Nokota story – 2

This is the second part of the story. Eventually it will dismount by the Nokota horse of today, but as mentioned in the first part, it is a long story even in this short format.

Pre Columbian visitors from Scandinavia

In trying to find the roots of the Nokota horse there are more than one path to follow. The Scandinavian Vikings sailed from Iceland and Greenland to Newfoundland in North America (or Vinland as they called it) several times a thousand years ago and even set up settlements and stayed several years with their families, that is proven beyond doubt. Vikings often brought horses on their ships, but whether they did so on their voyages to Vinland is unknown; yet another loose end.

However, the fact is that when the Spanish conquistadors brought horses to America, it took only two hundred years until the horses roamed every corner of the continent. If the Vikings brought horses a thousand years ago, one may expect there to be plenty of horses in America when the Spaniards got there, but there wasn’t, at least not in the south. It took many years before the north was explored though and the origin of the wild horses that were found by then can’t be certain. Anyway, no horse fossil has been found to prove there were horses in America when the Spaniards arrived, or even 11 000 years earlier. Again it cannot be absolutely certain because it took centuries to explore all corners of North and South America. The ruins of the Inca city Machu Pichu was not rediscovered until 1911, so how easy would it be to find a bone fragment from a horse?

If the Vikings could bring horses by ship to Iceland all the way from Scandinavia, the much shorter trip from Greenland to Newfoundland could not have been impossible. Maybe the fact that the Vikings did not succeed to stay settled in Vinland is proof enough that they didn’t bring horses, because with horses like the Scandinavian horses that now live in Iceland, how could they fail? We can only presume that it was unlikely that horses emigrated from Scandinavia to North America, but we actually do not know.

Iberian immigrants

If we then take another horse leap forward to the 23rd of September 1493 as seventeen ships with 1 200 men departed from the port of Cadiz in Spain, we know for certain that on board some of these ships were the first horses from Spain to set foot, not on the American continent but, on the islands of West Indies. They founded the first breeding business on the island of Hispaniola (Cuba).

In February 1519 Hernan Cortez landed his 11 ships at the shores of today’s Mexico with 16 known and documented horses and 500 men. The Spanish conquest, or hostile invasion depending on the point of view, of the American continent required lots of good horses.

In Spain only the best horses were tough enough to endure the six to eight weeks long voyage across the Atlantic under unimaginable miserable conditions. The horses were suspended in cinch rugs below deck, were fed bad damped hay and the supply of fresh water was limited. Yet the tough horses could walk of the ships by their own feet.

The Iberian or Andalusian horse is a mixture of the Barb (desert war horses ridden by the North African Moors when they invaded Spain in the eight century), the Arabian full blood, and heavier built north European horses like the Norse dun. In those days the breed registers were not as formal as today and breeding horses were chosen more by individual standards than formal, so there was more a question of horse type than horse breed. The Spanish horses were highly valued all over Europe and they were used to develop many other horse breeds.

The amount of horses that were shipped to the new world was so substantial that the supply of good horses in Spain soon became a problem and the horse stud farms in the new world could not produce enough horses, so they turned to North Africa and began shipping pure Barb horses as well. Eventually these horses roamed the whole continent.

This horse is called the Spanish Colonial type and today it is very rare. In fact it is the only now living horse that resembles the horses from the Spanish golden days. It lives on in scattered herds all around North America, some of them are found among the Nokotas.

In Europe the Spanish horse has since long changed significantly due to manmade breeding programs. The only exception is the Sorraia horse in Portugal. We’ll return to the Spanish Colonial horse in the next part of this story.

Other European horse immigrants

Later settlements arose in the east coast of North America, mainly British and French but other European countries also set up colonies, like the New Sweden that was founded 1638 in present day Delaware and part of Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland. They all brought different horses like British Thoroughbred and Shire, French Percheron, and other mostly heavier work horses enough versatile to pull ploughs, timber and wagons. Sometimes they were crossbred with Spanish Colonial horses in the area, intentionally and unintentionally.

The Percheron is one of the breeds that have influenced the Nokota horse, more or less. The Percheron was brought by the French to Canada and has an equally thrilling history as the Spanish Colonial horse. As early as one million years ago there lived a big sturdy wild horse in northern Scandinavia and by the end of the latest ice age that wild horse flourished in the emerging grasslands of northern Europe, its name was Skogshaesten or Equus Ferus Germanicus. It had a thick waterproof coat and big strong hooves perfect for summer wetlands and winter snow crust. The tail and mane was long and the coat colors were mostly black or brown often dappled, that we know from archeological findings. It is likely that the Percheron has one of its roots in this horse. So either way the Nokota horses most likely do have some Scandinavian roots somehow.

Another horse that influenced the Percheron was almost certainly the Boulonnais; the Roman horse that carried the Romans as they once swept over Europe and invaded Britain. The horse was a crossbreed of North African horses and French cold bloods. Barb, Arabian and Andalusian blood was added to the breed when the north African Moors were defeated by the French at the battle of Poitiers. Later in history more Arabs, Andalusians and also Thoroughbreds has been added.

When the Percheron came to North America in the early 19th century it was used as a farm and draft horse but also as a riding horse. In France the Percheron later changed towards a heavy agricultural breed, which is the type that exists today in France.

The Canadian Percheron has a calm intelligent temperament, but active and eager to work. The stride is low but long and free. Because of all oriental influence the horse is very elegant in spite of its size (17 to 18 hands high and 1600-2400 pounds). Coat colors are mostly black and greys, sometimes bay, sorrel and brown. They have no thick feathered fetlocks and the coat is relatively thin compared to other cold bloods, not a particular extreme winter horse.

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