Are Horses Indigenous To North America

Carole Stephens
• Wednesday, 02 December, 2020
• 7 min read

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.

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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. Seventeen million years ago, Merychippus entered the equine line.

Dinohippus skull, teeth, and foot structure are very similar to modern horses. The stay mechanism allows horses to stand for extended periods without exerting much energy.

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1-4 million years ago, Equus, the modern horse, debuted in North America. Evidence suggests that Equus migrated to Asia a million years ago.

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.

However, scientists unearthed tools used to butcher horses that date back over 7,000 years. 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.

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Some horses escaped or were abandoned and populated large areas of the southwestern United States. 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. While recently at a showjumping competition I wondered how long people have been riding 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.

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A feature, by Dan Flores on horses and their “interrupted” wild descendants, mustangs appeared in the February 2010 issue of Wild West. To receive notification whenever any new item is published on History, just scroll down the column on the right and sign up for our RSS feed.

Image credit: Panel Uchorczak/Shutterstock It is commonly believed that horses are native to the European lands, when in reality, their ancestors came over from the Americas via the Bering Bridge 1 million years ago. Horses agility and intelligence contributes to their pest-like behavior of consuming crops in large amounts, which is unfavorable to farmers.

As the only method for transportation, their purpose was also to help with carrying loads for settlements and to trade with the Indigenous peoples. The name Phipps was given to the earliest species by Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist and anthropologist who specialized in comparative anatomy, upon his visit to the United States in 1876.

Literally meaning “dawn horse,” Phipps was described as a “timid forest animal” standing at about 13 inches tall, with a hunched back, leopard-like spots, and four toes on each foot. Having acquired an additional tooth for grinding to feed on tough plants, it also presented itself with a sturdier body.

It not only looked like today's, with its elongated snout and long legs (albeit still with three toes), but it also demonstrated agility and intelligence through its ability to escape and out-trick other species as well as humans who made attempts a domesticating the Merrychipus. Equus managed to make its way through Alaska into Siberia via the Bering Bridge, about 1,000,000 years ago, spreading by land through Asia and Europe all the way to Africa.

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Although it remains uncertain why they went extinct on these lands, evidence suggests that humans might have had something to do with it, as they first made their way to the Americas from Siberia by crossing the Bering Strait around that time. The other two theories state that infectious disease and climate change with a consecutive decline in vegetation might have also been the contributing factors.

A little-known fact is that horses, wild horses specifically, can be regarded as pests, as they are capable of consuming large amounts of land resources at a time, including feed for farmers' cattle and the products that farmers grow themselves, such as cabbage, carrots and leafy greens. In the official narrative, America ’s original horses “went extinct” thousands of years ago, killed off by the frigid temperatures of the last Ice Age.

The Sacred Way Sanctuary is set off a semi rural road in the bucolic hinterlands of northwestern Alabama. Bound by 2 miles of freshwater streams, it lies within the original borders of one of the first federal Indian Reservations in the United States, a place meant to contain and civilize members of the Cherokee Nation.

About 100 horses live on the land, each a descendant of Native North American horse lines named for the nations associated with them, including the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Lakota, Cheyenne, Apache, Ojibwa, and Pueblo. They stand differently, consume foods that European horses can’t digest, and their coats have distinct patterns and markings.

An Gala Lakota rite of passage ceremony, for example, involves piercing the ears of young boys and girls with earrings made of horsehair, says Loretta Afraid of Bear-Cook, an Gala Lakota elder, faith keeper, cultural specialist, and a governing council member at the Sacred Way Sanctuary. “Once the horse dies, there’s a part on the leg that looks like a little circle, and that’s where the power comes from,” Afraid of Bear-Cook explains.

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“The chiefs of that time period, they that horse medicine off the leg, and they dried it and put it back behind the ear. Horses and the Native people of North America are not just spiritually intertwined; their histories echo each other.

After the conquistadors arrived, both were slaughtered, forced into subservience, and pushed onto inferior lands. Afraid of Bear-Cook was just a girl when the Bureau of Indian Affairs stormed the Pine Ridge Reservation with a fleet of empty trailers.

They came for the horses and cattle of her people, the right to which the U.S. government claimed because the Lakota had “failed” to pay taxes on their livestock. The BIA hadn’t just taken their animals, they had “severed” the tribe’s relationship to their sacred relatives.

Removing horses from their Indigenous caretakers (or slaughtering them outright) was a common tactic used by the U.S. government to force Native people to assimilate. “Going through our lives, we became aware that to further invalidate our existence in our communities, the bureau, the first thing that they did was come to the cattle and horses,” says Afraid of Bear-Cook.

Photo from Sacred Way Sanctuary. But denying Native claims to horses didn’t start with the U.S. government. Sixty years later, Sir Francis Drake found herds of horses living among Native people in coastal areas of California and Oregon.

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In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate described New Mexico as being “full of wild mares.” Yet, the official story that was written into the history books, and which persists today, is that the New World had no horses before the arrival of the Spanish.

That it would have been biologically impossible for a small group of horses in Mexico to populate regions thousands of miles away in as little as two years is never discussed. That’s by design, says Running Horse Collin who, after being asked by elders from different Native nations to set the record straight, conducted more than a decade of research and wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the topic of Native horses in the Americas.

Still, Running Horse Collin believes it’s not too late to bring their story to light. In addition to her work with Sacred Way, this past fall she began talks with a team of French geneticists to analyze the DNA of the sanctuary’s native horses.

She expects that their results will provide undeniable scientific proof not just that American horses persevered through the Ice Age, but that they, like Native people, have survived through the centuries. The Red Pony Stands Ojibwa Horse Sanctuary, for example, is dedicated to the preservation of the endangered Ojibwa pony, while the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is dedicated to caring for and preserving the wild “American mustang,” sacred sites, and the range.

It also offers firsthand on-the-ground education about the nature of the wild horse and its presence in the ecology of the American West.” “It’s many times hard to talk about directly because the world doesn’t want to hear it.

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