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Horses of the Conquistadors

by Donna DeYoung

In 1523 Cortes sent Cristobal Olid with … four hundred Spaniards and thirty horses, to the distant coast of Honduras…Olid emancipated himself from the authority of Cortes…. Cortes left Mexico on October 12, 1524, intending to go to Espiritu Santo, on the Cuauhtzacualco. He had two hundred and fifty Spaniards, half of whom were mounted [125 horses ridden] … He reached Tisatepetitlan…and then went on to Teoticcac-Palenque. …to Itzancanac…Cortes was ready to continue his march to Honduras. A horse, which had become useless, had to be left behind in these maize plantations on the south shore, and this trivial incident later furnished the Spanish "historians" with so much entertaining material…After surmounting great difficulties and crossing steep mountains and losing half his horses [now down to 62 or so], Cortes finally reached Nito where he fell in with Gil Gonzalo de Avila and a small Spanish detachment.

from The Conquistador’s Horse

The first horses to exist in America since the Pleistocene arrived with Columbus in 1493. The transatlantic voyage was not an easy one for horses. . . so many horses died and had to be thrown overboard. . . But the price for getting horses to America was worth paying, and numbers of them were loaded on vessels bound for Hispaniola. By . . .1503 (that island) had not fewer than sixty or seventy. 

from The Return of the Horse

Herman Cortes proclaimed "After God, we owed our victory to the horses". 

Columbus planned on taking Andalusian horses of high quality and breeding them on his voyage, but to his anger found that someone had substituted smaller native horses, of the Sorraia type. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for these rugged animals surely withstood the rigors of the journey, and the poor conditions better.

… Francisco Vasquez de Coronado… left the outpost of Compstela on February 23rd, 1540. The group consisted of approximately 250 cavalry, 62 foot soldiers, and several hundred Indian slaves … herdsmen for 1,000 head of cattle, sheep and hogs that were driven along for food….Coronados' army made its way north into what is now Arizona.

From A Brief History of the Spanish Horse

In 1519 Coronado set out for North America with 150 horsemen, followed by DeSoto's expedition with 237 horses in 1539. By 1547, Antoni de Mendoza, the first governor of New Spain (Mexico), had eleven haciendos and over 1,500 horses. 

From Chronological History of Humans and Their Relationship With the Horse

For 800 years Spain fought with North Africa…changed the Iberian horse forever. Barbs were brought from the Barberry coast. During the final year of the war Columbus was given permission from Spain to find a trade rout to the East … Eventually horses were shipped to the Caribbean, then on to South America. More horses entered North America through Mexico than by way of Florida…not all War horses, proud large Andalusian and Lusitano stallions. Many were pack horses and mares. The Galicino is a smaller type of horse or pony as it goes that was also brought to the new world. 

Spain did not decree a law prohibiting the riding of mares or mules by able men until Spain was almost depleted of her horses threw exportation to the New World…old cowboys gave credit to the "degeneration" of the "mustang" to in-breeding. 

Cowboys tell stories of when the horses were large, bold and well bred. They tell of when the horses began to loose size and "breeding". These little horses maintained their reputation for speed, hardiness and the ability to work cattle, while little admiration was given to their appearance.

Real prejudice … began with the war against Mexico. While most Americans by this time were riding bred up horses to one degree or another, Mexican troops rode the pure Spanish Colonial horses…Native Americans also kept vast herds of these same "ponies" …When tribes were captured stallions were shot and mares bred to draft type stallions in attempt to make farmers out of more nomadic tribes. Some tribes that historically owned horses had every horse they owned shot.

Hank Weiscamp was inducted into all 3 Modern Stock horse breed Hall of fames. When ask how he became so good at breeding all 3 ,( American Paint Horse, (APHA) American Quarter Horse ( AQHA ) and Appaloosa (ApHA) …attributed his ability to line breed so heavily to the large percentages of Spanish blood in his herds.

Most Colonial Spanish horses were shot in the Indian wars or bred out by the military.

From History of the Ranchero Stock Horse Breed

1539…Spaniard Hernando de Soto brings 237 horses to north America and explores from Tampa bay in Florida north to the Appalachians, and west to the Mississipi. 

By the 1600's horses gradually spread northward via developing Spanish missions. By 1650 Over 80 Spanish missions are present in North America. After 1680, the Pueblo Indians forced the Spanish out of New Mexico. Many horses were left behind. 

From History of the Spotted Horse

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