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Topic – Horses in North America

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Horses in North America

The ancestors of the modern horse lived in North America millions of years ago. Over thousands of years, they changed and became more and more like the horses we know today.

Scientists believe that these horses spread to Asia and Europe by travelling over a land bridge between modern-day Alaska and Siberia in Russia. (This land bridge no longer exists.) Horses continued to live in North America until about 10 000 years ago. Then they disappeared. No one knows why for sure, but it might have been because of disease or climate change.

Horses were reintroduced to North America by the Spaniards in the 1500s. The British and the French brought their own horses later. The first horses from France were brought in 1665. Many of the horses brought here escaped. They lived in wild herds, mostly on the Plains. By 1900, there were over 2 million horses running free.

First Nations and the Horse

Before Europeans arrived, First Nations peoples lived by using what they had in their environment. For transportation, Woodland First Nations used birch bark canoes to travel the rivers and streams. The Haudenosaunee (say it like this: hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) were exceptional runners and could cover long distances in a very short time. The Plains First Nations travelled on foot with the help of dogs to carry their goods.

How did the horse change this? It did not change much for the Woodland First Nations and the Haudenosaunee. They did use horses but still relied mostly on their older ways. Maybe this was because they were not migratory and did not move far from their settlements. And navigating streams and rivers by canoe was still a much better way to travel through the thick forests.

But the horse changed the Plains First Nations way of life a lot. These people were migratory. They moved often looking for herds of buffalo and other animals to hunt. The peoples of the Plains First Nations became skilled riders and used horses for hunting, warfare, and travel. Life became much easier with the horse.


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