Monday, May 23, 2016

North American Indians domesticate the horse

It has been pointed out that in modern culture there is no such thing as Easterns while there very definitely is a strong interest in "Westerns."  When Europeans first came to North America the indigenous inhabitants were in awe of the horses and rapidly lost control of land, but eventually the Indians were able to fight back more effectively in the west.  Oversimplified, but a big factor was the horse.  At first a very strange beast to the natives, they eventually learned not to fear it and in fact to ally themselves in a very natural way that the supposedly more sophisticated Europeans had not mastered to the same extent.

The Spanish brought horses to North America around 1500 and by 1540 Coronado and De Soto brought horses above the Rio Grande.  In the early 1600's Spanish were farming and establishing missions in New Mexico.  Although for a native to ride a horse was forbidden, they were used as workers and slaves allowing them to watch horses being trained.  In 1680 Pueblo Indians successfully revolted and forced the Spanish colonies out of their area so fast that many horses were left behind.  This allowed the Pueblo and Navaho tribes to start selling and trading horses to other tribes.

The Plains Indians tended to be nomadic and horses made a huge difference in their lives helping them move faster and farther with horses bearing the heavy weights.  Horses were used for bartering and as gifts.  Hunting the buffalo was much easier on horseback than on foot.  Horse stealing between tribes became a test for young warriors and naturally they felt no compunction stealing from the invaders.

The Indians were able to fight back the European colonizers with their horse expertise and acquisition of guns.  The U.S. cavalry felt the only way to control Indians was to separate them from horses.  There are wholesale massacres of horses on record.

From the beginning Indians were aware of saddles and other tack, but from necessity they often rode bareback.  Without bits they improvised with rope, but when opportunities occurred they would steal more sophisticated tack.  In battle some were able to fire weapons from underneath their horses.

They did not keep horses in barns or fenced in areas, but for the most part allowed their horses to roam loose.  They built up trust before attempting to ride.  They also used the horse's natural preference to fit into a herd

The Appaloosa was perhaps the most famous breed developed by the Indians.  The Nez Perce tribe first obtained horses from the Shoshone tribe around 1730 and by 1750 developed breeding stock.  Appaloosas are usually pictured with a leopard type of spotting that had been brought to America by the Spaniards, but at first the Indians were not focused on colour.

Lewis and Clark commented on the superiority of their horses and some time afterwards the Nez Perce put more emphasis on colour.  They were among the first to geld inferior stallions and traded away inferior stock.  When more white settlers moved into their area they traded for new stock and further developed the breed.  Gold miners moved into the area and the Nez Perce were deprived of much of their traditional land.  The Nez Perce War of 1877 resulted in their loss forcing them into a smaller area of land and pressured into being farmers.  Chief Joseph accepted defeat, but left many famous quotations.  Over 1,000 of their horses had been taken and many others shot.  They were given draft mares to help transition to agriculture.  Fortunately some of their horses had been hidden and others had escaped.  Horses were forgotten for several decades, but were recognized as something worth preserving.  Idaho declared the Appaloosa the state horse.  Popular today in a variety of equestrian disciplines.

A prominent Indian trainer is GaWiNi Pony boy who gives clinics in natural horsemanship.

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