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Were horses in North America before Europeans arrived?
Even in media that is Native American friendly, or aware, I too often see a misconception being perpetuated. One that gives the wrong impression about the existence of the horse in North America.
The horse was indeed native to North America but went extinct about ten thousand plus years ago during the last stages of Earth's most recent Ice Age period. Still, the existence of ancient Native Americans and the horse overlapped in North America for about ten to twenty thousand years. As it turns out, each could not have avoided the other as both used a narrow land bridge to migrate between North America and Asia.
The earliest species to become the modern horse (Eohippus) evolved in North America and then migrated to Europe some forty-five million years ago. The land masses of North America and Eurasia were essentially connected then. The earliest origin of the horse is "native" to North America only, nowhere else in the world.
From North America, the modern horse (Equus caballus) migrated into Asia about 2.5 million years ago via a Bering land bridge that once connected Alaska with Asia. This off and on again Ice Age land bridge is the same route Native Americans used to reach North America from Asia about 20 to 30,000 years ago. Once in Asia, North American versions of the horse spread into Europe.
Even though it was then brought back into North America by Spanish explorers at about 1500 CE, the belief that Native Americans did not know about and had "never set eyes on a horse" before the arrival of Europeans is very entirely incorrect. To be absolutely clear in a word, it is "wrong". Please stop saying that.
This often asked question is important to Native Americans and Native America with regard to both horse and human. Upon seeing the horse again after so many thousands of years Native Americans felt an immediate connection and spiritual kinship that continues to this day.
J Alan Jones