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"If I had more time, I would have written less" - Mark Twain

Wild horses at the edge of the Black Rock Desert and Calico Mountains in northwestern Nevada

Photo: Dustin Gasser


North America was the original home of the horse species. Horses evolved here, and a multitude of equine species thrived here for over 57 million years. Over those millions of years, the equid family tree saw many species develop, thrive, and then fade away. These species migrated over the Bering land bridge into Asia, and from there, into Europe and Africa. The current horse species is at least 25,000 years old and may be much older. About 8,000 - 10,000 years ago, for reasons not yet fully understood (meteors, climate change, disease pandemic, and human hunting pressures are among the possibilities), horses became extinct in the land of their origin. Luckily by that time they had migrated into other parts of the world, where they continued to thrive.


During the Pleistocene Era, more than 50 equine species lived throughout the Americas. Many of these presumably migrated into Asia and from there, into the rest of the "Old World" where evolution and human actions continued to influence them.

Donkeys, zebras and horses all evolved from a common ancestor about 4 million to 4.5 million years ago. ​​


Throughout human history, people have tried to domesticate almost every known species. They (we) have only succeeded with a handful.

What do these successfully-domesticated species have in common?

  • They are social animals, living in organized groups with leadership ("pecking order")

  • They are versatile, able to adapt to a variety of habitats, climates and foodstuffs


Even so, many animals who meet that criteria, such as the deer, wolf, or bison, have never made the leap to full domestication, despite many attempts by people throughout history. Like most species, they simply lack the "hard-wiring" in their brains and nervous systems to become domesticated, despite humans' best efforts. 


The horse was able to be domesticated because of its innate hard-wiring to accept leadership, to live in a social unit, as well as its ability to adapt to a wide range of climatic and ecological conditions.


The horse was originally hunted as a food source. It became valued for other purposes than a food source due to its size, non-predatory nature (it's very important for your working partner not think of you as dinner), plus its unique digestive system, that allows it to eat fibrous foods and still "eat and run" (unlike the ruminants, who must stop everything to take time to chew their cud).

Horses have anatomical features that people have been able to use to their advantage, such as the naturally occurring gap between front and back teeth, allowing placement of a bit for communication and direction, as well as a broad back that is strong enough to support human weight.

Their digestive system allows them to derive nutrition from poor-quality grasses and forage that other animals cannot digest. Ruminants can also digest fiber, but ruminants must stop, sit, and chew their cuds for hours in order to do break down the fiber.

Horses can eat and run, which became useful to people who used horses for transportation.


The horse, along with the cat, goldfish, and perhaps the pig and parrot, is one of an even smaller handful of species that can survive in either domestic and wild situations. It can live happily dependent upon human care, or it can sometimes shrug us off and live on its own in the wild.

Horses are generalists, which helps them survive in changing conditions. Although strict vegetarians, they can eat a wide variety of plants, and their ability to derive nourishment from even rough, poor-quality fibrous foods such as desert grasses and brush gives them an edge when things get tough. They can also thrive in a wide range of climate types, from hot dry desert to cold, wet Northern climates.

Are Wild Horses Native Wildlife? Does it matter?

Although there is abundant evidence that America's wild horses are technically feral domestics, some people think today's American mustangs should be classified as native wildlife. Here are two articles presenting that pint of view:

But does it matter? Would it be better or worse for the animals themselves, if Congress changed their legal classification? From a purely intellectual point of view, it is always good to be accurate, of course.


Currently, wild (or feral, depending on your point of view) horses, as well as burros (who no one considers to be native!) have a special legal status as "wild, free-roaming horses and burros." As such, they enjoy legal protections that would not be available as either runaway domestic horses or as wildlife.


"Wildlife" in the U.S. is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which historically has focused primarily upon hunting and fishing. Since hunting horses is not culturally acceptable in this country, it seems questionable what could be gained by putting wild horses and burros into that system. 

Coronado expedition arriving at the Zuni Pueblo


For pre-historic people throughout Asia, Europe and Northern Africa, horses were first a prey species hunted for meat. Somewhere along the line a wide-ranging variety of human cultures in various parts of the world and different time periods discovered that the horse had talents and usefulness far beyond "what's for dinner", and the horse became one of the most valuable of all species.

Selective breeding for different needs and climates resulted in the range of breeds, types, sizes, and specializations we see today. (For more about this stage of prehistory, check out "Widespread Origins of Domestic Horse Lineages")

Luckily for us, before their extinction in North America, horses emigrated across the Bering Land Bridge into Asia, and from there they spread across Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa. Current history and paleontology indicates that the Spanish were the first to bring horses back to North America, after a multi-thousand year absence


"The original horses brought to America from Spain were relatively unselected*. These first came to the Caribbean islands, where populations were increased before export to the mainland. In the case of North America the most common source of horses was Mexico as even the populations in the southeastern USA were imported from Mexico rather than the Caribbean. The North American horses ultimately came from this somewhat non-selected base."

*(In other words, a wide cross-section of breed types, size, coloring, etc. that were available at the time.)

- from NORTH AMERICAN COLONIAL SPANISH HORSE Part I, History and Typeby D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, Ph.D


"Although the basis of legends, escaped horses from the early Spanish expeditions were not the seed stock of the wild horse herds of the American West. Only after the mission system in New Spain was established did horses begin to populate North America. Native groups, like the Apache, raided the missions for horses, and undoubtedly a few horses would have escaped. "
- Dr. Philip Sponenberg

Although many have tried to find it, to date there is no evidence to support the idea that wild horses originated with the early Spanish Explorers and Conquerors. As Spain began to colonize the New World, their need for horses outstripped their ability to find enough in Europe to import. So they set up breeding farms in Mexico.

Spain was at its peak of world dominance for horse breeding when Columbus sailed to the New World. This dominance began to decline in the next century, due in part to Spain having lost too much breeding stock through sales and export to other countries, and in part to the oppressive policies of the Inquisition years. By the 1700's and 1800's, many European observers to the Americas noted that the horses being produced in Mexico were of far better quality than anything being produced in Spain by that time.

What were these Spanish horses like?


Breeds were almost unknown in those days, only functional type, called landraces. (Exceptions: Arabian and to some extent, Andalusian) Spanish breed types included the Barb (now extinct, and we really don't know what it looked like for sure), the Spanish Jennet (also extinct before the age of photography, but we do know that it included many spotting patterns, both of the pinto and leopard-complex types.) These breed types are "extinct" today as distinct breeds, but their genetics live on in the many modern horses and breeds who trace their origins to them. The "PRE" (Pura Raza Espaniola, or Andalusian) horse began to be recognized as a distinct breed during 1400's.

Evidence indicates that the type of horse being produced on Mexican breeding farms was a short (by today's standards), swift, spirited animal with great agility and athleticism, as well as tremendous hardiness to survive hardship. These were then exported to all the Spanish colonies in Mexico and the Southwest. In the West they travelled up El Camino Real into Central California and Oregon. Indians stole or traded for horses, and helped spread them throughout the country, especially in the West. They began to be imported into the Great Basin areas that have wild horses today in the middle/late 1800's.

The First Wave of Wild Horses: Spanish Mustangs


The first wave of Wild Horses originated in New Mexico, and spread North and East, across lower Texas and the Great Plains. This wave began with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. (from "The Horse in the New World" exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Museum)  Early maps sometimes simply wrote the word "Wild Horses" over large sections of the lower Great Plains, into the Rio Grande area of Southwest Texas. Horses brought up from Mexico by Spanish colonists took root in California's lush coastal hills and Central Valley. We are familiar with the "seas" of bison herds. At one time wild horses were similarly numerous.

"The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was the single most successful act of resistance by Native Americans against a European invader. It established Indian independence in the pueblos for more than a decade, and even after Spanish domination was re-imposed, it forced the imperial authorities to observe religious tolerance."

For an eye-witness account of the 1680 Pueblo Uprising, told by a missionary, click HERE;
For historical analysis of the Great Pueblo Uprising, click here

The Revolt, in addition to driving the Spaniards from the Santa Fe-Albuquerque region for more than a decade, also provided the Pueblo Indians with several thousand horses. Almost immediately, they started breeding larger herds, and selling them to the Apache and Comanche Indians.


Most histories present the prevailing view that one result of the Revolt was that "The Pueblo Indians acquired horses from the Spanish, thus allowing the further spread of horses to the Plains tribes. The widespread use of the horse revolutionized Indian life. While mounted Indians found that buffalo were much easier to kill, some tribes – such as the Comanche – also met with great success when they used the horse for warfare.

(Note that The Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie account differs with this prevailing date for Native American possession of horses, placing it , at least in the North, much earlier)


From 1680 to 1740, horses spread across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain tribes and by the mid-1740's the Native American Horsemen cultures were in full bloom. European explorers often noticed and reported seeing Spanish brands, and sometimes even Spanish tack and gear, on some of the Indian horses.

Spanish colonists and missionaries brought horses from Mexican breeding farms into California and Oregon via El Camino Real. Central and coastal California had large herds of wild horses, similar in size to the herds of the Texas plains, by the mid-1700's.


When demand for horses exceeded European supplies, the Spanish set up breeding farms in the Caribbean and central Mexico, using conquered native people as slaves to care for the horses. In this way, the Indian people learned horsemanship and although they were initially forbidden to own a horse, they did eventually acquire them. By the mid 1700's, many native groups had developed their own breeding operations and actively traded horses with other native groups, and in this way horses spread throughout the continent. 

Map Showing Spread of the Spanish horse (Mexican-bred and born) in North America
Painting of an Indian catching a wild horse, by George Catlin
Petroglyphs showing people riding horses, in Arches National Park
375159pr-Bell FamilyDugout-East slope of
Wyoming-branding wild horses.jpg
6a30074rCavalry Remount Station.jpg
Frankie Winnemucca riding a bucking hors

Some Native people say they always had horses.

Some Native American people, particularly the Dakotas, insist that they had horses prior to the arrival of Spanish horses. Indeed, it is incredible that the Plains peoples, in the space of just a hundred years or so, became such highly skilled horsemen, as well as skilled breeders who had developed their own unique breed (the Appaloosa) by the time of Lewis and Clark. This is possible, of course, but I have always found it remarkable and therefore a bit suspect.

This theory is attractive to romanticists, as well as to some wild horse advocates. The theory also makes a certain intuitive sense. Granted, the human species is highly adaptable, and when something new comes onto the scene - let's say, for example, electricity, the internal combustion engine, the computer and cellphones - life can change rapidly. Still, it does seem remarkable that Native people could have developed such a widespread and highly skilled horse culture in just 60 years!

Two arguments in support of the Native American position include:

(1) the fact that the Dakota vocabulary includes far more horse-related words and sophisticated horse-related concepts than would be normal for a culture that only recently acquired the animal, and

(2) excerpts from the diary of Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie, a French explorer who visited "The People of the Horse" in Wyoming in 1642, almost 40 years before the Pueblo Uprising of 1680, which is normally considered the beginnings of both wild herds and Native American possession of horses.

Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie:

Here is an excerpt from a research paper by Clare Henderson of Laval University in Quebec:

"Between 1984 and 1987, this writer* conducted extensive research on the prairies to retrace the itinerary of Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie, who left a village site near Bismark, North Dakota, on 23 July, 1642, in an attempt to find the "People of the Horse." He traveled 20 days, guided by two Mandans, and on 11 August (1642), he reached the "Mountain of the People of the Horse" where he waited 5 weeks for their arrival. (Note by Webmaster: This account also appears in the book "Among Wild Horses: A Portrait of the Pryor Mountain Mustangs" by Lynne Pomeranz, Rhonda Massingham, and Hope Ryden)

*"This writer" being Clare Henderson

Note: What is interesting is that this account occured almost 40 years before the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which most historians consider the beginning of Native American possession of horses, and it happened in a geographic region far removed from the Pueblos of the Southwest. Yet these Indians were already well-known in these Northern areas for having horses, and being skilled horsemen.

In trying to locate this campsite, Ms. Henderson used LaVerendrie's maps and diaries, as well as other documentation and interviewed numerous Elders and old ranchers. Eventually the site was located in Wyoming, and all of the people he met and traveled with were found to be Lakotas.

According to the Lakota Elders, the aboriginal pony had the following characteristics: It was small, about 13 hands, it had a "strait" back necessitating a different type of saddle from European horses, and wider nostrils with larger lungs so that its endurance was proverbial. This account described two distinct types, or breeds: One had a long mane, and shaggy (curly) hair, while the other had a "singed (roached?) mane." This description is consistent with the Tarpan and the Polish Przewalski horses, as well as various breeds of modern equus caballus, such as the Icelandic Fjord, for the roached mane, and any other modern horse for the long mane. It also is possible the writer was describing American Curly horses.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse has a naturally roached mane, and although there is a scant body of evidence that the Vikings may have brought horses to America, which the native people could have acquired, it is possible...

Curly Mustang from Black Rock HMA in Nevada, adopted by Angie Gaines
The Curly Horse has the shaggy, curly hair coat described in the LaVerendrie account.
Curly horses in America were known to the Native Americans. The Crow & Sioux both had Curly horses. 
-The North American Curly Horse

Frederick Wilhelm, Prince of Wurtemberg, a widely respected naturalist, traveled along the Mississippi and up the Missouri in 1823. Prince Wilhelm had studied zoology, botany and related sciences under Dr. Lebret, himself a student of Jussieux, Cavier and Gay-Lussac. An English translation of his diary, titled First Journey to North America in the years 1822 to 1823, was published in 1938 by the South Dakota Historical Society. His memoirs show that he was a keen observer of the fauna and flora wherever he traveled, and it was interesting to note his remarks on the Indian pony's characteristics:

"I interrupt my discourse, to say a few words concerning the horses of the Indians…At a cursory glance one might mistake them for horses from the steppes of eastern Europe. The long manes, long necks, strong bodies and strait back make them appear like the horses of Poland…On the whole the horses of the Indians are very enduring..." (So. Dak. Hist. Soc., XIX:378).

He explained this curious phenomena (sic) by postulating that the Indian pony had descended from the Spanish horses, but that it has "degenerated," so that "They now resemble the parent (Spanish) stock very little."



The most compelling actual scientific evidence for a non-Spanish origin of horses in America, is the recent discovery that a group of wild horses in Canada is closely related genetically to the Yakut horses of Siberia:
"Genetic study of Chilcotin’s wild horses finds surprising links to Siberia: Small, isolated herd not related to horses brought to Americas by Spanish" BY LARRY PYNN, VANCOUVER SUN JANUARY 7, 2015


The reader should note, however, that horses related to the Yakut could have gotten there in a variety of ways and time periods that are consistent with current history. They could have, for instance, been brought there by Russian fur traders in the 1800's. Nevertheless, this is the first time that any American wild horses have been proven to have anything but European origins.

Mid-1800's through mid-1900's:


In the 1800's, people began to settle in the Great Basin area, and they brought with them their horses. Remember that the Great Basin area is semi-desert with few trees and very rocky ground. Until the invention and widespread availability of barbed wire, fencing was next to impossible.







Early ranch life in the Great Basin was not romantic.
This is the Bell Family homestead in Humboldt County, Nevada

Ranchers living in unfenced rangelands typically allowed their ranch stock to run freely when not being used for ranch work. Most ranchers made use of the wild herds as an important resource, providing new working stock as needed. Others captured and trained them for sale to Eastern states, the military, or other ranchers. Since the original Spanish horses were the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding for ranch work in Spain, most of these horses were by nature "cowy" and adapted well to ranch work. Ranchers often took pride in importing stallions of top European bloodlines to release into their local wild herds, to "improve" them, usually adding size and an overall appearance more to their liking.

Catching and "breaking" wild horses for ranch work was a daily fact of life - not the big deal we think it is today. We tend to lose sight of this in today's world. Gentling and training a wild horse is not only possible, it used to be commonplace.













"Branding Wild Horses" on a ranch in Wyoming


During the Civil War through the World War I era, Both the US Cavalry and many private enterprises kept the US and European militaries supplied with horses. The breeding, training (usually pretty quick and basic), and selling of cavalry horses is called the Cavalry Remount Program. Ranchers released Morgan, Arabian, Thoroughbred, and occasional other stallions into the wild herds, and then rounded up offspring to use as Cavalry Remounts. (The remaining un-captured ones are the ancestors of today's wild horse herds in many areas) Such foreign wars as the Boer Wars were the source of considerable profit for many Great Basin ranchers. The base herds of Spanish horses could be obtained cheaply from breeding farms in Mexico, and, when mixed with larger domestic stallions, the resulting offspring had the quickness and athleticism of the Spanish mustang, combined with the larger size of the domestic stallions.















Horses awaiting shipment at a Cavalry Remount station in California

"In 1899 the Boer War in South Africa and later the Spanish-American War created a large demand for military mounts. Many wild horses were rounded up and shipped overseas. During World War I, ranchers such as Harry Wilson went into business with the federal government raising horses for the Army. Wilson provided Standardbred mares acquired from the Miller and Lux ranches and the government furnished Thoroughbred studs.

Over 1,700 head of Wilson horses ran from High Rock Canyon north to the Oregon border, including all of the present day Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge." (from a BLM booklet,"MUSTANG COUNTRY, that used to be available online)

An estimated 1 million captured and "broken" mustangs went to Europe and Africa during the later years of the Nineteenth Century and first half of the 20th Century, to fight various causes - usually European, occasionally American. None returned.

"Many of the wild horse herds originated as the result of large numbers of horses being imported into Northwest Nevada for the purpose of starting herds of high quality stock. One of the earliest horse operations in northwest Nevada was in the Smoke Creek Desert. 500 "Spanish-Barb" horses were purchased for 50 cents a head in San Diego, trailed north to the Smoke Creek Desert and released in the early 1860s.

Ranchers and settlers also turned draft and saddle horses loose on the open range to pasture, gathering them as the need arose. Other horses escaped, were abandoned or were set loose when hard times made feed un-affordable. These horses commonly became referred to as wild horses or mustangs. Once the wild herds were established, it was common practice for ranchers to release high-grade stock to improve the quality of the herds." (from "MUSTANG COUNTRY")

Although there are no longer any wild herds of Mustangs in California West of the Sierras, there once were huge herds throughout the Central Valley and coastal ranges. Nearly every community today has a "Wild Horse Valley" or "Wild Horse Lane" - testimony to the presence of wild horses at some time back in history.


Frankie Winnemucca of Nixon, NV breaking a "bronc" in 1948
- Washoe County Library


NOTE: This section is repeated in the Nevada section of the "Gallery of HMAs" and although focusing on Nevada, much of it applies to all western states. So it is repeated here:



Spaniards brought horses with them to the Southwest the 16th and 17th centuries. But horses preferred the grassy plains to the rugged semi-desert of the Great Basin, so it wasn't until settlement began in the late 1800's that wild horse herds began to develop in this area to any great extent. Most were brought there by ranchers, who allowed them to roam the range at will, since there was plenty of room, and the treeless, rocky landscape was hard to fence. Ranchers would periodically go round the horses up and capture the ones they wanted to train for ranch work, or for sale to others.


Many ranchers throughout the West, including Nevada, imported large herds of Spanish horses from Mexican breeding farms set up by the Spanish Colonials. Spanish horses were especially popular among ranchers who lived near transportation, and were able to sell horses profitably as military Remounts.

Cavalry Remount breeding operations thrived during the late 1800's into the mid-1900's, especially during the Boer Wars and World War I. Those who were never rounded up contribute to the larger size found in some Nevada herds, such as Black Rock East & West. The Cavalry Remount ranchers took advantage of the local wild herds (usually the small, athletic Spanish types, who descended from Mexican breeding farms. They were cheap and very hardy) and introduced their own choice of larger stallions.


People also imported from Europe or brought out from the East, individuals of breeds they liked, including Morgans, Thoroughbreds, the various gaited saddle breeds, harness racing breeds, heavy farm horses, and ponies for their children. Ponies were also used to work the mine tunnels. For sport, carriage/cart racing was enormously popular in the area at that time. So many areas kept "Hambletonians" - the progenitors of today's Standardbred horses.
















"Hambletonian" by Currier and Ives

Prior to the passing of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 before it, it was common practice for local ranchers to manage the wild horses in their areas, periodically releasing studs with “good blood” to “upgrade” the herds. Such wild-born stock was the basis of most ranching horses, what we now call "cow ponies." In this way wild herds contributed to the development of several modern breeds, most notably the Quarter Horse, but also others, including the Rocky Mountain Horse (which was developed in Kentucky from a wild stallion brought in from the Great Basin).


A few particular Old-Time Nevada ranchers made very notable contributions to the character and quality of wild herds in various places in Nevada:

"The Dixon Strain"

Tom Dixon was a rancher who came from Ireland to California and then to Nevada in 1869. He raised Shires, Percherons, Morgans, Hambletonians, and various Irish* stock. "Hambletonians" is not a term we hear much today, but they were popular in the 1800's and were the foundation bloodline for the Standardbred breed of today.


* Many adopted Nevada Mustangs today, whose adopters have had them DNA tested, have "Irish Breeds" as prominent in their genetics reports. Irish breeds include the Connemara, Irish Draught, Irish Hobby (an extinct breed that provided foundation stock for the modern Thoroughbred, Irish Draught, and Gypsy breeds), Thoroughbred, and Kerry Bog Pony.

Dixon ran his horses from Long Valley to Fish Creek, Spring, Diamond, and Monitor Valleys, and his herds numbered over 10,000. Tom Dixon is also credited with bringing Curly mustangs into West-Central Nevada.

"Clifford “Steeldusts”

Yet another source of today's wild herds were the Clifford “Steeldusts.” “Steeldust” was a common name referring to a preferred type of cow pony. These horses were descendants of Steel Dust, a Kentucky bred stud born in 1843.

Steel Dust was of Thoroughbred lineage, but an excellent sprinter. He was a blood bay who stood 15 hands high and weighed 1200 lbs. He was a popular sire for ranch stock. Many ranchers would breed wild mares of Spanish decent to Steel Dust, and the result was a much desired cow horse. Horses of Steel Dust lineage became commonly known as “Steeldusts,” and these horses later became known as Quarter Horses.

The Damele Family and the Curly horses:

Wild horses with curly coats were seen around Eureka, Nevada, from its earliest days in the 1860's. Some believe they originated with importation from somewhere by Tom Dixon. A family of Italian immigrants, the Dameles, settled in the Eureka area around the turn of the Century. Beginning in the 1930's, the Damele brothers began breeding curly mustangs brought in from the wild. They are considered the founders of the Curly breed.

The Jackson Family of Northwest Nevada:

Wild horses were managed as part of the Jackson family's operations in Northwest Nevada above Gerlach, NV, up until the passing of the 1971 Act. The Jacksons loved color, and were especially fond of the pinto patterns. They introduced colorful mares into the local wild herds. The Calico Mountains, and its neighbor, the Granite Range, are two of the most colorful wild herds today. (Although today they have more buckskins, palominos and duns than pintos)



Regionally, wild herds today bear the unmistakable marks of both their original Spanish ancestors and the domestic breeds added to them. Some herds carry the genes of carriage horses, trotting and pacing horses, gaited saddle breeds such as Tennessee Walker, heavy draft horses, the American Standardbred, etc. - Others type similar to Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses, still others show Morgan or Shire ancestry.  And some are descended from ponies.

Continue exploring wild horse history:

MUSTANG HISTORY, part 2: Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 through Modern Times

MUSTANG HISTORY, part 3: Into the 21st Century

US Forest Service Wild Horse Territories

Alternative Histories 

History is written by the Winners.

Alternative origins to modern wild horses is a concept that captures many people's imaginations. The subject attracts dreamers, romanticists, religious visionaries, and is even occasionally accompanied by some hard science and rigorous historical research.

Here are some ALTERNATIVE THEORIES  - some popular and some obscure - and their supporting evidence, if any:





Alternative histories, as well as documented facts of history that are not supportive of the majority culture's view tend to be marginalized, discredited, un-funded, unpublished, and generally suppressed - or simply ignored - sometimes for good reason, sometimes not.

Here are some interesting Alternative Horse Stories from the ranks of current Non-Winners (Please note that in most cases this author is simply presenting these for your consideration, and the theories do not necessarily reflect this author's own opinions):

The Book of Mormon contains references to horses in Mormon territory in antiquity. 


An amateur historian from Great Britain, Gavin Menzies, wrote a book in which he tried to turn the story of the Europeans' discovery of America on its ear with a startling idea: Chinese sailors beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas by more than 70 years.


Although the 1421 theory has been largely de-bunked, he presents some tantalizing archaeological evidence for the existence of horses in America before Columbus. He does so to defend his idea of Chinese presence in the Americas. Nevertheless, here's his evidence: Some pre-Columbian native art found at Cofins Cave in Brazil and at Trujillo, Peru depict horses, and in one case, a cavalry on horseback.

Another little-known part of history is the Norse/Viking presence in pre-Colombian America. There is some evidence that they might have brought their small horses with them (progenitors to Icelandic and Fjord horses of today), which Indians may have acquired far ahead of the Spanish arrival.

The most compelling argument for this is Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie's 1642 account of meeting Indians with horses (see "Early Account of the Indian Horse" below)

Here's an excerpt:

"Which brings me back to the story I heard at the Rock Shop.

“When I was a teenager, up in Nevada,” the manager told me, ‘I saw some terrible things happen.  Things would make you sick. 

“There was this rancher, see.  Not far from Lovelock.  This would have been back in 1970, I think.  This rancher owned some good grazing land.  Maybe two hundred acres or so.  Now, you’re not supposed to slaughter wild horses in Nevada.  It’s against the law.  But this guy wanted to get rid of a certain small herd that he said was eating up his best hay and forage.  So he applied to the State for special permission. 

“He had to give a good reason, other than his losing hay.  So he said this herd was a degenerate strain, useless for anything except dog food.  He claimed they might cross breed with other mustangs and bring down the quality of the herds.  They were small and malformed, with strange looking hooves.  This rancher’s explanation for their being degenerate was that they were half-starved and badly nourished. 

“That was a clear contradiction, you see.  Those horses couldn’t be eating the guy’s best hay and be malnourished at the same time.   But the State bought it.  He got permission, went out there with two or three ranch hands, and shot every last horse in that herd. 

“Thing is, there were some other witnesses who saw those horses.  Someone must have been paid off, because this was a major crime.  You see, those horses were not malnourished or degenerate.  They were native horses.  That rancher killed the last remaining herd of native American horses.  Now they’re gone, and there’ll never be another.  It was a crime, and it made me sick.” 
A Horse's Tale by Steve Bartholomew

Today there are, worldwide, only 7 remaining living species (or 8, depending on how you classify Przewalski's):

The Family Equidae -  "Equus" includes these still living or recently extinct species and sub-species

  •  Equus caballus:

    • Takhi / Przewalski's Wild Horse (66 chromosomes) Also categorized as Equus przewalskii . Current research indicates that the Takhi shares a common ancestor with modern horses, but branched off on its own at some point Although considered the last true wild horse, in fact all individuals today are descended from zoo animals who were bred in captivity and released to repopulate Mongolia..

    • Modern Domestic Horse  (64 chromosomes)

  • Equus kiang: Kiang, Tibetan Wild Ass

  • Equus hemionus: Asiatic wild ass/On Kulan, also called Onager

  • Equus assinus includes African Wild Ass and the Modern Donkey (Mammoth, Standard, and Miniature sizes. Burros are Standards

  • Three types of Zebras, each classified as separate species:

    •  Equus zebra: Mountain Zebra

    • Equus grevyi: Grevy's Zebra  

    • Equus burchellii, also known as Equus quagga: Plains zebra, Burchell's zebra

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