Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How Horses Changed Native American Culture by Rhonda Frankhouser

"No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses." —Herman Melville

Introduction of Horses in Native American Culture

There's something truly mystical about a horse.
 Maybe it's their piercing gaze that seems to stare right into your soul or the silent communication between horse and rider that co-mingles two separate energies into one perfect motion. Could it be their uncanny intuition and absolute dedication that brings about an almost spiritual admiration? Their intoxicating scent?

Personally, I think it's a delicate balance of all those elements that brings horse and rider together into one harmonious unit. I can't imagine a life without my lifelong love and respect for horses, but can you imagine what having a horse must have meant to those who counted on them for more than companionship and sport?

During the 16th and 17th centuries, native american cultures acquired domesticated horses from Spanish ranchers in Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas. The largest influx of horses into the native american culture came during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Horses spread to other tribes as a result of both intertribal trading and livestock raids. In the 18th century, the regions around Santa Fe and San Antonio became a major distribution center for the rest of the country.

Horses were a miracle addition to Native American culture.

In an instant, many plodding tribes were transformed from marginal hunters and near-starving farmers to fierce, nimble warriors. With the help of strong horses, whole villages, (including the sick and elderly who before were left behind), could move long distances in a relatively short amount of time. With the ability to haul heavier loads, larger personal residents as well as more elaborate gathering places were made possible. Simply put, horses changed the very lifestyle of many native american tribes.

Western tribes looked upon the horse with an almost religious awe. So enamored were native warriors of their horses, they sang to their steeds and carved effigies (like the one below) to those killed in battle. The red dots were meant to show the wounds suffered by their faithful animals.
Wooden figure carved by Sioux Warrior in honor of fallen horse

'My horse be swift in flight
Even like a bird;
My horse be swift in flight.
Bear me now in safety
Far from the enemy's arrows,
And you shall be rewarded
With streamers and ribbons red.'
                                                        Sioux warriors song to his horse

For hundreds of years horses provided necessary transportation, added power for heavy, difficult jobs, and direct, one-on-one companionship for their riders. Without hesitation, these brave animals charged into battle and scaled unknown peaks alongside (or rather underneath), many noble explorers. When they were called upon, they often perished in the service of their rider.

With the advent of technology and changing times, horses are rarely used for transportation and work labor, but they remain an integral, and much revered, member of most native american cultures. Horses represent a majestic tradition, and their spiritual connection to their rider will last until the end of time. 

"A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart and wins with his character." —Frederico Tesio

Rhonda Frankhouser is an award-winning author of mainstream fiction, contemporary and western romance. She lives in the beautiful state of Georgia with her husband and three dogs. Follow Rhonda at

1 comment:

Julie Lence said...

I love horses!! I always wanted a barn filled with them, but now that' I'm older, I appreciate them from a far and thank God I don't have to muck stalls at my age.