Arriving on the decks of Spanish caravels and galleons in 1493 and 1518, the horses of Christopher Columbus and Hemân Cortés are the first ancestors of the horses of America.
In prehistoric times, large numbers of wild animals lived in large herds on the plains of North America. Among these herds were bison and horses. The Indians hunted them for their meat. The horses did not come with the Spanish conquistadors. Unfortunately they never had the idea of taming them, let alone riding them.
These horses disappeared 7000 years before Christ, and no tradition or mythology speaks of them. Hernán Cortés invaded the Inca empire in 1519 and arrived in Mexico with 10 stallions and 6 mares. The animals terrorised the natives. Francisco Vasquenz de Coronado invaded the north in 1540 in search of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. He advanced to the Rio Grande del Norte with 250 horsemen, more than 1,000 horses and mules as well as a herd of cattle. In present-day New Mexico, a severe hailstorm struck and he lost more than half of the horses, mules and cattle. De Coronado turned back to Kansas and eventually returned to Mexico (then New England) without finding any gold.
Immediately after the conquest, the Spaniards settled around Santa Fé and San Antonio to create horse ranches. The indigenous people living near these ranches learned about the characteristics of horses and also how to use them as mounts. Those who worked on these ranches stole them and sold them to other Indians. Even escaped horses were caught. 60 years after the conquest of Coronado, around 1600, horse herds could be created and expanded because they were no longer hunted for meat. These herds moved north to find green grasslands. The southern Indians began to tame the horses themselves and became very good horsemen. Around 1680, the Apaches took over a large herd and used them for raids and hunting.
All the other tribes learned to appreciate the benefits of horses to the point where they could not catch enough of them. Thus they drove the herds even further north. The Comanches had a special affection for horses, taking advantage of this fast means of transportation to attack other tribes. By the 1700s, they understood these advantages. Their favourites were about 1.40 metres tall and weighed about 700 pounds. Most of the horses were piebald and were descendants of the Spanish horses that had become wild again.
They had large heads, slender legs and formidable endurance. The Comanches were masters in the domestication of horses. Even the cowboys and the U.S. cavalry appreciated the plains riders.
Since that time (around 1770) such harmony between man and horse has developed.
In the meadows, the horse developed its full speed. In the forest areas, however, the horses were slowed down and became helpless against their predators. The horse also had disadvantages in desert areas, where there was not enough food. In rocky terrain, it could easily injure its hooves. It was in the plains and the rich food that the horse became splendid.
For the Indians, the horse is synonymous with mobility and it gave a new meaning to their lives, a sense of freedom. The Indians of the plains saw them as a heavenly gift, offered by the Great Spirit in order to be able to hunt better on earth. Unfortunately, the horse did not give the Indians their independence from the white man.