How Did Horses Come to the Americas?

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Eight wild horses of various colors are crowded together in capture. Did the Spanish explorers bring the first horses to the Americas?

TRUE OR FALSE: The Spanish explorers’ horses were the first of their species to set foot on the North American continent.

T / F

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ANSWER: False. North America was in fact the cradle of the horse’s evolution, and horses existed here up until 8,000 to 12,000 years ago, when climate change and/or the arrival of humans and hunting caused the extinction of horses on the continent.

The Spanish explorers reintroduced horses to their ancestral home in the early 16th century. Native Americans, who had never seen horses before, recoiled in terror when they first beheld the mounted Spaniards. As a result, the conquistadors were able to vanquish large numbers of Indians with a relative handful of men.

“Next to God,” reported the expedition of Francisco Coronado to what is now New Mexico, “we owe our victory to the horses.”

Of course, the Indians eventually overcame their fear and acquired horses of their own, gathering strays or stealing from the settlers’ bands and becoming expert horsemen.

[LEARN about the wild mustangs of today in high-desert country.]

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