The Tale of The American Indian Horse: A relationship like no other

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They were also referred to as “people of the horse” because they had a greater understanding of the horse that other cultures did not, as they evolved together. The spiritual connection between the Native Americans and their horses is a rarity that not many people have experienced.

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The Discovery of The Horse 

The tale of the magnificent American Indian horse has been around for decades. The bond between horses and Native Americans is a connection we do not see often. The history of how the Native Americans got the horse is a long and colorful story. (cite) *History credits Spanish conquistadors and other early European explorers with reintroducing the horse to the Americas and to her Indigenous Peoples. However, many Native Nations state that “they always had the horse” and that they had well-established horse cultures long before the arrival of the Spanish. To date, “history” has been written by Western academia to reflect a Eurocentric and colonial paradigm. Although Western academia admits that the horse originated in the Americas, it claims that the horse became extinct in these continents during the Last Glacial Maximum (between roughly 13,000 and 11,000 years ago).

This version of The traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and any information that is contrary to the accepted Western academic view has been generally disregarded, purposefully excluded, or reconfigured to fit the accepted academic paradigm that the Indigenous horse of the Americas survived the “Ice Age” and the Original Peoples of these continents had a relationship with them from Pleistocene times to the time of “First-Contact.

*The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth by Collin, Yvette Running Horse, Ph.D., University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2017, 245; 10266897 Abstract (Summary)

“People of The Horse”

Native Americans have often been coined with the term “people of the horse”. This phrase itself speaks volumes to the relationship between the American Indian horse and the tribes to which they called home. The thing with this phrase is, you come to understand that the people belonged to the horse, not the other way around. Horses are often seen as possessions but not in the case of the American Indian horse. Within this culture, the people belonged to the horse, they were indebted to them for all the horse did for their communities and progression as a whole.

They were also referred to as “people of the horse” because they had a greater understanding of the horse that other cultures did not, as they evolved together. The spiritual connection between the Native Americans and their horses is a rarity that not many people have experienced. The Indian horse came to be its own breed of the horse after years of adaptation into the Native American community. The horses brought over by the Spanish to the New World in the 1500s (cite). were predominantly Arabian and Andalusian blood, the most revered breeds in the world.

At the time these horses had arrived, due to the original horse’s migration or displacement from North America, many native tribes had not seen horses and were immediately enthralled by the magic of the bond between horse and its rider. They saw this bond as something unbreakable, something godlike. Natives saw the horse differently than others, they respected these creatures as if they were godlike themselves. 

The Horse Changed Life For The Native Americans

With the domestication of the American Indian horse, everything changed for the Native American people. The native people were now able to travel faster across land and take more with them. Before the acquisition of the Indian horse, natives used dogs for carrying shelter and other materials. However, the horse was ten times the size of the dogs and allowed them the ability to carry larger and heavier materials.

This is not the only aspect of life that was changed through the discovery of the Indian horse for the Native Americans. The entire hunting game was changed because of the Native American horse. Before the horse, natives would run an entire herd over a cliff (cite). With the horse, they could ride horseback and only kill specific targets rather than the entire herd. It was faster, more effective, and preserved the lives of prey that might’ve been killed otherwise. 

CANA FOUNDATION American Indian Horse BLOG
American Indian horses

The Sanctity of The Native Horse

American Indian horses were a primary symbol of wealth and strength. They were sacred to the natives. Whereas in other cultures horses were just seen as a means of transportation or an accessory in battle, the Native Americans viewed the horse as a sanctified blessing that should be protected at all times. Many religious ceremonies would come to be based around the Native horse and all that it did for the life of the Native Americans. They swam across large rivers with men on their backs, they went into battle and fought, and they carried large tipis across the land to help the natives set up shop in new locations. They did everything for their tribes and the tribes recognized their value in society. This culture revered the horse in ways that no other culture has done or will ever do. 

A Symbiotic Relationship

These Native American horses not only played a vital role in hunting, travel, and war, but they took care of the land as well. These sacred lands gave to the horses that fed off of them, but the horses gave back to the land as well. Horse grazing plays a very important role in supporting healthy growth in the land. They spent hours grazing freely through the land that belonged to the tribes. They can clean the land in ways that humans cannot. This helps all creatures of life, not just horses. The natives understood that the land needed these horses which is why they were free to roam as they pleased. However, because horses were so important to a tribe, many feuds within tribes would result in horse stealing. Often young warriors would go and steal the horses of another tribe to exhibit their strength and courage. Not to mention, stealing a tribe’s horse, their symbol of wealth, would be detrimental to that entire tribe’s future.  

“The Big Dog”

Native Americans often referred to the horse as the “big dog”. That is because that is what they saw the horse as. Dogs have always been seen as companions to us. We treat them as members of the family. That is exactly how the Native Americans treated the horse. They didn’t see them as a means to an end but as family. The Spaniards would kill the horses for meat and destroy their bodies during war. They treated these animals as disposable, the same way they treated different races of people as well. But… the Native American horsemen used to rub themselves with horse sweat in hopes that they would acquire some of the magic of the “big dog” (cite). No other culture has looked at these sentient beings with such reverence, with such awe for their power and respect for the spiritual connection these animals brought to the great creator.

Horses in North America
A beautiful roan horse in Western landscapes

An Unbreakable Bond 

The image of the Native American man and his horse preparing for battle is a powerful symbol of the bond between man and the “big dog”. They stand as one unit, both covered in war paint and eagle feathers. I have chills just thinking about the image. You can see in the eyes of the horse that he is prepared for battle. He is willing to die for the man that sits atop him. He feels proud and honored to represent his tribe, the people that treat him as though he is godlike. The people that look at his sweat as if it is magic. There is something to be said about the mutual respect between this human-horse relationship that can apply to how we, humans, should be treating each other in our day to day lives. 

Share the Love 

With today’s political climate, humans are treating each other more and more unkindly. We don’t look at each other with mutual respect. We are killing each other, we are spewing hate and hurting each other. Our world is in turmoil at the moment. Children don’t feel safe going to school in fear that someone will show up with a gun and change their lives for the worse. We should be mirroring the relationship between the Native Americans and the Indian horse. It was mutual love and respect within these relationships that created such an inseparable and sacred bond between the two. They did need words to understand how powerful their bond is. We, as humans, should be treating each other with the same respect and love in hopes that we can create a world where children aren’t afraid to walk the streets alone. 

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