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Horse and Hunter

“Working together, hunter and horse raced to cut the bull from the herd and galloped close up on its left side. As his mount matched the bull stride for stride, the hunter pulled an arrow from his quiver and notched it on his bow. His horse needed no guidance now –it galloped steadily at the buffalo’s side, just in back of the head, so the hunter could aim for the crucial spot behind the rib cage.” From The Horse and the Plains Indians: a powerful partnership by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

Patent knows her young readers are intelligent, and offers details that will hold attention and satisfy curiosity, without romanticizing those bygone times.Photographer William Munoz provides basic images that accompany the text without taking over, and a good selection of old photographs and paintings rounds out the history. As with many books published for “children,” this one is of interest to adults as well. The last sections cover the tragic era of white westward expansion, and horses in the lives of Native Americans today.

The Spanish brought horses to the New World for the first time in 1519, and within 250 years most of the Plains Indian groups had transformed into horse nations. They became completely involved with horses, as transport, as warriors, as strong spirits. For thousands of years before that, the dog had been the beast of burden, dragging the trailing poles of a travois with heavy supplies, skins and poles for tipis, and bundles of household goods, from camp to camp. As the skills to handle and use horses spread, people could travel farther faster, to trade or to a new campsite, or to scout out the enemy. Horses became a symbol of wealth, of inheritance, of celebration.

The ancestors of the horse were originally here in the Americas. They became extinct only about 7500 years ago, but by then they had traveled to other parts of the globe via the land that existed between what are now Siberia and Alaska. Long, long afterwards, domesticated horses, ridden by Spaniards clanking with armor, came ashore again, to change the lives of the native peoples forever.

Jared Diamond, in his book Guns, Germs and Steel, proposes that the presence of large domesticable animals made huge differences in the development of cultures. In North America, bears, moose, pronghorn or buffalo do not domesticate. Dogs can do just so much. When the horses came along, the native peoples lost no time figuring out how get and use them. It was clear to the conquerors that this was giving power to the enemy, and much effort went into keeping horses out of the hands of the locals, but there was no stopping it.

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