PAINT HORSE LEGENDS

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When Columbus discovered the New World, there were no horses here. This is strange, for horses were abundant in North and South America over ten thousand years ago. Why these animals became extinct in still a puzzling question: conditions were excellent for their development with the open grassy plains and the high plateaus of the interior. Some unknown factors were involved in their extinction, since other prehistoric animals disappeared at the same time. Because horses were at one time hunted for food, it is possible that migrant hunters from Asia, by constantly hunting and chasing them from their grazing lands, were responsible for their extinction. lt. is also possible that a plague or drought exterminated the original horses. Yet none of these theories seems adequate to explain the extinction of selected animals, while others thrived and multiplied. Whatever the cause, in the fifteenth century horses were absent from the Americas.

Like all other horses, Paint Horses arrived in America in two general ways. The first, and most significant, was by way of the Spanish conquistadors. The second was through importations from England.

Most of the horses of the first Spanish expeditions were of the Barbary, Arabian, and Andalusian strains from the plains of Cordoba in southern Spain. The conquistadors in their narratives wrote of their own experiences in the new country and of the horses that played a part in their quests. From all accounts the mounts of the nobly born adventurers were the finest to be found, and even the breeding stock that followed was as good as Spain could send. For one thing, the Spanish adventurers were rich and could afford the top-blooded horses. Two, the long ocean voyages to the New World took their toll on the weak and insubstantial horses; only the strong and stalwart survived. In that time and place the horses of those first American "cavalrymen" had to have a certain rugged power that could be depended on, possibly for life itself. As for the Paint Horse, the first record of his arrival was made in 1519. Hernando Cortes, the Spanish explorer who conquered Mexico, brought the first horses. The records of his voyage list sixteen horses, one in foal, of the Spanish Barb type aboard ship as it sailed from port. Bernal Diaz del Castillo listed in his diary a complete roster of the horses, giving their characteristics, coloring, and abilities. He listed among the horses that arrived at Veracruz: "Moron, a settler of Bayamo, had a pinto with white stockings on his forefeet and he was well reined. Baena, a settler of Trinidad, had a dark roan horse with white patches."'

Diaz del Castillo's account of the landing and conquest is accepted as authentic. From his descriptions there is no doubt that these two horses were Paint Horses, and their markings, although not fully detailed, would suggest that one was of the tobiano pattern and the other of overo.

In the years intervening between 1492 and settlement of the mainland, it must have become apparent that there were no horses in New Spain. Letters to the homeland continually stressed the need for additional mounts, and those that arrived were more precious than the soldiers who accompanied them. It is reasonable to assume that the horses that arrived in the Southwest during the sixteenth century were of the same type as those ridden by Cortes and his men and that their coloring and characteristics were much the same.

The mounted Spaniards held the upper hand over the Indians. To prevent the natives from obtaining their horses, they issued decrees forbidding Indians to own or ride horses. Despite these ordinances many tribes built up horse herds by stealing, bartering, and attacking the Spanish ranches and missions.

There was a time when the tribes in the interior along the eastern fringe of the grasslands lived as farmers and practiced agriculture. They had permanent villages and raised large fields of corn and other crops. Short hunting trips out on the plains provided their supply of meat. With the introduction of the horse and the techniques of riding and use, they adopted a new culture. Horses extended their range and allowed them to follow the buffalo herds. Some of these people, who became fierce horsemen in the nineteenth century, made the transition from grassland farmers to nomad hunters.

Indians living farther out on the plains were more nomadic, making periodic migrations with the buffalo herds. They adapted themselves easily to the horse. They could now race along the flanks of the buffalo herds more closely and be assured of bringing abundant supplies of meat. Because they had an eye for anything bright or colorful, the Indians sought out the painted horse. They seemed to prefer the gray, white, and Paint Horses above all others. The grays and whites could easily be colored Paint-style by the imaginative Indians if there were not enough spotted horses to go around. Besides their love of color, the Indians had a practical reason for owning Paint Horses. The colors were the easiest to alter to coincide with the changing seasons. The American Indians were experts in the ancient art of camouflage They devised protectlve tactics of camouflaging their horses and themselves in enemy territory and ably outmaneuvered seasoned soldiers and unfriendly tribes. So that both horse and rider could pass unobserved across open plains, the Indians chose horses of a coloring to blend with the natural and seasonal background of the country. The warriors, skillful riders that they Were, dropped to one side of the horse and passed undetected by the human eye. Horses of the color of the prairies--dun, roan, or light sorrel--were ridden in summer and fall. In winter white or Palomino horses were indistinguishable traveling across the snow. In sagebrush country the gray and blue roan colors were ideal. The techniques employed by the Indians were in no way unusual. They utilized nature's own mode of concealment to aid animals in protecting themselves from predatory animals.

The Paint Horse was the Indian's favorite horse. He was variable and could be transformed to suit any surroundings or any season of the year. Simply by shading or rubbing out one color, his owner could easily alter the body colors. If the Indian wanted a dun or gray horse, he had only to darken the white areas of the body. For a light-colored coat the dark areas could be rubbed with sand or ashes and faded out. Many western tribes decorated their horses for battle with paint, feathers, and beads. As the warriors painted themselves with war paint, they also decorated their horses for the battlefield. The Paint Horse, already decorated by nature, added color to the visual spectacle, and in the heat of battle his colors would not run and blur as would those with paint added for the occasion.

Other tribes considered the colorfully marked horses magical and effective in conflict. The Comanches and Cheyennes, for instance, desired a type of Paint Horse which they called a Medicine Hat. This type of mustang, loudly splashed with color, was to them a prince of a horse. Only the braves who had proved themselves were allowed to ride them, and a Comanche warrior who rode a Medicine Hat into battle considered himself invincible.

To the Indian the horse was more than a war horse or a means of travel. He was a medium of exchange and a status symbol. An Indian's wealth was determined by the number of horses he owned, and any wealthy hunter owned at least a half dozen horses. Paint Horses were especially treasured and prized. Even though they never bred their horses carefully, the Indians took pride in their animals and made some attempt to breed for the paint coloring they admired so much.

The Paint Horse has always been associated with the Indian in legends, stories, songs, and even in today's television programs. At the siege of the Alamo, at the Fetterman massacre, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Paint Horse was there.

An interesting story has been told of an Indian and his Paint Horse who played a part in the massacre at the Little Big Horn in 1876. The army under Custer went down in defeat before the nearly three thousand Sioux warriors who had gathered to protest the invasion of their buffalo lands. After the victorious warriors rode back to their camp, the only survivor on the battlefield was a horse called Comanche, whose rider had been Captain Myles W. Keogh of the Seventh Cavalry. Unknown to anyone at the time, one other horse survived, a tough, range-raised Indian pony belonging to one of the army scouts. The Pawnee and Arikara tribes have honored in a war-dance song a spotted horse who walked into the Arikara village alone some time after the battle, still wearing an army saddle with the reins Up as if he had been ridden. The Pawnee and Arikara tribes have similar languages and customs. Annually they held ceremonies together, with singing, dancing, and exchanges of gifts. They were at peace with the whites, and some of the younger would-be warriors served as scouts for the army.

As Custer's Seventh Cavalry marched from Fort Lincoln, members of each company rode different-colored horses: A Company rode black horses, B Company rode bays, and C Company rode sorrels. The Arikara scouts rode army horses and their own ponies, which were mostly Paint. After the Sioux had their revenge at the Little Big Horn, there was mourning in the Arikara village for the three Arikara scouts slain with Custer. The song originated at that time and handed down from generation to generation refers to a young warrior and his spotted horse. The words of this song, translated into English mean: "Little Soldier's [the Arikara scout killed with Custer at the Little Big Horn] spotted horse has returned [home] alone." The horse they were singing about was the Paint Horse who walked all the way from the hard-fought battle and arrived early in the morning at his village, scarred, injured, and showing signs of a hard journey. The Arikaras knew the horse and knew how far he must have traveled. They also knew the young scout who did not return as Little Soldier, and today on a granite marker at the Custer National Monument in Montana listed under Scouts is the name Little Soldier.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries vast herds of wild horses roamed the western deserts and plains. Although the wild horses of America were not of the unrestrainable character as the truly wild horses of Europe and Asia, they ranged freely in great numbers and could be claimed by anyone willing to attempt their capture. These horses, known as mustangs and broomtails, had their foundation in Spanish Barb stock. They were descendants of the domestic horses imported from Spain and the islands off the Florida coast that had been driven off or stolen by the Indians.

Today mustangs are known as small horses, standing less than fourteen hands and weighing from seven hundred to nine hundred pounds. This was not always so. Many western writers of the nineteenth century left records that the average mustangs of that century and earlier were horses of greater height with a good, hardy build. The best specimens were refined, handsome horses. Their colors ran largely to bay, black, brown, and chestnut, with some grays, whites, and Paints scattered among them. Judging from the fairly large number of Paint Horses in the herds of the early twentieth century, the paint coloring must have reproduced steadily and consistently over the years. Centuries of survival in a harsh existence on semibarren ranges after the advancing ranchers and settlers drove them off the best ranges, as well as generations of inbreeding, resulted in deterioration of the mustangs. The same decline would have occurred in any other kinds of horses under the same circumstances. But helped by a combination of speed, self-reliance and defensive perception, they continued to survive and multiply. Later, however, mustangs were crossed with every type of horse and lost their identity.

Old-timers like Frank T. Hopkins, probably the greatest long-distance endurance rider who ever saddled a horse, proved the virtues of the American mustang many times. A former dispatch rider in the United States Army, Hopkins developed his endurance-riding ability carrying dispatches for frontier generals and his horse-handling skill as a specialty rider in the Buffalo Bill wild-west shows. All in all, Hopkins won more than four hundred races in the late 1800's, when endurance riding was the rage, and for most of those rides he was mounted on a mustang.

One of his lengthy rides started at Galveston, Texas, and ended at Rutland, Vermont. He covered the eighteen hundred miles in thirty-one days and finished two full weeks ahead of the rider who came in second. Another of his best performances was made in October, 1893, when he covered approximately one thousand miles from Kansas City, Missouri, to Chicago, Illinois. Hopkins was the only man to complete the grueling ride, which he did in twelve days six hours.

One of the first proponents of the mustang and the Paint Horse, Hopkins became internationally known not only for setting unbeatable records in endurance racing but also for the excellent quality of the horses he rode. His ranch in Wyoming Territory was filled with a number of good western-type stock horses and one outstanding Paint Horse, Hidalgo. Described as a cream-and-white Paint Horse, Hidalgo was bred on a Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. Since he came into the world before the days of pedigrees and family lines, it can only be assumed that he was of "western stockhorse blood," and was descended from horses brought to this continent by the Spanish conquistadors. He was known as an American mustang and possessed the indefatigable endurance typical of the breed. Hopkins obtained the young Paint from the Sioux about 1882 and owned him until 1890.

At the World's Fair in Paris in l889, Hopkins was approached by Rau Rasmussen, a freighter who dominated most of the trade from Aden to Gaza, to enter his Paint Mustang in a three-thousand-mile endurance race across the Arabian desert. Rasmussen had heard of the American mustangs' hardiness and asked Hopkins if he would be willing to pit one of his best against prized Arabian horses. Hopkins accepted the challenge. The desert endurance race was a true test of a horse's strength and stamina. To be able to complete the course, a horse must have a healthy constitution, incredible power, a staunch spirit, strong legs, and sure steps. Beginning in Aden, in southern Arabia, the course followed the Persian Gulf and then turned inland over the barren sandy land along the borders of Arabia, Iraq, and Syria.

Theshow had been held annually for a thousand years, and in the past had always been won by an Arab horse. In the words of Anthony A. Amaral, writing of this famous race:

Slightly over one hundred horses started on the ride from Aden. The great caravan of skilled Arabian riders rode their most prized mounts. They were spirited, accustomed to the difficulty of the sands, accustomed to the sun that sprayed exhausting heat upon them. Even among the mass of mounted horsemen, Hopkins stood out with parti-colored, 950 pound Hidalgo from the American plains.

Hopkins held Hidalgo at a steady pace as they made their way through the dry heat and over sandy soil. The march progressed to the Persian Gulf and up toward Syria and then along the border of Iraq and Arabia. Each day the riders started with the sun, following it until they were marching into it. Horses dropped by the way, some exhausted, some lame. At the end of the first week, the scarcity of water and the meager diet the horses were forced to exist upon in the barren country had culled the inadequate horses. The strung line of riders dwindled daily.

Entering the second week of the grueling trek, Hopkins made his move and started to pass the other desert riders. In the wake of the sand kicked up by Hidalgo, treasured Arabian horses of the Bedouins fell farther and farther behind, while Hidalgo kept to a steady pace.

On the sixty-eighth day of the ride Hopkins rode Hidalgo to the finish stone, leaving behind him three thousand scorching miles.

The tough Paint Mustang was the winner by thirty-three hours over his nearest competitor. The only American Paint Horse in the history of Arabian endurance racing ever to win the historic race, Hidalgo did it, and did it on merit. In the eastern United States horses transplanted to the mainland from the islands off the Florida coast were called Chickasaws by the early English settlers. There was little difference in this breed of horse and the Spanish horses in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Both were descendants of sixteenth-century Spanish stock and were endowed with the same fine Oriental blood. The Chickasaw was of a more even temperament, but that can be attributed to his close association with man, while the Spanish cow horses and mustangs roamed freely in the rough, unsettled West. The early colonists acquired several Chickasaw mares and mated them with their own well-bred stallions imported from England and France in an effort to improve their using stock and to produce a running horse for short distances up to a quarter of a mile. This successful blending of blood formed the foundation of today's American Quarter Horse.

Early Americans closely associated themselves with the horse. Horse racing was their sport, horse trading their delight, and horse breeding, but a slight necessity, was in some respects their challenge. Consequently, the appearance of light, trim "blooded" horses in England had tremendous effect on American horsemen and horse breeding. Following the pattern set by the English for improvement of their racing stock by infusing a generous amount of Oriental blood, settlers in the eastern colonies brought in horses of Barb, Arabian, and Turk breeding.

lmportations of Paint Horses were relatively few and were for the most part of the Hackney and French Coach lines, which were by and large indirectly descended from the early English Thoroughbred foundation sires, the Godolphin Barb, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk. The painted horses of this blood were showy animals with a natural gait, making them excellent harness horses.

By 1700 the sport of horse racing was well established and had spread throughout Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. In the beginning "short" races for distances up to a quarter-mile were popular among the plantation owners and backwoods settlers. As Thoroughbred horses entered the American scene, longer courses were laid out in major racing centers for racing "pedigreed" horses. The Thoroughbred became the gentleman's flat-racing breed, and the little Quarter Horse followed the western migration. In the cattle country of the American West the Quarter Horse met with the mustangs and Spanish cow horses. Their blood and qualities naturally blended well. By the time the Quarter Horse reached Texas in the middle 1800's, the Spanish horses had been working cattle for over three hundred years. The mingling of the blood of the eastern Quarter Horse and the Spanish cow horse created a western stock horse with the physical stamina of the mustang, the flesh and muscle of the Quarter Horse, and the cow sense and fighting bull sense of the Spanish cow horse. The racing blood from the Quarter Horse proved to be just what was needed to produce the dependable cow horse that virtually "won" the west. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the western stock horse was an "all-purpose horse" who could do his work handling vast herds of cattle and in his spare time run a matched race at one of the local brush tracks. And where was the Paint Horse when the western stock horse was born? He was hazing cattle out of the mesquite thickets, bringing up strays during the roundups, and taking part in the bulldoggings and calf ropings alongside his solid-colored brothers and sisters. Stock horses were of many bloodlines and of every color. The cowboy had his own curious names and preferences for certain horses. The dun horse that was a favorite among many was a buckskin with a dark dorsal stripe of brown or black. Horses of this color were called bayo coyotes, and some hands claimed them to be the toughest cow ponies. Another shade of dun was often referred to as a claybank, and another, a lightdun color, was a bayo blanco. A gray, freckled with black hair, was flea-bitten, a blue roan was a moro, and a mouse-colored, bluish-gray horse was a grullo. Bay horses were supposed to be the most dependable, while dun horses were supposed to be the best rope horses. Appaloosa horses that were white or light gray with dark spots over the entire body were called leopard horses or polka-dots, and all white horses were said to be albinos.

Because of his many varied coat colors and patterns, the Paint Horse probably has been called by more names than any other horse. Dating back to the earliest Paint Horses in Arabia, the Moslem called him a kanhwa, which meant blotched with white and chestnut or black. In India a Paint Horse was a pulwahri, meaning a white horse that "flowers" with black spots, and in Spanish his name was derived from the word pintado, meaning painted or mottled.

The cowboys applied such names as piebald, skewbald, calico, overo, spotted, pinto and old paint. Generally, piebald horses were black and white, calico horses were roan and white, and skewbald horses were bay, sorrel, or dun with white. Among the ranch hands there were mixed views on the ability of a Paint Horse. As in every breed there were superb performers and mediocre ones. Those who rode one, owned one, or worked one knew that most Paint Horses possessed action as quick as any horse of their time. They were willing to give credit where credit was due.

The Paint Horse could have suffered a serious decline in western America similar to that of the mustang, had it not been for a new form of entertainment involving horses that began in 1883-- the wild-West shows. For the next four decades enthusiastic crowds applauded the rip-roaring performances that toured the country bringing to easterners a new look at the West. The first exhibition of its kind was put together by the master showman William F. Cody, known worldwide as Buffalo Bill, for a Fourth of July celebration in his town, North Platte, Nebraska. By the turn of the century there was an abundance of shows performing nationwide. Next to Buffalo Bill's shows, the most successful in attracting customers in large numbers was probably the 101 Ranch Wild West Show.

These shows were designed to present to the American people the highlights and excitement of western life. Flashy horses, lndian races, trick riding and roping, sharp shooting, and dramatic events were magnificently displayed. Hundreds of horses, Quarter Horses, Paint Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Arabians, billed as bucking broncos, wild mustangs, Indian ponies, and military drill horses were utilized in the spectaculars. Indians demonstrating sports of the plains rode Paint Horses. The trick riders, standing on their heads or somersaulting, looked even more daring on a vivid Paint Horse. The Paint Horse added a touch of brilliance to these colorful affairs. For the thousands of annual performances western-reared horses were in great demand. Since they were put to specialized use, the stock horses were well selected for their intelligence, spirit, and color. Ranchers near the market cities, striving for improved Paint Horses, bred from good cow-country stock colorful animals that were valued as much for their intelligence and energy as for their color. Most blood of all kinds and description was tried out on the Paint Horse at one time or another. None, though, nicked as well as that of the Quarter Horse, and none used then, or since, has proved to be any more beneficial.

Each of the forty-odd wild-west shows added its own special features, sometimes bulldogging, calf roping, wild-cow milking, or steer wrestling. When the shows faded in the 1920's, one of the most spirited of American sports, the rodeo, came into national prominence. Rodeoing had begun years earlier among the cowboys after roundup. Annually in cow towns throughout the West at these roundups, stampedes, or rodeos the Paint Horse gained a new recognition for his terrific action, strength, and athletic ability. Paint Horses, whose ancestors a few generations back were applauded for their good performing ability in conveying the message of the wild-west Shows, were now cheered for bucking or cutting skills that brought to the arena a true frontier background. There is no denying the fact that the Paint Horse contributed his part to historic Americana extremely well.

by Glynn W. Haynes

from:http://www.paint-horse.com/html/history.html

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