Horses are not indigenous to the Americas. The first horses came over with the Spanish conquistadors. They were probably Spanish Barbs, which are a small and hardy breed, making them suitable for transporting by ship. At the end of an expedition, the explorers had no further use for these horses and turned them loose on the Yucatan Peninsula where they had landed. Some were slaughtered for food and others went wild.
When the Spanish started settling in Mexico, well blooded horses were also brought from Spain to stock the ranchers. Some of the indigenous people thought the mounted conquistadors were gods or other monsters; however, it didn’t take them long to realize how useful these horses were.
Indians caught wild horses by driving them into box canyons. They traded with Spanish and Mexicans by establishing trade routes from old Mexico northward. Indians of different tribes used horses differently. The Lakota Indians prized their horses above all other possessions and took great pains in training them. They didn’t use the same horse for hunting and war. A hunting horse was trained to run close to the buffalo. Sometimes they trained horses to run together so that a hunter could change horses mid gallup. The Lakota people did not believe in killing their enemies, but only in counting coup (breaking arms, legs, etc) but if their horse killed someone, it was an act of God (Wanka Tanka). So they trained their horses to run people over.
Before white man came, Navajos formed and lived a mostly sedentary lifestyle, not really requiring horses. Later, however, warriors used them to fight on or to pull a travois. The Nez Perce Indians used mustangs to develop their own highly prized breed, the Appaloosa. Appy horses have distinctive spotted patterns on their coat and are noted for their great stamina and tough feet. The Nez Perce are the only known Indian to use selective breeding and to castrate less desirable stallions.
Most mustangs today show little of their Spanish Barb ancestry. This is due to instances of domestic horses escaping captivity and interbreeding with the Barbs. Also, the best horses were often caught and domesticated, leaving the less desirable animals to rebreed. This is being reversed today.
Ranchers in the early 1900’s, wished to eradicate these animals, believing them inferior and wanting the land for their own horses. Thousands of these wild mustangs were slaughtered for dog food, hides, and glue. The government eventually made laws against this. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) now controls these animals. Herds are culled to keep down inbreeding and over population. The culled horses are then adopted out to approved homes. The horses are not owned by their adopter until a year later and after a health inspection. Thanks to horse lovers who brought awareness to the public and stopped the slaughter, we today can proudly ride a piece of history.