Horses running in a herd

The Disappearance and Reintroduction of Horses in North America

Horses Vanish from the North American Continent

Horses became extinct from the Americas, their native land, over 11,000 years ago. Because of the Bering Ice Bridge, it’s theorized that some horses were able to cross into Europe and Asia before their disappearance in North America. 

The reasons for this North American extinction are still unclear, but there is evidence pointing to a few culprits: humans and climate change. Around this time, the Earth was experiencing the end of the Pleistocene period, which included the most recent ice age. Temperatures dropped. Vegetation suffered. Large animals died off. To survive, humans also needed to rely more on hunting because farming and foraging became more difficult.

The combination of human overhunting and lack of vegetation likely caused the animal’s extinction on the North American continent.

Horses Return to North American Plains

Flash-forward to 1493. Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas saw him reintroduce horses to their continent of origin. Initially, their presence was isolated to the Virgin Islands. In 1519, Hernán Cortez brought more horses to Mexico where they thrived and migrated across North America. 

Native Americans witnessed the Spanish riding their horses. By 1620, the Apache tribe collected horses through trade and wild capture. From studying the Spaniards, Native Americans learned to ride horseback even similarly learning how to mount from the right side. Their saddles were constructed out of their own materials but matched the Spanish’s overall build.

Today, Quarter horses are the most popular and common breed in North America. Considered to be the best overall breed for athleticism, musculature, and calm demeanor, they are preferred by beginners and professionals. Jumping, hunter under saddle, dressage, and driving horses are the most common disciplines for the Quarter horse.

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