The horse, as we know it, is not indigenous to North America. All horses that are found in America, except those that have been brought into the country within the last few years, are offspring of imported stock. Since the imported animals from which our horses are derived were of widely different characteristics and have been kept under radically different climatic, food and use conditions, the offspring have presented until recently few fixed and distinguishing characteristics. Especially has this been the case when the imported stock or their full-blood offspring were mixed with the nondescript1 females which often contained the mixed blood of several breeds or varieties differing radically in size, color and disposition. This unintelligent mixing of several unlike breeds with mixed-blooded animals, combined with unwise selection, has produced horses devoid of marked or specialized qualities. While there are modern methods practiced to a limited extent where the breeding of horses is pursued along scientific lines, so that the specialized qualities of parents are perpetuated with some degree of certainty, yet most of the horses bred in America are of mixed origin; that is, they trace their genealogy to nearly as many breeds, subbreeds, nondescripts and varieties as they have American ancestors. Hence, in the rural districts we see many inferior horses - horses of varied colors, conformation, temper, size and degrees of usefulness. Some are worth ten times as much as others, yet the least valuable cost as much for maintenance and nearly as much for rearing as the animals that sell for the higher prices. This brief outline of the method in the breeding of the general horse of America may in part serve to explain the discussions that follow.
1An animal of mixed and unknown ancestry.
All the wild horses of modern times are, without doubt, the offspring of those which escaped from domestication in earlier centuries. Those of the Volga, the steppes of northern Asia, and those of the northern districts of China are supposed to be the offspring of horses liberated at the siege of Azof, 1657; those of Texas, of horses abandoned by DeSoto (1539-1542), or possibly of those turned loose at the time the Spaniards retired from Buenos Ayres and which were the foundation of the wild horses of South America. It is scarcely probable, however, that those liberated in South America would wander from a district where pasture was abundant and the climate mild, northward through the swamps of the tropical isthmus into Texas. It may be concluded then, that the wild horses of North and South America sprang from two distinct groups, both of which were of Spanish blood. No fossil remains of the modern horse have been discovered either in America, Australia or the islands of the Pacific. It may, therefore, be concluded that the horse as now known was not indigenous to those countries. On the other hand, fossil remains of the horse of supposed extreme antiquity have been discovered in Great Britain, in the Kirkdale cave in Yorkshire, as well as in other caves, mingled with the bones of the elephant, rhinoceros, ox and tiger, and it is therefore presumed that horses were abundant in Great Britain at an early period.
The first importation of horses to this country was made by Columbus in 1493. These all perished. A second importation, forty-two in number, was made in 1527; a third was made by DeSoto in 1540. However, Cortez landed sixteen horses in Mexico, in 1519.l In 1608, the French horse was brought to Canada, and in 1629 the Dutch horse to New York. The Dutch horse was round, short-legged and might properly be classed as a farm- or light draft-horse. These horses soon spread into Pennsylvania, and later were probably crossed with the English draft - horse. The progeny soon formed a somewhat distinctive type, developing into a distinct variety known as the Conestoga. This comparatively light draft-horse, bred primarily for freighting heavy merchandise across the mountains and over primitive roads, was, notwithstanding his lightness, as compared with the modern draft-horse, well adapted to the pioneer's farm, where much work required patience, strength and hardiness. It is unfortunate that some genius did not, by selection and inbreeding, improve and preserve this nascent variety of animals until its valuable dualities had become fixed and potent. Here was the foundation ready to be moulded by the hand of the scientific breeder into a permanent breed. This variety of horses had been in the country long enough to become thoroughly acclimated and adapted to environment, and had been used for draft purposes from the first; and therefore its conformation had become especially adapted to draft purposes, and this, too, without becoming a sluggish, spiritless mountain of flesh. Unfortunately, this variety has become extinct or has merged into other draft types. The Canadian horses, many of which have found their way into the States, were also originally of the draft or semi-draft type, though not so large as the draft-horse of modern times. In recent years, however, the importations from Canada have been principally grade thoroughbreds for saddle, and light-harness horses. Formerly many heavy-draft horses were imported. However, in recent years the importations have fallen off. The French-Canadians imported horses from Normandy and Brittany, a warmer climate than that to which they were taken. The progeny, as might have been expected, lost something in weight, increased in thickness and length of hair, improved in texture of bone, and acquired more spirit than their ancestors. It may be said that these native-bred horses became well adapted in time to the needs of a cold, wooded, new country. Hardy, strong, alert, long-lived - it is unfortunate both for the Dominion and the States that the type has been lost by admixture, on the one hand, with the heavy draft type, and, on the other, with the blood of the light roadster, or thoroughbred.
1 Conquest of Mexico, Prescott, Vol. I, page 218.