroduced successfully into the wild.
The Tarzan became extinct in the 19th century, though it is a possible ancestor of the domestic horse; it roamed the steppes of Eurasia at the time of domestication. However, other subspecies of Equus ferns may have existed and could have been the stock from which domesticated horses are descended.
Since the extinction of the Tarzan, attempts to have been made to reconstruct its phenotype, resulting in horse breeds such as the König and Heck horse. However, the genetic makeup and foundation bloodstock of those breeds is substantially derived from domesticated horses, so these breeds possess domesticated traits.
The term “wild horse” is also used colloquially in reference to free-roaming herds of feral horses such as the mustang in the United States, the crumby in Australia, and many others. These feral horses are untamed members of the domestic horse subspecies (Equus ferns Catullus), not to be confused with the truly “wild” horse subspecies extant into modern times.
E. Ferus has had several subspecies, only three of which have survived into modern times: The latter two are the only never-domesticated “wild” groups that survived into historic times.
In the Late Pleistocene epoch, there were several other subspecies of E.ferns which have all since gone extinct. The exact categorization of Equus' remains into species or subspecies is a complex matter and the subject of ongoing work.
Equus ferns fossil from 9100 BC found near Dense, at the Zoological Museum in CopenhagenProbable European wild horse coat colors The horse family Equine and the genus Equus evolved in North America during the Pliocene, before the species migrated across Bering into the Eastern Hemisphere. Studies using ancient DNA, as well as DNA of recent individuals, suggest the presence of two equine species in Late Pleistocene North America, a cabal line species, suggested being nonspecific with the wild horse, and Haringtonhippus Francisco, the “New World stilt-legged horse”; the latter has been taxonomically assigned to various names, and appears to be outside the grouping containing all extant equines.
Currently, three subspecies that lived during recorded human history are recognized. One subspecies is the widespread domestic horse (Equus ferns Catullus), as well as two wild subspecies: the recently extinct Tarzan (E. f. ferns) and the endangered Przewalski's horse (E. f. przewalskii).
Genetically, the pre-domestication horse, E. f. ferns, and the domesticated horse, E. f. Catullus, form a single homogeneous group (clade) and are genetically indistinguishable from each other. The genetic variation within this clade shows only a limited regional variation, with the notable exception of Przewalski's horse.
Besides genetic differences, astrological evidence from across the Eurasian wild horse range, based on cranial and metacarpal differences, indicates the presence of only two subspecies in post glacial times, the Tarzan and Przewalski's horse. At present, the domesticated and wild horses are considered a single species, with the valid scientific name for the horse species being Equus ferns.
The wild Tarzan subspecies is E. f. ferns, Przewalski's horse is E. f. przewalskii, and the domesticated horse is E. f. Catullus. The rules for the scientific naming of animal species are determined in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which stipulates that the oldest available valid scientific name is used to name the species.
Previously, when taxonomists considered domesticated and wild horse two subspecies of the same species, the valid scientific name was Equus Catullus Linnaeus 1758, with the subspecies labeled E. c. Catullus (domesticated horse), E. c. ferns Border, 1785 (Tarzan) and E. c. przewalskii Polio, 1881 (Przewalski's horse). However, in 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature decided that the scientific names of the wild species have priority over the scientific names of domesticated species, therefore mandating the use of Equus ferns for the horse, independent of the position of the domesticated horse.
Przewalski's horse occupied the eastern Eurasian Steppes, perhaps from the Urals to Mongolia, although the ancient border between Tarzan and Przewalski's distributions has not been clearly defined. Przewalski's horse was limited to Dzungaria and western Mongolia in the same period, and became extinct in the wild during the 1960s, but was reintroduced in the late 1980s to two preserves in Mongolia.
Although researchers such as Maria Gimbals theorized that the horses of the Paleolithic period were Przewalski's, more recent genetic studies indicate that Przewalski's horse is not an ancestor to modern domesticated horses. However, it was subsequently suggested that Przewalski's horse represent feral descendants of horses belonging to the Bowie culture.
Przewalski's horse is still found today, though it is an endangered species and for a time was considered extinct in the wild. Roughly 2000 Przewalski's horses are in zoos around the world.
A small breeding population has been reintroduced in Mongolia. As of 2005, a cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists has resulted in a population of 248 animals in the wild.
However, the offspring of Przewalski and domestic horses are fertile, possessing 65 chromosomes. For instance, when the Spanish reintroduced the horse to the Americas, beginning in the late 15th century, some horses escaped, forming feral herds; the best-known being the mustang.
Similarly, the crumby descended from horses strayed or let loose in Australia by English settlers. Isolated populations of feral horses occur in a number of places, including Bosnia, Croatia, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland and a number of barrier islands along the Atlantic coast of North America from Sable Island off Nova Scotia, to Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia.
In 1995, British and French explorers discovered a new population of horses in the Roche Valley of Tibet, unknown to the rest of the world, but apparently used by the local Samba people. It was speculated that the Roche horse might be a relict population of wild horses, but testing did not reveal genetic differences with domesticated horses, which is in line with news reports indicating that they are used as pack and riding animals by the local villagers.
These horses only stand 12 hands (48 inches, 122 cm) tall and are said to resemble the images known as “horse no 2” depicted in cave paintings alongside images of Przewalski's horse. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Przewalski's Horse: The History and Biology of an Endangered Species. Albany, New York Colin P. Groves: State University of New York Press.
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^ “Endangered Przewalski's Horses Back On Russian Steppe”. ^ “An extraordinary return from the brink of extinction for worlds last wild horse” Archived 2006-07-22 at the Payback Machine ZSL Living Conservation, December 19, 2005.
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The Outer Banks is home to several herds that are descended from Spanish mustangs brought over to North America by the conquistadors about 500 years ago. The easiest place to see some of these wild horses is at the north end of Crack Island, where the National Park Service maintains a small herd of “banker ponies” in a large fenced-in range.
Turner/Shutterstock Montana and Wyoming are excellent places to appreciate the wide open spaces and natural beauty of North America, including that of some unique wild horses. These horses live mostly in the Pryor Mountains, a range that extends from Billings, Montana, in the north to Lovell, Wyoming, in the south.