Horses Come to the Americas

The academic view of the spread of the horse throughout the horse tribes used to be that the wild herds were the primary source of horses on the Great Plains. This belief endured at least partly because Spanish officials on record at the time did not approve of teaching indigenous peoples how to train and ride horses any more than they approved of seeking the Goddess. Oral history however, tells us that well after New Mexico became a territory of the USA in the 1840’s, (adding yet another element to the already complex  patterns of relationship between Indian and Hispanic) the Comancheros still wintered in the village of Agua Fria, where I was born and now live as there was always water in the Santa Fe River near the San Isidro church which made it easy to round-up their horses when they were ready to start their travels again.

These people were of mixed Hispanic and indigenous descent whose trading included guns, slaves, and horses moved between the transplanted Europeans and the Comanche trading network of the American Southwest. They sometimes traveled as far north as Canada and east as Nebraska. As half-breeds, they were relegated to the fringes of the Hispanic settlements in New Mexico. Even though  Agua Fria is the oldest continuously inhabited site along the Santa Fe River because of the geological dike that brings water to the surface at the San Isidro Crossing, the community still has difficultly being recognized as a distinct historical community, not just an afterthought on the way to Santa Fe. Although I dont know of any historical papers on the subject, I also have to consider the possibility that during the Pueblo Indian Revolt any incriminating documents would have been destroyed by those wishing to survive the murderous purging of the Spanish Inquisition.

Now, in our more multicultural atmosphere, it is more widely accepted that the Comancheros and their ilk not only traded horses with different tribes, but taught their customers how to ride and train as well. While I agree with that, my further argument is that the horsemen that came over brought their esoteric traditions with them and that they initiated their trading partners into their horse clan. There they learned the secrets of horsemanship from the most ancient and original of traditions. When the American cavalry reports that the Plains Indians were the finest light horse cavalry they had ever seen in the 1800’s  in nearly exactly the same words as the Romans had declared that the forebearers of our Spanish Mustangs, the Numidian Cavalry were the finest light cavalry they had ever seen a couple of millennia earlier anda few centuries later it was again the unsurpassed North African light cavalry that conquered Spain in the eighth century AD, I start seeing a pattern emerge.

Horses of Iberia and North Africa have a distinctive genetic marker. It is concentrated enough that it appears to support the argument that there was a unique instance of the domestication of the horse in that area.  Although the first physical evidence of domestication appears in archeological digs on the Eurasian Steppes, horses were prey in Eurasia. Up to 40% of the bones found in Neolithic sites belonged to horses.  From Turkey all around the Mediterranean Sea through North Africa, then from Spain to Greece, horse bones in Neolithic sites are rare to non-existent.  Yet  the mystique of the horse as a beloved  partner in a spiritual quest is deeply rooted in these areas and has resulted in some of the most extraordinary equine art and mythology (click here). These  horses were ridden with out saddle or bridle. They had only a rope around their neck and their riders’ hands were free to carry a round leather shield and  with a javelin and short sword as weapons.

Although many Plains and Pueblo Indian individuals rode with Spanish saddles and bridles if they could get them, that image of the Numidian cavalry sounds an awful lot like the mystique of the Plains Indian horse warriors.  It is akin to the still living tradition of spiritual horsemanship that Klaus Hempfling embraced when he was introduced to it along with the Spanish horses of the Pyrenees a mere twenty-odd years ago. Now, the only reasonable way I know of that allows people  to consistently recreate the same quality of horsemanship with the same accoutrements for thousands of years  is if you have a living oral tradition  that is passed on with the horses. The same practices and the same horses result in the same partnership.  The obvious conclusion is that Comancheros, the horse trainers who arrived with the Spanish and spent time on the plains training wild horses, were on good terms with the Indians they met. Very simply put, they shared their spiritual practices as well as their horses with their allies.

(click for next or go back to the beginning)


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