Did Horses Become Extinct in the Americas?

Perhaps not. The Lakota (called Sioux by the French) and Diné (known as Navajo) say their people have always had horses. The standard historical concept taught at US schools is there were no horses for 12,500 years until the Spanish arrived in the Americas. Considering the fact that Europeans did not use the correct names for the indigenous nations they met, is it possible they could have been mistaken about other aspects of Native cultures?

What evidence might prove which is true? Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin published her dissertation, “The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth” in 2017. She spent years gathering information and conducting interviews. According to her findings and additional research online, I’d say if there were Equus quadrupeds in the Americas before Columbus, we would expect to find:

  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Native oral history and origin stories
  • Deeply equestrian tribal culture
  • Written or pictorial evidence
  • Horse bones in the pre-1492 archeological record

European Explorer Eyewitnesses

  • 1522, Spaniards reported seeing Native Peoples with horses in present day Georgia and the Carolinas. (see dates below)
  • 1527, John Cabot observed horses in South America in present day Peru (1535 Spanish horse introduced in Argentina)
  • 1579, Sir Francis Drake arrived in what is now called Northern California and Oregon was very surprised to see large herds of wild horses, since the Spanish had not found any in the Americas
  • 1598, Juan de Oñate reported 300 horses lost en route to New Mexico because wild mares were too distracting to his stallions.
  • 1642, French explorer Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie, visited “The People of the Horse” in Wyoming, before the Pueblo Uprising of 1680, that marks the academic start of Native horse culture
  • Late 1700s Félix de Azara, observed curly horses (considered Bakshirs) in Paraguay before any were brought from Asia

Three important dates about first contact with Spanish horses are:

  • 1492 Columbus in the Caribbean
  • 1519 Cortés in present day Mexico
  • 1680 Pueblo Rebellion in New Mexico (Spanish fled leaving horses behind, Europeans consider this the beginning date for Indian horse heritage )

Why were there so many wild horses and Indian Nations riding them before contact with the Europeans according to these witnesses? Is it possible that the Spanish chose to misrepresent the truth when writing home saying there were no horses in this new land? One theory is that the Spanish King would have levied taxes on the soldiers for the horses in the Americas, a potential source of great wealth. More importantly, as Dr. Running Horse Collin presents in her dissertation, horse culture was equated with civilization and status. The Spanish wanted to characterize the people of the Americas as primitive, horse-less, in need of refinement.

The pervasive theory that the herds of horses observed by Cabot, Drake, and Oñate were from Spanish runaways ignores two main facts; nearly all Spanish cavalry horses were male and horses were considered a key military tactical supply. Meticulous records of horse and human loss were recorded. More horses died or were eaten than escaped in the accounts of the early Spanish explorers I’ve read.

That’s what a few European explorers said. What do the people who were here first say about their history with horses?

Oral Tradition

  • Dr. Running Horse Collin interviewed study participants from seven different Indian Nations, including the Lakota and Diné. Each reported having horses prior to Spanish arrival, and each had a creation story about the spiritual importance of  the horse within their community.
  • Ojibwe Tradition: Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies were always here
  • In the traditions of these Nations, a storyteller was expected to memorize and recount them exactly to honor the ancestors.
  • According to the Kiowa, it was the Storm-Maker Red Horse, a supernatural being with the upper body of a horse and a long, snakelike tail that whipped around and creates tornadoes

Creation legends and traditional stories develop over centuries and millennia. They do not change quickly. The story about the tornado, for example, shows horses are a deep part of Kiowa culture.

We’ve confirmed European and Native peoples have stories about horses in the Americas before the Spanish calvary. Do we find Indigenous nations with deep equestrian culture?

Equestrian Culture

  • Dakota has terminology and concepts about horses unique to their culture.
  • Lakota: Pre-columbian bridle without a bit and unique saddle.
  • Level of horse ridership among Plains Indians on par with Asiatic Steppe cultures that developed skills for thousands of years.
  • Cultural traditions of the Native People concerning horses did not match those of Europeans: Horses were spiritual companions.
  • Unique breeds of horses: horses with different phenotypes, less than 13 hands tall, wider, larger lungs, more friendly, sturdier, more tolerant of heat or cold.
  • Native American horses particular to horse nations: the Lakota, Nakota, Cheyenne, Mayan, Kiowa, Apache, Ojibwe, Mohawk, Ute, and Pueblo.

We’ve found horse stories and culture. What images of horses can we find from pre-Columbian times?

Writing and Pictographs (very abbreviated list)

  • Alabama site, Dr. Joseph B. Mahan of Columbus, Georgia said, “We kept finding small sculpted horses in nearby Alabama in a site we thought was older than the sixteenth century”
  • Arkansas and Oklahoma, pre-Columbian horse petroglyphs found by Gloria Farley.
  • Eastern California petroglyph of horse and rider more than 1000 years old.
  • Blythe, CA horse geoglyph, the Blythe Intaglios 900 BCE to 1200 CE. (see photo).
  • Ancient Tennessee Cave Paintings of horses.
  • Sego Canyon Thompson Springs, UT Petroglyphs: Fremont culture CE 600 to 1250.
  • Dinosaur National Monument UT & CO Horse petroglyphs.
  • Three Rivers NM, Arches National Park, Moab UT  Horse petroglyphs.
  • Maya tomb vessel with a horse painting.
  • Maya glyph with a horse in Guatemala.
  • Alto de Pitis, southern Peru, horse petroglyph in Pre-Columbian rock art.
Blythe Intaglio Geoglyph  Photo: Rsfinlayson

However, not all the petroglyphs have been dated conclusively. Could there be any pre-Columbian horse bone evidence?

Archeological Evidence

  • Pre-Columbian horse remains are at sites in: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming and the Yukon.
  • Canyon de Chelly, AZ horse petroglyphs from 200-100 BCE (end of article photo)
  • Carlsbad, CA contains horse remains from 50 years before Spanish, unshod.
  • Wolf Spider cave, Colorado, Elaine Anderson, expert on Equus identification, bones dated to CE (scientific term for AD) 1260 – 1400.
  • Horsethief Cave, WY, Dr. Patricia Fazio tested a horse bone dating to c. 1100 BCE, using thermoluminescent methods.
  • Pratt Cave, TX, Equus samples from near El Paso, Texas, by Prof. Ernest Lundelius of Texas A&M University. Horse bone from Pratt Cave dated to BCE 6020 – 5890.
  • Black Forks River, Wyoming, horse skeleton dated to CE 1426 – 1481.
  • Stevens Village, on the Yukon River, permafrost sediment DNA analysis: Sediments from 7,600 to 10,500 years ago contained mammoth and horse DNA. American Museum of Natural History.
  • Mayapán, Yucatán, México; Horse teeth found in a Mayapán cenote, a Maya capital until about CE 1440.
  • Huechil Grotto at Loltún, Yucatán, México; horse bone fragments recovered from levels VII to II of the excavation, which also contained Classic and Preclassic ceramics before 900 CE. (indigenous civilization with pre-Columbian horses).

We’ve found Native and European testimonials, seen the cultural and pictorial evidence and scoured the archeological evidence. Then why do scientists continue to date horse petroglyphs and bones as post-Columbian by reflex rather than by the scientific method and carbon dating? What’s the stumbling block considering the overwhelming evidence? Racism is one strong candidate. They couldn’t have horses because they’re not like us. So they didn’t have horses. How invested are we in our opinions of the First People as barbarians and uncivilized people? We chose not to see these Nations’ merit and accomplishments.

Colonialism is another major contender. Dr. Running Horse Collin talks about these notions Europeans had about the Native Americans; We are better than you. Everything you are is because of us. You stole the horses from us. Aren’t you lucky we taught you about horses? This goes hand in hand with racism. Colonialism uses Academia to erase and redefine culture. Yet, somehow the stories about horses remain.

The facts line up. I am convinced that horses never left the Americas. Once you examine the evidence, decide for yourself. Who do you believe, the people who lived here first or the people who came afterwards?

What are your thoughts? Looking forward to your comments.

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Canyon de Chelly Horse Petroglyphs Photo: Margie Roesch

#petroglyph #horse #truthabouthorses

Rebecca Cuningham

28 thoughts on “Did Horses Become Extinct in the Americas?

    1. Yes, it would be refreshing if each nation and people could present their history and have it accepted as truth, instead of the most powerful deciding the chronology and key events for all.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I love that legends actually preserve history. Sometimes it takes us a while to interpret them, though. I would love to know, for example, — if the Red Sea really parted — what was going on at the time. I’ve heard a theory about a gigantic volcanic eruption at Santorini that drew the waters back. Not sure if it’s a scientifically accepted theory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve heard it was the Reed Sea, rather than the Red Sea, Hebrew doesn’t always conserve vowels. And I wonder if a natural phenomenon could explain the waters parting as well. I have heard that Egyptian chariots from that time period were found in that body of water.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A lovely quote from a Mayan elder: Our horses and what was done with them [by our ancestors] was not lost, just hidden. There were very few. They looked like this(points to the grulla stallion shown in photograph above).This is all that they looked like. We called them Walta Tote. They were ‘the creature whose spirit dwells from within as opposed to without.’ Heaven came from inside of them and out. They were very special. They were not worshipped, but they were known to be harbingers of fortune,and they were very powerful. They may choose to align themselves with man. [Our people] believed [this horse]was part of them. That they merged with them. That they became one. So you could not use them as beasts of burden, or it did not work. Therefore, [our ancestors] did not.They were not enslaved. They were not controlled. They were not kept, and in this, if they chose to align themselves with The People, then there was great power.” Mayan Elder

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Collin also drew from interviews with American Indian study participants from seven different nations. Every indigenous community interviewed reported having horses prior to European arrival, and each community had a traditional creation story explaining the sacred place of the horse within their societies.

    “I didn’t expect that,” Collin said. “If you lay out a map, these nations are all over the place. These communities do not speak the same language, share the same culture or the same geographical areas. Yet, their oral histories were all completely aligned. They each shared when the horse was gifted to them by the Creator, that the acquisition was spiritual in nature and that they did not receive the horse from the Europeans.”

    “When Columbus came, the Spanish had just finished an 800-year war with Muslims,” Collin cited. “Queen Isabella gathered every horse in the vicinity and those horses became part of her army. With that horse power, she was able to conquer the Muslims. So, the horse was incredibly valuable. You’ll find paintings of her on these beautiful palominos. The horse was very much connected with nobility, power and the concept of ‘civilization’ for these people.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very interesting post. I’ve always wondered how in just a few years from Cortez’ landing in Mexico, horses multiplied into huge wild hordes all the way up North to the midwest plains. Didn’t make much sense.
    Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments and the follow. I appreciate you reading so many of my posts! I like your posts on animals and philosophy. Congratulations on your recent milestone for number of followers. 🙂


      1. Thank you very much, Ma’am. This means a lot to me. 😄. Keep supporting me. I really love your blog and your posts, especially on animals, being an animal lover myself.☺️


  5. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your site? My website is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would truly benefit from a lot of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Cheers!


    1. Thank you! I researched for a week, gathering the strands together, reading Dr. Running Horse Collin’s dissertation, and organizing my thoughts. Cool to know this confirmed your suspicions about the Spanish story; horses breed quickly, but not That quickly! I was a horse loving girl too.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s