Encyclopedia Article


The horse was introduced to the Americas in the 1500s by the Spaniards. While the Spaniards prized the horse for the role it played in travel, exploration, and war, they at times left herds of horses in various locales, hoping that the animal would find ways to establish itself on the continents the Spanish were busily conquering. The horse proved very adaptable and found habitats to thrive in, especially in the Great Basin and Plains of North America. Native Americans, particularly along Spain's northern colonial frontier, emulated the Spaniards' use of the horse for transportation, hunting, labor, and sport, and soon out-mastered the Spanish horsemen in riding, training, and cultivating the beasts the Spanish so prized. The horse took on great significance to many indigenous communities, and in some cases was incorporated into origin stories as a gift from the gods. The horse also occupies a central role in many mythologized frontier narratives about the Western and Southwestern regions of the United States.

Photo Credit: 

"Navajo man on horse circa 1901," photograph by William H. Simpson.