The horse (Equus caballus) has made many dramatic and significant journeys. During the Pleistocene (Ice Age), more than 20,000 years ago, wild horses that had evolved in America migrated to the Old World, Eurasia and Africa. More than 6,000 year ago in the Volga basin of eastern Europe horses were domesticated and in the subsequent millennia spread to other parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Horses were hybridized as draft animals, for hunting, and for war. Some horses remained quite small, about the size of zebras, while others were bred to be quite large. In Iberia (Spain) the initial domestic horse was brought by Celtic peoples and was a medium, sturdy, and shaggy horse built to pull chariots in battle. In the second century B.C. Romans brought Asian and African breeds of horses that were somewhat larger and smooth coated; which had been bred for racing and war. These Roman horses were successfully crossbred with the older Iberian horses to produce four traits that are regarded as typical of American horses: short distance speed, larger size, contrasting patterns in the coat, and gaited. Subsequently, these traits were brought to the New World, since the Spanish returned the horse to its place of origin, America. There were three main types of  Iberian horses that were brought to America.




Villano, Garrano war, games, racing close-coupled, round-bodied, high-arched neck, broad head, all colors & patterns
Jinete,Jennet draft, work gaited, small, short back arched neck w/ wavy mane
Gallego(Gallic horse) peasant work horse small, less gaited, coarse hair

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Columbus brought stock on his second voyage (1493), but the major impact with horses came with the various conquistadors, like Cortez in 1519, when more horses from Caribbean breed stock were brought into Mexico to invade the Aztec Empire. Subsequent conquistadors also brought horses, but it is not until the later colonial system of tribute and labor, called economendia, that Native Americans escaped with stock to more remote areas like the North American plains,  the Venezuelan llanos and the Argentinean pampas. In these areas the spread of thousands of head of feral mustangs changed the economy and warfare. Also, breeds brought to America were through breeding experience modified for new tasks here. The most famous is the American Quarter Horse, which was breed for short distance and agility to work stock in the American West.

Many more breeds of  horses, donkeys, cattle, goats and sheep were brought to America but the role of the horse in conquest, with new pastoral tribes, and in sheer economics for breeding and labor makes the horse the greatest influence in the Columbian Exchange. For the Plains Indian people, who were mainly displaced from the Eastern Woodlands, horses provided an edge in bison hunting, economics, and warfare from about A.D.1750 to 1890. In fact Plains Indian culture is still the predominate stereotypical image of all American Indians. Horses continued making their mark on the American landscape as the primary source of transportation until the early 20th century. Even today, we continue to measure engines, including the automobile, in terms of horsepower.

horse1.jpg (32435 bytes) Blackfeet Horse Society

Copyright � S.J. Crouthamel