Ancient Connection

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.

752px pure Arabians
Attribution: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

Journey to the New World

To protect horses being carried in ships, slings were constructed to allow the horses to swing with the roll of the ship and to take the weight off their feet. Confinement in damp, dark holds and lack of exercise took its toll on equine emigrants. Sometimes, half of the horses died enroute to America.

That section of the Atlantic Ocean known as the "Horse Latitudes" gained its name from the sad fact that innumerable dead horses were thrown overboard during these early voyages of colonization. Horse transport between the Old and New Worlds remained a great hazard until only recently. Records from the 1800s tell of the frequent death of valuable horses, lost to the stormy Atlantic.

Bringing Horses Ashore

When a ship anchored off the coast of the New World, the horses that survived the voyage were brought out of their stalls in the ship's hold. In order to prevent the horses from panicking, they were blindfolded and carefully raised from below deck by hoists attached to slings surrounding the horses' bodies. In these early days before wharves were built, the horses were lowered into the water and made to swim ashore, led by men in row boats.

Native Americans

Nez Perce Warrior on horse
Attribution: Edward S. Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Western Native Americans Begin to Acquire the "Big Dog"

In 1541, Spanish Viceroy Mendoza put allied Aztec warriors on horses to better lead their tribesmen in the Mixton War of Central Mexico. This appears to have been the first time that horses were officially given to Native Americans. These first American horsemen were seen to rub themselves with horse sweat, so that they might acquire the magic of the "big dog".

But the early relationship between Native Americans and horses was not always mutually beneficial. Some tribes, especially the Apache, acquired a taste for roasted horse meat. After 1680, the Pueblo tribes forced the Spanish out of New Mexico. Many horses were left behind. The Pueblo learned to ride well but didn't live by the horse. They mainly valued the horse as food and as an item to trade with the Plains tribes for jerked buffalo meat and robes.

Horses and horsemanship gradually spread from tribe to tribe until the Native Americans of the Plains became the great mounted buffalo hunters of the American West.

Plains Horsemen

The alliance of Native Americans and the Spanish horse gave them great mobility and changed their way of life. Tribes with horses were dominant over other tribes who relied on moving their camps on foot. The Plains people were great mounted buffalo hunters. This horse advantage allowed them to trade bison meat and hides for glass beads, metal tools, cloth, and guns.

The Observations of Artist George Catlin

George Catlin (1796-1872) was an American painter and student of Native American life. Much of our present-day knowledge about the habits and customs of these first Americans comes from Catlin's journals and paintings. He records much about wild horses and their alliance with the tribes.

Columbia Plateau Native Americans on horses 1908 Benjamin Gifford
Attribution: Benjamin A. Gifford, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native Americans and Horses at War

In many tribes, horses were the measure of wealth. So, horses were often the cause, as well as the means, of waging war between alien tribes. Native American pictographs often featured their most prized possession and companion — the horse.

According to Wallace Coffey, a modern Comanche horseman, when the Spanish introduced the Comanche to the horse,

"Our responsibility was to be stable hands. We were literally slaves to the Spaniards and were the ones that fed the horses and cared for them. When the horse became an ally to the Comanche, it wasn't just as a beast of burden. The horse really became a companion and a friend."

The Comanche became legendary horsemen, terrorizing their enemies, frightening away settlers, keeping the plains open and wild. By the late 1800s, more than a million mustangs roamed the Texas frontier. So many mustangs that early maps of the region labeled the plains with just two words: "Wild Horses".

But the days of freedom for Indians and horses were about to end. Late in September 1874, Ranald S. MacKenzie, Commander of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, tracked the Comanche to their secret camp in the Palo Duro Canyon. Historian Andy Wilkinson tells the story.

Catlin's Observations

Kiger Mustangs
Attribution: Cabachaloca, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wild Horses

"The tract of country over which we passed, between the False Washita and this place, is stocked, not only with buffaloes, but with numerous bands of wild horses. . . . There is no other animal on the prairies so wild and so sagacious as the horse. . . . We saw all the colours. . . . Some were milk white, some jet black - others were sorrel, and bay, and cream colour - many were of an iron grey; and others were pied, containing a variety of colours on the same animal. Their manes were very profuse and hanging in the wildest confusion over their necks and faces - and their long tails swept the ground. . . . The wild horse of these regions is small, but a very powerful animal . . . and undoubtedly, have sprung from a stock introduced by the Spaniards, at the time of the invasion of Mexico; which having strayed off upon the prairies, have run wild, and stocked the plains from this to Lake Winnepeg, two thousand miles to the North. This useful animal has been of great service to the Indians living on these vast plains, enabling them to take their game more easily, to carry their burdens, and no doubt, render them better and handier service than if they were of a larger and heavier breed. Vast numbers of them are also killed for food by the Indians, at seasons when buffaloes and other game are scarce."

Breaking Down a Wild Horse

Catlin described the Native American method for breaking wild horses:

"The Indian, when he starts for a wild horse, mounts one of the fleetest he can get, and coiling his laso on his arm, starts off under the "full whip", till he can enter the band, when he soon gets it over the neck of one of the number; when he instantly dismounts, leaving his own horse, and runs as fast as he can. Letting the laso pass out gradually and carefully through his hands, until the horse falls for want of breath, and lies helpless on the ground; at which time the Indian advances slowly towards the horses' head keeping his laso tight upon its neck, until he fastens a pair of hobbles on the animal's two forefeet, and also loosens the laso (giving the horse a chance to breathe) and gives it a noose around the under jaw, by which he gets greater power over the affrightened animal, which is rearing and plunging when it gets breath; and by which, as he advances, hand over hand, towards the horse's nose, he is able to hold it down and prevent it from throwing itself over on its back, at the hazard of its limbs. By this means, his hand on the animal's nose, and over its eyes; and at length to breathe in its nostrils, when it soon becomes docile and conquered; so that he has little else to do than to remove the hobbles from its feet, and lead or ride it into camp."

Apsaroka Horse
Attribution: Edward S. Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Horse and Hunter

"The chief hunting amusement of the Indians in these parts consists in the chase of the buffalo, which is almost invariably done on horseback, with bow and lance. In this exercise which is highly prized by them, as one of their most valued amusements, as well as for the principal mode of procuring meat for their subsistence, they become exceedingly expert; and are able to slay these huge animals with apparent ease. . . . The Indian . . . mounted on his little wild horse, which has been through some years of training, dashes off at full speed amongst the herds of buffaloes, elks, or even antelopes, and deals his deadly arrows to their hearts from his horse's back."

Camp Moving by Horses, Dogs, and Women

Catlin observed that the adoption of the horse as a beast of burden eased the pack-carrying duties of both women and dogs. The heaviest load, the buffalo lodges, were now carried by the horses, giving the tribe added mobility.

". . . The poles of a lodge are divided into two bunches, and the little ends of each bunch fastened upon the shoulders or withers of a horse, leaving the butt ends to drag behind on the ground on either side. Just behind the horse, a brace or pole is tied across, which keeps the poles in their respective places; and then upon that and the poles behind the horse is placed the lodged or tent,which is rolled up, and also numerous other articles of household and domestic furniture, and on the top of all, two, three and even (sometimes) four women and children! Each one of these horses has a conductress, who sometimes walks before and leads it, with a tremendous pack upon her own back."

War Games on Horseback

Like all great cavalries, Catlin noted that Comanche games served as training for their more serious duties as warriors.

"The Comanches . . . have many games, and in pleasant weather seem to be continually practicing. . . . The exercises of these people . . . is chiefly done on horseback; and it stands to reason that such a people, who have been practicing from their childhood, should become exceedingly expert in this wholesome and beautiful exercise. Amongst their feats of riding, there is one that has astonished me more than anything . . . in my life:a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies; weapons as he lays in horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse's back; by which he has the power of throwing himself up again, and changing to the other side of the horse if necessary. In this wonderful condition, he will hand whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes; rising and throwing his arrows over the horse's back, or with equal ease and equal success under the horse's neck."


"In their ball-plays, and some other games, they (Comanche) are far behind the Sioux and others of the Northern tribes; but, in racing horses and riding, they are not equalled by any other Indians on the Continent. Racing horses, it would seem, is a constant and almost incessant exercise, and their principal mode of gambling; and perhaps, a more finished set of jockeys are not to be found."

Palo Duro Canyon Tragedy

Historian/Writer/Singer Andy Wilkinson's Account

Late in September 1874, Ranald S. MacKenzie, Commander of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, tracked the Comanche to their secret camp in the Palo Duro Canyon.

Wilkinson writes:

"MacKenzie's idea was that he could fight the Comanche until the end of time and never win. But if he could get their supplies and strike them in their home territory, their stronghold, which was the Palo Duro, that he might stand some chance of prevailing."

At the bottom of the canyon, the warriors fired on the troops and their people escaped. But it was the horses MacKenzie wanted. He ordered the camp burned and withdrew, taking along 1400 horses, 1000 of which he later destroyed.

Attribution: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

"There are reports that his own men objected strenuously to the notion of killing the horses because these were, after all, cavalrymen and attached to horses just as the Comanche warriors would be. Nevertheless, he prevailed, and over the course of the next eight hours, some thousand of the 1500 animals were shot and killed. The stench became so bad the next day they had to move the camp to get away from it. The bones were still in that same spot for dozens of years before the bone pickers came out and collected them as they were collecting the buffalo bones later on."A thousand horses, that's 125 an hour, two every minute. And you couldn't do that if you took them from here over to there. There'd just be too much time — or too little time, too many horses. Well, I can imagine the grief that the cavalrymen went through because when you hear a horse cry, it has to get you right here, you know. And I think it may have been a worse job to have to hold the horses who were waiting [to be killed]."

For Wallace Coffey, a Native American horseman, the story is a low point in the relationship of humans and horses.

"There's no honor in slaughter of the animal. So I know that the spirits of those horses are still here (in Palo Duro Canyon). So I'm walking very lightly on this place because it's sacred ground, hallowed ground. What an unusual way to end a war. I mean, slaughtering of the buffalo was one thing, but slaughtering of the horse was something that grips you pretty good. That ended it right there . . . the slaughtering of those horses."

In the Fall of 1995, the horse spirit returned to the Palo Duro. The 4th U.S. Cavalry re-enactors gave two horses to the Comanche tribe as an apology for what happened here more than a century ago.

The Horse in Agriculture

Before the advent of the tractor and automobiles, horses were an integral part of everyday worklife as well as a companion.

Horse and Harness — 1733

The agricultural region near the Conestoga River, 70 miles from Philadelphia, was burgeoning in the early 1700s. Hauling produce and goods by pack horse was tedious, time consuming, labor intensive and expensive, and merchants realized that to carry produce this way was costing them dearly. In addition to this problem, the townspeople and farm families needed supplies delivered to and from the valley. These problems were growing as the area grew economically and geographically.

Frustrated and determined to resolve the problem, the Germans of the Conestoga Valley constructed a wagon which would safely and economically carry produce and supplies for the area's farmers and city dwellers alike with the help of a team of horses. This was no ordinary wagon. The roads in that area were often barely passable by horseback, much less a wagon. The usual wagon had broad wheels, a white fabric hood, and a convex wagon box. It was generally drawn by 6 horses and had a capacity of about 7 metric tons of freight. Before the extension of railroads into the frontier regions, the Conestoga wagon was the principal vehicle for inland commerce. A version of the wagon, the prairie schooner, was used by westward-bound immigrants later in the 19th century.

Horses and Cowboys Lead the Cattle Drives — 1865

Growing populations in the eastern part of the United States had developed a strong appetite for beef. The western railroad provided dependable transportation but there was only one railroad line, and it crossed the continent in Nebraska, not Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas where a lot of cattle were. To get beef to the consumer and with the horse as a critical facet of the team, cattlemen raised stock and drove them great distances to the railheads.

Attribution: FOTO:Fortepan — ID 22860: Adományozó/Donor: Unknown., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The cowboy's life was often lonely and sometimes violent. His horse was frequently his only companion. His manners, dress, language, and amusements remain a symbol of the rugged independence, romance, and determination which characterized humans, their horses, and the American West.

Horse and Farmers

The versatile horse was the farmer's main asset. The exploration and subsequent settlement of new land in America created a variety of ways the horse would be called upon to help people forge a living on the land. The horse was a readily available resource for expansion, and as a team, horses and humans had the power to tame the wilderness and work the soil. The horse sometimes replaced the sluggish oxen, which had worked equally hard to fulfill the needs of  farm families. But the 1800s' farmer was more interested in the versatility of the horse, a quality which made it a valuable asset to settlers and farmers alike. The horse plowed fields, pulled wagons and carriages, and became such an essential part of the rural economy that the loss of a small farmer's horse frequently meant demise of the farm.

The horse population grew immensely during the 1800s. In 1867, the rural horse population in America was estimated at nearly 8 million, while the number of farm workers was well under 7 million.

Moving Humans and Machinery

Horse and Stagecoach Travel

The first stagecoach in the American colonies made the trip from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island on May 13, 1718. The stagecoach mode of travel endured for nearly 200 years, thanks to dedicated drivers and dependable horses. The horses pulling the stagecoaches in America lived a strenuous but appreciated life. They were usually treated with respect by their drivers and received excellent care and attention as the travel schedule depended on their health and well being. American horses worked for as long as 15 years. By comparison, a stagecoach horse in England lasted only three years on the job. Some of the American horses may have logged as many as a quarter of a million miles during their stints as stagecoach horses. By the middle of the nineteenth century, stagecoaches were largely replaced by the railroad in the East.

Attribution: State Library of Queensland, Australia, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Horse and Industry

The Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and early 1800s saw rapid growth in the use of technology, and ironically, the need for horses increased. Demands for the transportation of people, manufactured goods, and sources of power for agricultural machinery grew at astronomical rates. Horses were everywhere. They were harnessed to buses and carriages within cities and logged long hours as teams pulling public stagecoaches between towns not connected by the railways. In areas with train transportation the harness horse taxied people and goods to the "Iron Horse" depots. The nineteenth century brought the construction of canals throughout the eastern United States, and horses were again called upon to draw the canal barges. Horse power also continued to plow fields and trudge the produce wagons to market and the railroad.

The Horse in Transition — 1900

With the twentieth century came radical changes in the world of the horse. The unrelenting rise of technology left the horse in the dust of the internal combustion engine. But their numbers continued to grow. In 1915, the horse population in America peaked at over 21 million.

Then World War I would take its toll. Large numbers of horses were sent to the battlefields of Europe during World Wat I. The resulting decrease in horse population brought about a change in public perception of the horse, as a pleasure animal rather than work animal. The "beast of burden" gave way to a larger role for the horse as friend and companion.

Today's horse enjoys a major role in recreation and organized competition. Many breeds, including wild ones, are now being revived. Selective and systemic breeding is enhancing the quality of horses to levels previously unattained in the past. The future looks bright and promising for horses around the world. The admiration, respect, and high regard for this admirable creature and its contribution to the world as we know it today is finally being realized.

Today there are hundreds of breeds and specific types of horses. The final "Legacy of the Horse" is an increasing population of pure and distinct breeds; horses of quality and beauty, horses for sport, work, and pleasure, and horses that run wild on the land, their continued freedom in the hands of us all.

Waging War

Horses have served as comrade and soldier on the war torn fields of this country and abroad. Many gave their lives in service to their countryland. TheInternational Museum of the Horse maintains an extensive history of horses in war from the dawn of man until current times. Horse were drafted into war in large numbers in service to this country for calvary and non-calvary roles alike. The history of the horse in battle in North America begins with the Spanish and the Native Americans.

Attribution: FOTO:Fortepan — ID 11812: Adományozó/Donor: Unknown. archive copy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1600s' New Firearms & Faster Horses Led to New Role for the Horse in Battle

The development of firearms greatly affected the use of the cavalry horse. Before then, Cavalry soldiers were previously armed with lances, which had proved effective against infantry and other cavalry. But these cavalry became vulnerable to the well-aimed shot of the musketeer. In order to survive, cavalry were equipped with firearms, both pistols and short muskets. The roles of the new cavalry produced new roles, such as cuirassiers (mounted cavalry with armor and firearms), and dragoons (mounted infantry), and cabineers (light dragoons).

Native Americans & Horses at War

Horses were a basis of wealth and were often the object, as well as the means, of war between tribes. Native American pictographs often featured their most prized possession and companion — the horse. The historic record of horses in North America begins when the Spanish brought horses back to the continent. Native American tribes quickly became expert horsemen.

Custer's Last Stand — June 25, 1876: All Killed Save One Tough Pony

One of the most storied events in the history of the American West was the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn, otherwise known as "Custer's Last Stand". George Armstrong Custer's earlier cavalry career included the interception of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. After the Civil War, Custer was assigned as Commander of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. When ordered to move a band of Natives toward a large American cavalry force, the ambitious and often arrogant Custer became over-zealous. As his forces reached the Lakota encampment, he divided his regiment and decided to fight. Custer's force was entirely annihilated within a short time. The other regiment force was rescued by supporting cavalry four days later, and the search for survivors of Custer's troops began. Not one man was found alive. Only one horse survived: Comanche.

Comanche was found in a thicket with seven arrows in his body. He was a gelding ridden by Captain Keogh, one of Custer's officers. The horse's wounds were treated, and he was carefully loaded onto a riverboat. Comanche was sent back to Fort Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, where he was given great attention until he recovered. As an honor, Comanche was given the freedom of the fort's grounds. The Seventh Cavalry's commanding officer insisted that Comanche be saddled for all engagements and official occasions, but he could never be ridden again. Comanche became a national celebrity.

On his death, his obituary appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Comanche was taxidermied and is now exhibited at the Museum of Kansas University.

Attribution: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Nez Perce Spotted Horses — 1877

Few tribes could rival the Nez Perce in the art of selective breeding. The Nez Perce inhabited the mountainous plateau at the intersection of what are now the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Here, near the Palouse River, the steep mountains and box canyons provided natural enclosures in which horses could be contained or separated for selective breeding. The trademark of the Nez Perce horses was their spots. These horses, named Appaloosas after the river near which they were bred, were renowned among western Indians for their speed and endurance.

The peaceful life of the Nez Perce was ended when settlers and miners intruded on their lands. Treaties were made and broken, until Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce led his people and 3000 horses on a 1600-mile evacuation to Canada in 1877. All along the way, the Natives fought off pursuing cavalry. In one battle alone, they lost 900 of their spotted horses. Just below the Canadian border, Chief Joseph surrendered to the cavalry as he heroically declared, "I will fight no more forever." His tribe was decimated, wounded, and starving. The remaining members were exiled to Oklahoma, and Chief Joseph was imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth. The remaining 1100 horses were dispersed. This threatened the purity and survival of the Appaloosa, until the breed was revived in the 1900s.

World War I 1914 - 1918: The Last Cavalry Battle

Well before the United States sent its men into the fray, another resource had been drafted — its horses. World War I was filled with classic calvary battle. But the new weapons of war proved devastating to the cavalry and their mounts. This war involved impenetrable barbed wire. Machine guns massacred people and horse alike with little or no direct contact with their enemies. The horse's utility in battle was over. The death of millions of horses in this war drastically reduced the world's equine population.

Some estimates hold that six million horses served in WWI's American war zones. Most of them were killed. In the four years of war, the United States forces were left with a seriously depleted stock of horses. The American Expeditionary Force took with it an additional 182,000 horses to the battle lines. Of these, 60,000 were killed, and only 200 made it home to the United States. British veterinarians treated 120,000 horses for wounds or disease in aftermath of the battles. With the newly developed weaponry one fact remained painfully obvious, the horse was the innocent victim.

The Sporting Horse

Horses have been a companion in play as well as work. Given the competitive nature of humans, it's fair to assume that from the time there were two people and two horses, they were probably pitted against each other in races for speed, agility, and strength. The history of horse sports is a rich one in this country. Many of these sports developed out of preparation for battle, both physically and emotionally. The International Museum of the Horse provides a comprehensive history of horses in sport.

Attribution: Flickr user Jeff Kubina, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Up through the mid-19th century, horse racing was the main form of organized sport in America. Today, Americans tout human athletic rivalries, from small towns to large cities. In colonial America, the same rivalries were more commonly organized around the sport of horse racing. Much like today, legions of colonial fans traveled far to early "quarter-race" tracks to place hard earned wagers on their town's horse and rider. Wages in the early days of this country may have included money, tobacco, slaves, and property.

Emotions ran high and tempers flared with unjust calls, false starts, or a rider interfering with another's horse. From the early races, often conducted in the woods, to today's well manicured tracks, the sport of quarter horse and thoroughbred racing remains a popular American pastime for horse and humans alike.

The Fox Hunt

One of the earliest equine sports in this country found its roots in the sport of the fox hunting. As early as 1650, a man by the name of Colonel Robert Brooke brought hounds to Maryland from England. The sport became very popular and many of our founding fathers became active in the "The Hunt". George Washington, who began hunting at 16 years of age, was well known for his pack of hunting hounds as well as the horses he rode in the chase.

Fox hunting was quite popular in every region of the United States, but its strongest roots were planted firmly in the Mid-South. The lay of the land made it an ideal setting for the sport. This area maintained many of the rich traditions handed down to America from the aristocrats of England.

A Kentuckian wrote in 1852: "Fox hunting in the middle and southern states is quite as much a subject of enthusiasm as it has been in England. . . ." Among the most famous hunts in America, the Iroquois Hunt in Kentucky ranks as one of the finest. Founded in 1880 by Roger D. Williams, it is named after the first American horse to win the Epson Derby in England, Pierre Lorillard's Iroquois. The Bluegrass region of Kentucky offers particularly favorable land for fox hunting due to its fine turf and the absence of wire fencing, an anathema to fox hunters.

Attribution: Heather Moreton from Louisville, KY, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1876 — First American Polo

Another horse game readily adopted and richly rooted in the traditions of this country is polo. Although polo and hunting are perhaps the oldest horse sports, polo was not played in the Western Hemisphere until the 1800s. The sport was brought to America by James Gordon Bennett in 1876. The New York City riding arena was the first official unveiling of indoor Polo in this country. Due to the immense popularity of the sport, Harvard University formed an intercollegiate polo team in 1885. By 1886, the British and Americans were competing against each other in regularly scheduled matches. By 1892, there were 13 U.S. polo clubs, most in the Eastern portion of the country.

The First Rodeo or "Cattle Ring"

In 1886, the cattle drive spawned the robust entertainment dubbed "the rodeo". This cowboy sport became a real entertainment draw. Rodeo began as a way to celebrate the end of the long cattle drive. The cowboys had to look over their herds until they were sold at market. After the pens were emptied, cowhands would challenge each other to a calf-roping contest or maybe a bareback ride on the orneriest horse on the lot.

Soon the draw of the rodeo was sweetened with dramatic and equally entertaining "Wild West" shows. These extravaganzas included wagon races, bull-riding, and steer-wrestling. An African American cowboy named Bill Pickett invented one of the most exciting events in the rodeo, bull dogging. As the story goes, Pickett became enraged at a bull that refused to enter a corral. He leapt on the bull from his horse, grabbed its horns, gripping its upper lip in his teeth and bringing it to the ground like a "bulldog".

Horses of Hollywood

The Grand Generation and Baby Boomers of this country are familiar with some of the best-loved horses of motion pictures and TV. To many, growing up in the 1920s through early 1950s, the horses of the screen were as famous as the heroes who rode them. William S. Hart and Fritz, Tom Mix and Tony, Gene Autry and Champion, Roy Rogers and Trigger. The "western" soon became one of film's dominant genres, depending heavily on the horse.

Television introduced, another host of heroes: the Lone Ranger and Silver, Tonto and Scout, Hopalong Cassidy and Topper, as well as such individual stars as Fury, Flicka, and Mr. Ed.

Equine Quiz

Think you know a lot about the history, hilarity, and high times of the horse? Try your hand at this EQUINE QUIZ.

  1. Rising Sun was horse to what Rock ‘n Roll star?
    a. Rod Stewart
    b. Michael Jackson
    c. David Bowie
    d. Elvis Presley
  2. The Old Gray Mare was how old when she died?
    a. 5 years
    b. 12 years
    c. 14 years
    d. 25 years
  3. At the age of 14, the Bob Tail Nag, a trotting horse, lowered the record for the mile six different times. Her best time was:
    a. 1:50 and ½
    b. 2:19 and ¾
    c. 4:00 and ¾
    d. 5:00
  4. Mr. Ed recorded a song in 1962.  The name of that song was:
    a. Pretty Little Filly
    b. I Love my Oats
    c. A Horse is a Horse
    d. Camptown Races
Television and Film
  1. Roy Rogers’ horse was dubbed the “Smartest Horse in the Movies”. What was this horse’s real name?
    b. Tornado
    c. Trigger
    d. Falcon
  2. The 1997 movie The Horse Whisperer was based on a real-life man named?
    a. Mario Luroschi
    b. Ramon Becerro
    c. Monty Roberts
    d. George Moore
  3. The horses Paint, Chubb, Waggoner, and Beauty were part of what popular TV show in the 1960s?
    a. Gun Smoke
    b. The Lone Ranger
    c. Bonanza
    d. The Rifleman
  4. In the 1979 movie The Black Stallion, which horse played the lead role?
    a. Cass Ole
    b. Apache
    c. Hero
    d. Trigger
  1. Herber Harker wrote which novel consisting of a story of the Canadian rodeo circuit as it was in the 1950s?
    b. Lucky Luke
    c. Outlaw Stallion
    d. Diablo
  2. Little Golden Books published children's books about which famous TV horse?
    a. Scout
    b. Silver
    c. Mister Ed
    d. Fury
  3. It is estimated that horses were domesticated:
    a. 16,000 years ago
    b. 10,000 years ago
    c. 5,000 years ago
    d. 250 years ago
  4. An elite group of cavalry comprised entirely of African American horsemen were known as the:
    a. Riding Royals
    b. Buffalo Soldiers
    c. Cajun Cavalry
    d. Hatch Brigade
  1. Nicknamed the Magnificent Cripple, this race horse’s right ear & right eye were set a full inch higher than the left side.
    a. Best Yet
    b. Your Host
    c. Grand
    d. Speedy
  2. This horse’s heart was found to be more than twice the size and weight of a normal horse’s heart, earning him the nickname, Heart of Gold.
    a. Secretariat
    b. Forego
    c. Mario
    d. Phar Lap
  3. The greatest money-winning thoroughbred ever was:
    a. Rummie
    b. Tellem Goodbye
    c. Lucky Boy
    d. Man O War
  4. The only horse in the history of the Grand national Steeplechase to win the race three times was:
    a. Georgie
    b. Red Rum
    c. Mac
    d. Major Belmont

("c" was Mr. Ed's TV  theme song,
but he didn't sing it.)

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