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Post Glacial Horses in America
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Allen Pogue2
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 Posted: Fri Apr 17th, 2020 03:02 pm
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Hello Dr. Deb,
I am working on a new horse project and researching equine origins in the Americas. We moved from TX to NM and all my books are packed away.. ( your’s included)..
My question: “Are there any fossil records of horses that (may have) evolved in the Americas unrelated to the reintroduction by the Spaniards?”
Allen Pogue
Pie Town, NM

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Apr 18th, 2020 09:10 am
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Hi, Allen: So good to hear from you again! And congratulations on getting a new place. Hopefully somewhat bigger than your last one, you had roundpens crashing into each other. You deserve enough space to permit you the full expression of your talents & abilities with horses.

OK, as to your query, implied in it is, I think, a confusion that fuddles up the thinking of a lot of folks, to wit, time confusion. Whenever working with history -- whether within the era after writing was invented, or before that time -- it is crucial to keep your centuries straight. It would be silly to muddle up Barack Obama, Ike Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Henry VIII, Charlemagne, and Attilla the Hun -- all from different centuries, right? So then why do people muddle up dinosaurs, Eohippus, and Neanderthaloid humans? Equally, they did not overlap in time; they did not occur at the same time.

So, to be more specific:

1. The genus Equus originated about 5 million years ago, probably in North America. The earliest species in the genus are forms such as Equus stenonis (now cosidered to be synonymous with Dinohippus interpolatus). There was considerable transit back and forth at that time between far east Asia and North America via Beringia, the swampy "land bridge" that has sometimes connected the two continents; so that we get some early members of the genus Equus in Asia and even Europe.

2. 5 milllion years ago is BEFORE the beginning of the Pleistocene. When the Pleistocene began, ice covered and blocked migration routes. Yet they were not covered and blocked all the time; in some places they would open up seasonally, and the Pleistocene is also on the whole a variable time, with warmer "interglacial" periods during which ice would melt back to a greater degree and, particularly, the great migrational corridor, the so-called "ice free zone" east of the Cordillera, would permit animal and human migration from Alaska south into the Great Plains.

3. The Pleistocene began and ended at different times in different parts of the world. In North America it began about 2 million years ago, intensified by 1.8 mya, and continued until about 10,000 years ago. During this period, Equus caballus -- the specific species of animal that we call "the horse" -- appeared in North America. Whether they originated here, or instead managed to migrate in just before the ice closed the migration route, is a matter for debate, but the answer to that problem does not affect the answer to your question -- yes, there were Equus caballus on this continent during the Pleistocene.

4. In fact, there were so many herds of Equus caballus here that they attracted humans called (by Anthropologists) "the Clovis people" or "Clovis hunters" from Eurasia. Something that most people don't know is that the main meat eaten by early Homo sapiens in Eurasia was horse. The Clovis people specialized on hunting two types of game -- mammoth and horse; but horse kills were far more frequent than mammoth kills. These people are thought to have come to North America via Beringia during one of the later ice-free interglacial periods.

5. What they did when they got here was hunt horses to extinction. And probably also the Mammoths, and the giant ground sloths. There has been rather heated debate concerning whether the extinction of large animals during the Pleistocene -- the so-called "megafauna" -- is exclusively due to human hunting, or whether hunting was only one pressure on these populations, but again the answer to that does not affect the answer to your question -- yes there were Equus caballus on this continent during the Pleistocene, but they also became totally extinct IN THE AMERICAS at the end of that geological period, about 10,000 years ago.

6. Columbus did not sail the ocean blue until calendar year 1492, and he did not bring any horses to the New World until his 2nd voyage in 1493. That would be 11,493 years after the last indigenous Equus caballus in North America breathed his last. In other words, there was a gap of 11,493 years during which there were NO horses in North America. There is also, by the way, very thin evidence for Leif Eriksson having brought horses to Vineland when he and his colonists arrived in eastern North America in the 10th century. If they brought horses, there is no record that they survived, and again, this does not affect the answer to your question: yes, there was a LONG gap during which there were NO horses in the Americas.

7. The horses which Columbus brought with him in 1493 all came from the Province of Andalusia in the Iberian Peninsula, and they, and subsequent importations made by Columbus and other Europeans during late 15th and early 16th centuries certainly did survive in the Americas. These animals were, like all other European and Asian horses, members of the species Equus caballus; but they were all of the domestic strain. Horses began to be brought into domestication in Europe and west Asia beginning about 6,000 years ago. There were multiple instances of domestication, occurring in somewhat disparate localities. But no instances of horse domestication occurred in any of the Americas, nor in the Caribbean, because there were NO horses here after the end of the Pleistocene.

8. What Columbus brought back to the New World was, then, a particular strain -- the domestic strain -- of the  Equus caballus horse that had once lived here but that had gone extinct here. When he brought horses back to North America, they instantly fit right back in to the ecological niche they had occupied prior to their extinction. This is because ecological niches persist far longer than the species that occupy them. That the horse -- even the European domesticated strain which is cousin to the indigenous, but extinct, American strain -- "belongs" here is unassailably true, and proven, for example, by the history of the King Ranch mustangs (of the old "Wild Horse Desert" of southwest Texas). Read up on this in a recent issue of EQUUS magazine -- I have just concluded the history of the American Quarter Horse with a short series on the King Ranch. The bottom line on this is that cattle (which never existed in North America at all until they were imported here by colonists from Europe) destroy native prairie and cause tremendous shifts in the flora, whereas horses do no such thing.

So, Allan, I hope you will not sally forth into the kind of errors in print that we can find in many books written by people who are not paleontologists or trained zoologists. This subject mixes people up, as I noted at the outset, so whatever your project is, I hope you will continue to write to me, privately if necessary, so that I can help you with fact-check. All of this story is set forth in my book "Conquerors", but of course, it'll take some time to get everything unpacked at your new place. Let me know when you're ready for the next phase. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Allen Pogue2
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 Posted: Sat Apr 25th, 2020 04:00 am
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Hello Dr Deb, et.al.
Not to worry, I would never commit to print an obvious error in research on a subject. The back story is, that I am consulting on a movie script that includes a Native American storyline and in the first draft, the native elder makes the claim they their tribe had access to horses before the white men arrived, and from there the story devolves into a myth that some horses survived the Clovis depredations and the ice age. I know that in Hollywierd one never lets the truth get in the way of a good story, but. there are limits. I wanted to share with the writer information from someone with better bona fides than myself, thanks!
Just for fun here is a current photo Zi think you will like of my ‘post glacial’ mare, Elegante, a pure Cartujano Andalusian. This ride was a great way to end the day here on the western Continental Divide.

warm regards,

Allen

Attachment: A3DAB3CF-F2C7-49A1-9AB5-9A68AD451CE7.jpeg (Downloaded 28 times)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Apr 25th, 2020 06:18 am
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Oh, she's just beautiful, Alan. And how easy those horses do find it to travel in collection -- there is no difficulty with getting them to raise the base of their neck, such as is encountered commonly with QH's, TB's, or Warmbloods. And such contentable temperaments, too. One comes to love riding along as this photo shows you doing. Ollie my Rocky Mountain gelding and I enjoyed that many a time.

As to your movie script: well, Hollywood is always looking for 'bigger, better, faster, more' -- no matter what the truth of the matter may be.

However, we also here get into somewhat of a touchy area, and that will be important for you to convey to your film writer. This is because some Native Americans like to put forth the idea (in all contexts, not just this one) that they got NOTHING from the white man after contact. This is untrue on all levels, of course, and it comes from anger and resentment. I would find it hard to blame Native Americans for hating white people; however, their feelings do not alter the facts.

And the facts are this: not only were there no pre-contact horses on this continent, literally every single thing that Native Americans knew, or practiced, around horses came from the Spanish, Portuguese, or other Europeans who brought the horses along with the tack, the knowledge, the long history of experience, and the technology related to all aspects of horse keeping, horse training, horse raising, horse breeding, or the design and manufacture of tack, harness, and horseshoes.

Further, there is no record whatsoever of any Native American tribal group (with one exception) ever successfully breeding horses. They could not even feed them beyond one year, in many cases. And when your writer reacts with surprise at this fact, then you can ask him to tell you which 17th-19th century Native American tribe raised hay, oats, or corn? Among those tribes where corn-raising was common, horses were not kept and they certainly were not fed the corn, which was hard to grow and meant to sustain themselves and their children. Great Plains tribes depended upon raiding -- either other tribes or white establishments -- in order to keep themselves horsed. Once the animals were stolen and brought back to camp, they were let to graze on whatever graze was available. This is why the raiding season was springtime. Horses could be maintained on native fodder until winter. Then -- good luck with it, for there was no stored fodder. Movies do not show this, do they? No; they show John Wayne fighting vigorous Indians mounted on vigorous horses (supplied by the movie stock contractor). What the movies do not show is the horribly thin condition that the animals got into once there was no more grass. Sometimes in a year when the winter was not too cold or too snowy, the horses could paw through the snow to get food. Some tribesmen tried to feed them on kinnikinnick, i.e. the inner bark of willow trees; to the extent that they caused the near-total extinction of the plains native willows, because of course it kills the tree when you strip off the bark. But winter losses were always heavy, necessitating another round of raiding in the spring.

The one tribal group which is an exception to this is the Nec Perce, who fairly early on encountered French-Canadian trappers and explorers. The French taught the Nez Perce a technique for gelding (which other tribes had almost no knowledge of, and didn't need, because they were not practicing selective breeding). The Anglo explorers Lewis and Clark were astonished, when they met the Nez Perce in 1805, to find that their shamans could geld a colt with much less infection and swelling than their own tradition taught. So the Nez Perce were actually able to breed horses, select for superior individuals and see to it that they and no other males covered the mares. And they were able to do this because their original home area, the Willamet Valley of Oregon, is, in almost every year, lush and green year around.

But to return to the main thread -- that Native Americans had no horses at all before contact with whites, and knew nothing at all about horse husbandry, riding, breeding, training, breaking, or tack-manufacture: to point this out is not to denigrate Native Americans at all. Initially -- having never seen a horse, and having no "cultural memory" of horses at all -- tribesmen believed that the horse and rider were one, single, supernaturally powerful creature. This is parallel to their misapprehension that the 16th and 17th century sailing ships which brought the horses and their European riders were a kind of giant, white-winged bird. But the tribesmen, though unprepared for this cultural shock, were far from stupid, and they soon got over their misapprehensions and realized that horse and rider could be separated, and that both could be killed just as readily as any other enemy. 

Further, the Native Americans almost immediately realized the tremendous potential inherent in riding horseback -- especially for purposes of raiding and warfare. They therefore sought by every means to learn everything there is to know about horses and horsemanship; and they stole saddles and harness whenever possible, in order to take the equipment back to their camps, take it apart to see how it is constructed, and then figure out how to make something similar with the materials available to them.

And still further -- Native Americans sought by every means to obtain horses and to learn how to break horses and ride them. This, like obtaining tack, was not easy, because one of the first things that the Europeans did was make it illegal to give, trade, or sell a horse to any Indian, under severe penalty. Later, when alliances between Europeans and certain tribes seemed to the whites more certain and stable, it became legal to trade, sell, or give a gelding or a mule to an Indian; but not, for a very long time -- and here I mean two centuries -- to let them have bloodstock.

There are many rather rich stories about individual tribesmen who were abducted by whites as boys and put to slave labor in the stables of European masters. Often these young men would feign being stupid and inobservant while, in fact, spying on their masters at every opportunity. Then, when they escaped, they became famous within their tribe for bringing knowledge back to share. The most famous of these tales relates to the Mapuche tribe of Chile, who thanks to the escape of a slave-boy who later became a war leader, the Mapuches were never conquered by whites because they knew how to handle horses and fight from horseback and thus they met their European adversaries on equal terms.

Now, Alan, when you print this memo out along with the last one, and give it to the film writer, I want you to also emphasize this to him: that it is not pretty, but rather a sly kind of reverse racism, to believe that Native Americans, simply because they are Native Americans, have any more talent or natural ability with horses than anybody else of any race. Those Native Americans who have higher abilities with horses are universally honored by the tribes to which they belong, but these honors are by no means bestowed upon everybody in the tribe. Horsemen are made by being well instructed by their elders and by spending a lot of time in the saddle and around the stable, in order to test out what they have been taught. This is just as true of the white grandpa in a cowboy hat and his eager young grandson, as it is true of the Indian grandpa in a cowboy hat and his eager young grandson. But nobody gets so-called "whisperer" abilities just because of their race.

Good luck with the film, I hope they pay you a pile. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Allen Pogue2
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 Posted: Mon Apr 27th, 2020 02:21 am
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Hello Dr. Deb, Thank you for the detailed answer. Speaking of Native American ways with horses. A few years ago I ran across a book written by Harold Watley, a fellow that claimed his Cherokee grandfather taught him a traditional way of welcoming a foal into the world.. Called Spirit Blending, Very curious, and perhaps there is something to learn.

Attachment: Untitled 10.pdf (Downloaded 7 times)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Apr 27th, 2020 02:56 am
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Yes, Alan. None of what I have said above speaks to what Native Americans might have done in terms of integrating horses into their culture AFTER contact. Of course many of them saw, and continue to see, horses in a different light, having different meaning to them, than they have to many white people. In general native peoples worldwide, and not just in North America, perceive animals to be more alive, more spirit-filled, and more conscious than people of European background do. Native American religion too, in its formal rituals including everything from Sun Dance to the Peyote Church, is quite different from, say, evangelical Christian beliefs even when those involve snake-handling and the like.

What I learned from my own teachers, though they were white men, is much closer I think to Native American perceptions and beliefs. So no absolute generalizations can be made, and this is what I was thinking of when I wrote, "the white grandfather (an old experienced horseman) and his eager grandson and the Indian grandfather (an old experienced horseman) and his eager grandson." Or it could be granddaughter. The young learn from the old, if they are wise enough to sit still and listen. No matter what race they are or what tradition they come from, if their elderly teacher is a horseman worthy of the name, they will be taught the same things about the inner life of the animal and how best to communicate with it.

Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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