April 17, 2011

Horses Arrive in the New World

Back in the not-so-good old days, communication was slow and mostly local (NOT global), so people often didn't know what was happening elsewhere. British colonists recorded that, on this date in 1629, they first imported horses to North America—but I have to wonder if these Puritans knew that the Spaniards had been bringing horses to the continent for a century. Native Americans had acquired some of these horses through trades and raids, and by taming wild horses that were the descendants of horses that had escaped from captivity. As a matter of fact, when the Puritans were first shipping horses across the Atlantic, wanting farm animals to work the fields during the week, run in races on Saturdays, and pull their carriages to church on Sunday, the continent was already pounding with hooves, particularly across the mid-Western plains.

Interestingly, horses were in the New World from their very beginnings! Horses first evolved in North America over 55 million years ago. They wandered over to the Old World (Asia and eventually Europe and Northern Africa) over the Alaskan-Siberian land bridge, and there different forms such as asses and zebras evolved. From eight to ten thousand years ago, horses died out in North America. Scientists aren't sure why, although climate change and human hunters are likely causes for their continent-wide extinction. By the time Hernando Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519, with 13 horses, horses were unknown to the Aztec and other groups of Indians.

Learn more horse history here. There is a great page on horses in pre-history—their evolution and the related species that evolved from ancient horse ancestors –and other pages on the domestication of the horse and the RE-introduction of the horse to the Americas. Don't miss the stuff on wild horses in the U.S. today!

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