Wild Horses: Ancient Connection

Wild Horses

Mustangs and Humans



This section presents the romantic, historic connections between horses and humans throughout history. The horse was a crucial partner with people in settling the west, in war, and in play. The horse contributed to our country's progress. For Native Americans, a spiritual bond developed with the horse.

Humans and mustangs have developed a mysterious relationship that involves both the meaning of "wild" and the difference between romance and reality. The human relationship with the horse began some 50,000 years ago, when Cro-Magnon man considered the horse a valuable source of food. Eventually, as early Cro-Magnon farmers were forced to become nomadic, it is likely that they used horses as pack animals to move their camps, food, and belongings.

Around 5,000 years ago, farmers kept horses for meat and milk and may have begun the process of taming horses for riding. Unearthed horse teeth from this period show distinct signs of wear from a bit, the metal mouthpiece on a bridle used to control the horse. Today, we are still making connections with the wild horses that roam the free ranges of this country.

Click here to see modern connections between horses and humans at a county fair.

Although North America was once home to boundless herds of wild horses, a combination of human encroachment, a changing environment, and disease forced them to emigrate from this continent to places all over the world. It wasn't until the early 1500s that North American soil would once again cushion the pounding hooves of herds of wild horses.

Early in this 16th century, Spanish conquistadors came to the Americas, bringing with them both domesticated horses and cattle to help them conquer the vast new world. The journey over the seas was often a grueling one for humans and beasts alike. The horse would become a central factor in the settlement of the Western Hemisphere. The Spanish also brought cattle that became the foundation stock for the great cattle industry that developed extensively during the 19th century.

Once the conquistadors destroyed most of the Aztec and other Native American tribes, many Spanish horses escaped or were turned loose, becoming feral or wild. The Spanish horse, which we now describe as Andalusian, was from the finest strains and regarded as the foremost breed in Europe. It formed the nucleus of the great herds of wild horses that spread upward from Mexico into the western plains country of the United States.

North American Native Americans were astonished by these conquistador "horse-men". Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who accompanied Cortes in his 1519 incursion into Mexico, wrote:

"The natives had never seen horses up to this time
and thought the horse and rider were all one animal."

Later, Native Americans and their mixed blood descendants from Mexico became the first cowboys. Enslaved by Spanish conquerors who forced them to tend herds on their vast rancheros, these original cowboys became highly skilled horsemen, developing a close bond with these magnificent creatures and beginning America's long romance with wild horses.



Ancient Connection          Journey to the New World
Native Americans          Catlin's Observations
Palo Duro Canyon Tragedy           The Horse in Agriculture
Moving Humans & Machinery          Waging War
The Sporting Horse          Equine Quiz