They are beautiful and we love to watch or read stories about them… but why are Pryor Mountain Horses so different?
Let’s go back in time to before the conquistadors’ arrived in America…
It was said by Roman authorities that the Spanish horses were the world’s best; though after the time of the Romans innumerable crosses with brood stock from other countries, has made the homogeneous Spanish horse group of whatever type exceedingly rare. One circumstance, however, the occupation of the Americas significantly furthered the preservation of the purity of blood of the indigenous Colonial Spanish horse.
These small Spanish horses with its Iberian breeding could sustain the cold and humidity of winter in the Iberian woods along the rivers, were accustomed to the north wind; the dryness of summer with its south wind from estrammadura, Alentejo, and Andaluz; having endured temperatures from well below zero to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun of open country, without shade or shelter; having lived only on plants that were few and rotten in the winter, straw dry in the summer, have undergone intestinal worms, parasites, and flies that kill Arabian and English horses; and having worked hard and patiently in the hands of man; in all seasons, with all weights; they furnished the Spaniards with their best instrument for the occupation of the Americas.
While extinct on their native homeland, and the Carribean, and although rare, there is still to be found, in this America of the North, small numbers of the ancient Colonial Spanish horse…
Although horses evolved and are native in North America, (fossil records prove they are a native species!) when Spanish soldiers invaded in the 1500s, horses had been extinct in the Americas for thousands of years.
When re-introduced, the Spanish horses must have seemed like monsters to the Native Americans. The Spanish made the most of this advantage by spreading rumors that horses were magical beasts.
The Incas were not allowed to ride horses for centuries after the Spanish occupation began. The Spaniards wanted to keep the power of horses for themselves—and with good reason. When Native peoples acquired horses in Chile, Argentina and across the US Great Plains, they quickly became superior riders and used them to fight off the European invaders for years.
Now lets skip to the year 1806…
The Lewis & Clark Expedition (1803-1806)
In 1806, the Expedition was on its way back home from the Oregon Coast. By summer they had entered the Yellowstone/Montana area. They had picked up Spanish horses from the Natives along the way…
Clark had seen smoke when they were traveling down the Yellowstone Valley and thought it was from Crow villages. Clark had prepared a speech to give to the Crow. He never met with the Crow to give this talk.
During the night of July 21, 1806, twenty-four (about 1/2) of their horses where stolen. When the camp awoke that morning they searched for the missing horses and did not find them. The next day tracks were found going east and moving fast, Clark then surmised that the Crow had taken the horses. (The Crow captured horses as a feat of honor. One of the four things a person had to do to become a Crow Chief was to Capture a horse from within an enemy’s camp. They did not consider horse thievery a dishonorable thing to do.)
East of the Yellowstone Valley lays the Arrowhead Mountains, known for its flint rock. Within these mountains is the Pryor Mountain area, named after Sergeant Pryor.
Clark had canoes built and parted with Sergeant Pryor on July 23rd. That prior evening, Pryor met with Clark at the mouth of the Clarks Fork River and told Clark he needed more help to drive the remaining horses as they wanted to chase buffalo and he could not control them. The next morning Pryor and three men left with the horses to take them to the Mandan. On the second night out from the Rochejhone River, Pryor camped on a dry creek and awoke in the morning to find that all the horses were missing. After a search, he concluded that the Crow Indians had captured the remainder of the horses that were to be taken to the Mandan. He then traveled down this dry creek to the Yellowstone River just below Pompeys Pillar and concluded that Clark had already gone down river.
When Clark had re-visited the pillar he noted that there was Indian art on the rock near where he carved his name.
Lewis & Clark were in Crow Country and they had lost about 50 horses.
No one knows just exactly how or when the Spanish Wild Horses began living on the Pryor Mountain area, it is however, a very likely possibility they are of the Lewis & Clark Expedition Horses!
The Pryor Horses still show many traits of the old Spanish breeding including; zebra-like stripes on the legs, across the shoulders, or a dark dorsal stripe down the spine.
Much of the original colors are found there too including; dun, gruella, black, brown, roan, & buckskin. Recently, DNA tests confirm these horses trace back to the Colonial Spanish Horses with a rare gene.
Because of the remoteness and ruggedness of the Pryor Mountain area, and having very few ‘white men’ inhabiting the area, (thus also keeping very little developement out of the area) has mostly kept other European horses out of the area.
In most of the other Wild Horse Ranges scattered throughout the Western US, the hardy Colonial Spanish horses have been mixed with various other breeds that have escaped or were released into the wild by farmers, travelers, & military.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the history of the little Spanish Wild Horses and why the Pryor Horses are so unique!