top of page
  • bmiltonhyde

Pale Horse Revelations - #39 Horse "Power"

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

In last week's edition we looked at the tools and equipment used by cowboys in the Old West. We started with the cowboy's most valuable asset, his horse. But we barely scratched the surface. With that in mind I want to revisit the topic in more detail in this week's edition. It's only fitting given the importance of the horse not only to the settlers moving into the frontier but also to the many indigenous Native American tribes. So, let's take a closer look together.

As we learned last week, equines had disappeared from the North American continent prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Although Christopher Columbus is credited for reintroducing horses to the Americas when he arrived in 1493, it was Cortes who brought the first horses to the North American mainland in 1519. Subsequent explorers brought increasingly larger numbers with them. many of these later horses came from breeding facilities established by the Spanish in the Caribbean.

The animals proliferated and spread throughout the southeast and western United States. These animals were the ancestral stock of a breed known today as the Colonial Spanish Horse. After 1850 crossbreeding with larger horse breeds resulted in the dilution of the Spanish features. At some point significant numbers of horses strayed, or became lost or stolen, and proliferated into large herds of feral horses. These would eventually become known as the American Mustang. While they were often referred to as wild horses they were not, in fact, wild because they had once been domesticated or descended from domesticated breeds.

It is uncertain exactly when or how Native American tribes obtained horses. It is generally agreed that capture of stray horses during the sixteenth century was unlikely due to the need to simultaneously acquire the knowledge and skills required to ride and manage them. Most scholars agree that it is unlikely that native tribes acquired horses in significant numbers to become a horse culture prior to 1630. The Comanche are traditionally believed to be the first tribe to obtain and successfully use horses. By 1742 the Crow and Blackfeet tribes had followed suite. Horses became an integral part of Native American culture. This is particularly true of the Plains Indians who viewed horses as a source of wealth and used them for travel, hunting, and warfare.

Another reason that I chose to delve into this topic is the unique vocabulary that arose to describe both the physical characteristics and temperament of horses. Some of this vocabulary found its way into my debut novel and will almost certainly find its way into subsequent entries in the Pale Rider series. As such, I thought it worthwhile to give readers some advance knowledge of basic terms related to horses.

Horses generally live anywhere from twenty-five to thirty years. There are a host of terms used to describe horses of different ages. A foal is a horse of either sex that is less than one year old. A yearling is a horse of either sex that is between one or two years old. Colts are male horses under the age of four and a filly is a female horse under the age of four. A mare is a female horse over four years old and a stallion is a male horse over four years old. A gelding is a castrated male horse of any age.

Horse height is measured in hands. One hand is the equivalent of four inches. Those who have read my debut novel may recall that the protagonist's horse is described as being eighteen hands high. This means that Diablo stands seventy-two inches, or six feet, tall. Height is measured from a horse's withers (the point where the neck meets the back) because it is a stable point of the anatomy as opposed to the head or neck which move in relation to the horse's body.

Horse sizes vary by breed. Generally, light riding horses stand fourteen to sixteen hands high and weigh between 840 and 1,210 pounds. Larger breeds of riding horses stand fifteen to seventeen hands high and weigh between 1,100 and 1,320 pounds. Heavy draft horses range from sixteen to eighteen hands high and weigh between 1,540 and 2,200 pounds.

While there is great variety in coat color and markings among horses the two basic colors are chestnut and black. A single gene determines which of these colors is dominant. Other genes control suppression of the black color and can result in a reddish-brown coat called a bay, or spotted patterns referred to as pinto and leopard. Dilution genes can result in palomino, dun, or gray horses. Truly white horses, those born with a predominantly white hair coat and pink skin, are extremely rare. Most horses referred to as white are actually a middle-aged or older gray. Gray horses are typically born a darker shade and lighten as they age. They are distinguished from truly white horses by having black skin beneath their hair coat.

All horses move with four basic gaits. First is the four-beat walk which averages 4.0mph. Next is the two-beat trot which averages 8.1-11.8mph. The canter is a three-beat gait that averages 12-15mph. Finally, there is the gallop which averages speeds of 25-30mph.

Horses are herd animals with a clear hierarchy of rank. The herd is typically led by a dominant mare. As herd animals they are social creatures and can form attachments to their own species and to other animals, including humans. In fact, horses do not fare well in isolation often developing behavioral issues as a result. Horses are generally intelligent animals. They excel at simple learning but are also capable of more advanced cognitive abilities that involve categorization and concept learning.

There are far too numerous terms related to horse anatomy to cover in the scope of this article. However, the illustration below should help with basic terms.

For most of us the terms warm-blooded and cold-blooded are related to whether an animal is capable of generating its own body heat. But these terms have a different meaning in the horse world. In relation to horses, they are used to describe temperament rather than body temperature. Hot-bloods, such as many racing breeds, exhibit more energy and sensitivity while cold-bloods, such as draft horses, tend to be calmer and quieter.

Hot-blood breeds include Arabians, Barbs, and Thoroughbreds. They tend to be spirited, bold, and learn quickly. They are bred for speed and agility. Physically they tend to be thin skinned, slim, and long-legged.

Heavy draft horses are cold-blooded in temperament. They are bred not only for strength but also tend to exhibit a calm and patient demeanor that is requisite for pulling plows or carriages. Two of the most well-known cold-blooded breeds are the Belgian and the Clydesdale.

In between these two are the warm-bloods. These breeds developed when European carriage or war horses were crossed with Arabians or Thoroughbreds. Such crossbreeding produced a riding horse that was larger in size but with a milder temperament than lighter breeds. The most common warm-bloods are the Trakehner and Hanoverian.

While there is still much more that we could cover related to these magnificent animals, this brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page