When Christopher Columbus brought domesticated horses to Hispaniola in 1493 – the arrival of the horse in North America would eventually have a dramatic impact on the lives of Native American tribes on the Western Plains.
Later, Spanish explorers including Cortez and de Soto would bring more horses to the continent as they explored North American lands. Occasionally, horses strayed, were traded or stolen. As, Native American Tribes acquired horses, they quickly realized how valuable these animals could be in improving their way of life.
Tribes could travel more easily using horses to carry increasingly heavy loads. They could ride horses to travel farther distances more easily. In addition, hunting proved more bountiful especially for tribes on the plains of the West.
On the plains, as buffalo herds migrated seasonally across great distances, tribal hunters could use their new-found horses to hunt more effectively. Until 1700, when Native American tribes first acquired domesticated horses, tribal hunters only had dogs to help in hunting buffaloes. On horseback, a hunter could move swiftly and travel farther to hunt the buffalo which would provide ample food and valuable hides for his tribe.
Equally important, the trappers, cowboys, and pioneers moving west had no better asset than a good horse. It was on horseback, that the settlers moved West and were able to travel thousands of miles to find a new home and, of course, horses could help clear land and plow fields.
Today’s horses, zebras and donkeys are the descendants of an ancient genus of equine which originated in North America millions of years ago. This prehistoric species crossed over the Bering Strait “bridge” about 13,000 years ago, before the species became extinct in North America. Eventually, the modern day horse was domesticated in Asia, Africa, and across Europe.
It is ironic that the animal that has become an iconic symbol of the Western Movement, needed the dreams of the early European explorers to return the majestic horse home to North America.