Ancestors of horses in the Wild West originated from Spain, but the Native Americans are the ones who bred these stunning animals into creatures whose coats, personalities, and physical powers have become legendary throughout the world.
First some background on the American Indian Horse:
It is generally agreed by historians that the Spanish brought the horse to the “new world” in the 1500s. These horses were a mixture of Barb, Arabian and Andalusian blood and were considered the best horses in the world at that time. The horse was indispensable to the conquest of Mexico by Cortez.
Seventeenth century life under Spanish rule was brutal for the Pueblos in New Mexico. In 1680, the Pueblo spiritual leader Popé led a revolt against the Spanish. By coordinating and uniting several Pueblos, the Indians defeated the Spanish and drove them out of the area. The Indians captured the Spanish horses and mules. With the Pueblo revolt, Indians acquired their own horses. The Pueblos traded some of the horses with other tribes and the use of the horse began to spread north, leading to a new way of life for the Indians on the Great Plains.
Before the coming of the horse, the Indian tribes had used dogs for carrying small portable shelters; after the horse arrived the portable shelters became large decorative tipis. Hunting took on a different form also. Before the horse, hunting had to be done on foot. After the arrival of the horse the Indians could hunt from horseback, which was a safer and much more efficient way to obtain healthy and abundant game, primarily buffalo.
Horse stealing between the tribes became the number one sport on the plains and was considered an honorable way for a young warrior to gain experience and fame. Horses meant wealth to the Plains tribes and were used extensively for barter and gifts. Native Americans became known as some of the finest and most skilled riders of the world.
Many religious ceremonies were based on the horse and its contribution to the life of the Indian. One of the most interesting was the horse medicine cult practiced by most Plains tribes. The Oglala Dakota tribe had an elaborate horse medicine cult which included a dance in imitation of horses. The Oglala used horse medicine to influence the outcome of horse races, to cure sick and wounded horses, to calm a fractious horse and to make broodmares have fine foals. Horse medicine men and women were mong the most respected members of their tribes.
Subgroups of the Sioux Nation:
The United States Army, in an attempt to conquer the Indian, tried to take their horses away from them. They repeatedly massacred entire Indian horse herds, but these horses were too tough and their numbers bounced back.
Native Americans ultimately survived centuries of genocide. Despite the sickeningly cruel and barbaric actions perpetrated against them, Multitudes of Indian tribes are thriving today, and actively working to end oppressions that still exist. And they are still riding. Recently over two hundred different native tribes have gathered at the proposed Dakota Pipeline site in protest- many of them on horseback.
Awesome history of horse colors of the wild west
Palomino horses have a dramatic history that can be traced, in many instances, back to the time of the Crusades. A beautiful horse of golden body and platinum mane, they were often the revered choice of steed for many royal leaders. Palomino horses were so favored that they often appeared in paintings and other cultural artifacts throughout history.
It was Queen Isabella’s idea to bring the Palomino to “the new world” from Spain. So enraptured by its golden beauty, she wanted the horses to live on and breed and spread throughout what is now Mexico and the United States. (source)
The Difference Between Paint and Pinto
What is the difference between an American Paint Horse and a pinto horse?
The American Paint horse became a recognized breed in 1962. Its bloodlines come from the Quarter Horse and Throughbred. Pinto simply refers to a type of coat coloration that many different breeds can exhibit: a flashy coat featuring patches of white and a solid color, such as bay, black or chestnut. Any horse with this coloration can be called a pinto, regardless of their breed. (source)
Through the centuries, spotted horses have been given names ranging from the mystical Celestial Horses in China, to the Knabstrupper in Denmark, to the Tigre in France. But perhaps the most famous breed of spotted horse is the American Appaloosa. The rich and fascinating history of the Appaloosa breed is as unique as its colorful spotted coat patterns.
The Spanish introduced horses to Mexico in the 1500s. Following the Pueblo Revolt, horses rapidly spread throughout North America, reaching the Northwest around 1700. The Nez Perce tribe became excellent horsemen and breeders, creating large herds renowned for their strength, intelligence and beauty.
Famous explorer Meriwether Lewis was appropriately impressed with the breeding accomplishments of the Nez Perce, as noted in his diary entry from February 15, 1806: “Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable…some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bey [sic] or some other dark color.”
It is unknown how many of the Nez Perce’s horses were spotted, but a possible estimate is ten percent. Settlers coming into the area began to refer to these spotted horses as “A Palouse Horse”, as a reference to the Palouse River, which runs through Northern Idaho. Over time, the name evolved into “Palousey,” “Appalousey,” and then finally “Appaloosa.”
In the mid-1800s, settlers flooded onto the Nez Perce reservation, and conflicts soon ensued. The Nez Perce War of 1877 resulted in their herds being dispersed. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, interest in the breed gradually began to grow as Appaloosas began appearing in Western roundups and rodeos. (source)
A Pintaloosa is a half Pinto half Appaloosa horse. The above horse is a Pintaloosa Mustang from Wyoming.
The Buckskin was so named because it resembles certain shades of tanned deerskin. The horse has a tan colored, or toasty warm light golden brown coat with dark or black points (black points means the mane, tail, and lower legs are black). There are silver buckskins too. The Buckskin coloration occurs as a result of the cream dilution gene acting on a bay horse. Therefore, a buckskin has the extension or “black base coat” (E gene), the agouti gene (A gene, which restricts the black base coat to the points), and one copy of the cream gene (CCr gene), which lightens the red/brown color of the coat to a tan/gold or silver.
Dun colored horses are generally a lightish brown- similar to Buckskins but they should not be confused. Duns have the dun dilution gene, not necessarily the cream gene (which is what buckskins have.) The Dun gene causes Duns to ALWAYS have wild or primitive markings (shoulder blade stripes, dorsal stripe, zebra stripes on legs, and webbing). It is possible for a horse to carry both dilution genes; these are called “buckskin duns” or sometimes “dunskins.” Sometimes bay and buckskin horses may have a faint dorsal stripe- without a dun gene being present. Usually though, if there’s a dorsal stripe, the horse has the dun gene. Additional primitive striping beyond just a dorsal stripe is a sure sign of the presence of the dun gene.
The classic dun is a gray-gold or tan, characterized by a body color ranging from sandy yellow to reddish brown. Other duns may appear a light yellowish shade, or a steel gray, depending on the underlying coat color genetics.
The dun dilution gene is generally quite obvious due to the specific wild or primitive markings that indicate its presence. Some animals will display darker striping of the legs, withers & face. The dun dilution affects both black and red pigments, so its presence will show up on any color of horse. It is often considered a primitive color because ancestral and wild breeds are predominately or entirely dun. Interestingly, Arabians & Thoroughbreds don’t carry this dilution.
The dorsal stripe
All dun animals have a dorsal stripe, it is a clear indication that an animal carries the dilution. The line will be darker than the coat color and run from the poll to the dock of the tail. On lighter animals it can be seen through the mane and tail, giving it a dark stripe.
Other primitive markings that may be found on Dun horses such as:
Often dun animals will have darker points and leg markings but some display the more primitive zebra stripes or leg barring that is reminiscent of their distant zebra cousins. The stripes are usually the same color as the dorsal stripe and run horizontally around the knees or hocks.
Shoulder Stripe or Shadow
Some dun animals will have a stripe, shadow or webbing that comes off the dorsal and runs down the withers. This can display in a variety of different shapes and markings but will always be the same color as the dorsal stripe.
Mottling or Webbing
Some dun horses will show mottling, striping or shading on the face, shoulder, hindquarters or ribs. They vary from small blotches or zebra striping to long stripes that blend into the body. Also called cobwebbing or spiderwebbing.
Some duns, especially on darker bases, will have dark shading on their face, giving them the appearance of wearing a mask. It can vary from shading or smudging on the forehead to a mask that covers the entire head.
As the dorsal runs through the mane it darkens the center and leaves the outer edges light, creating the look called a sandwich mane. (source).
The horse above is a Norwegian Fjord horse
The above horse is one of the Carter Reservoir Wild Mustangs. The herd lives in a very isolated part of northeastern California and northwestern Nevada. They are considered a California wild horse herd and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at the Cedarville, CA Surprise Field Station.
Other gorgeous horse colors (not specifically American but very common there)
Roan is a coat color found in many animals, including horses, cattle and dogs. It is defined generally as an even mixture of white and pigmented hairs that do not “gray out” or fade as the animal ages. A horse with intermixed white and colored hairs of any color is usually called a roan. However, such mixtures, which can appear superficially similar, are caused by a number of separate genetic factors. Identifiable types of roans include true or classic roan, varnish roan, and rabicano, though other currently unknown factors may be responsible for ambiguous “roaning.”
Gray horses, which become lighter as they age until their hair coat is nearly completely white, may be confused with roans when they are young. Duns, which are solid-colored horses affected by the dun dilution factor on their bodies but with darker points, are also sometimes confused with roans, but they do not have the intermixed white and colored hairs of a roan.
Horses with the classic or true roan pattern may be any base color which is intermingled with unpigmented white hairs on the body. They may still have white markings or dark points that are under the control of other genes. (source)
I especially dig strawberry roans. Here’s a short western story featuring a strawberry roan
Bay is a coat color characterized by a reddish-brown body with a black mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs. Bay is one of the most common coat colors in many horse breeds. The black areas of a bay horse’s hair coat are called “black points”, and without them, a horse cannot be a bay.
The End. Happy Trails 🙂