American Indian Horse

American Indian Horse

HEIGHT: 13–16 hands

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Throughout North America

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Tough and durable; features vary according to tribal and family lines


The history of the American Indian Horse is the history of the American West. These animals transformed entire indigenous cultures into swift nomadic hunters and fearsome warriors. They were used as warhorses, racehorses, and stock horses, as well as beasts of burden. They truly changed the face of the nation.

Domestic horses first arrived in the New World with the Spanish in 1493.

After a mere fifteen years, Spanish breeders were so successful on the islands of the Caribbean that they stopped importing horses from Spain and began exporting them to Central America, Mexico, and, by 1560, directly to Florida.

Initially the indigenous peoples were awed by the sight of men on horses, variously fearing them and believing them to be gods. Very quickly, however, they came to understand the nature and the potential of horses, and from that time on the history of the Americas was changed.

Both the Spanish and later the English colonists so feared what would happen if Indians acquired horses that in the very early days laws were written to prevent Native Americans from owning or riding horses and to prevent anyone from selling horses to them. Over time, however, horses were lost and stolen and feral herds became common, so Indians soon had a ready supply.

All the tribes that would become horsemen were mounted by 1710. Plains Indians, especially the Kiowa and Comanche, became some of the finest mounted warriors in the history of the world. Some tribes established systematic breeding herds in an effort to improve the quality of their horses.

One Overall Breed

The American Indian Horse is the name now given to all Indian horses. At one time many individual tribes had types of horses they preferred, but when the tribes were decimated, their horses were largely lost. In order to preserve these horses, the American Indian Horse Registry researched the conformation and combined the remaining tribal lines of horses into one all-encompassing breed.

Nevertheless, there are still breeders who select horses only from particular tribal lines. One of the most famous of the very early Indian horses was the Chickasaw horse from the Southeast. The genes of these extraordinarily tough little horses were certainly passed on to the Florida Cracker and to the earliest Quarter-Pathers, the ancestors of our Quarter Horses. Excellent Chickasaw horses still exist, but today’s breed is something of a re-creation of the original since the old lines have been lost.

Breed Characteristics

The typical Indian horse carries strongly Spanish traits. It has always been small and tough, with great endurance, yet each of the tribes preferred and developed particular qualities in their horses.

The Indian Horse has heavy bone over the eyes, and the forehead narrows quickly to the poll.

With typical Spanish traits, the Indian horse has an angled croup, a low tail set, and a heavy neck.


The Indian horse can range from 13 to 16 hands and weigh 700 to 1,000 pounds, although most are in the 14.2- to 15-hand range. Horses should be well made, with excellent feet and legs. The head and body demonstrate Spanish characteristics—notably heavy, dense bone relative to the size of the horse, a short back and a long underline, a well-laid-back shoulder, a sloping croup with a low tail set, and a fairly short, often arched and somewhat heavy neck.

Indian horses have long, sloping pasterns and solid, well-constructed hooves of great density. Typical of Spanish horses, they do not show any tendency toward small feet relative to their size.


According to the American Indian Horse Registry (established in 1961):

• There are 3,605 horses currently registered.

• About 75 new foals are registered each year.

Heavy bone over the eye and a broad forehead that narrows quickly to a point on the skull are typical. The ears may be either short or long but never broad and wide, and may be hooked at the tips. The profile is usually convex or straight, but a slight dish is sometimes evident. The eyes are large and may be any known color that occurs in horses, including brown, blue, green, gray, hazel, or amber.


Virtually every color known to the horse appears in this breed, including Appaloosa patterns, pinto coloration (both the overo and tobiano patterns), palominos, roans, grullas, and all solid colors.

The ears of the Indian horse are often hooked at the tips (left), and individuals appear in every possible color.


The American Indian Horse Registry collects, records, and preserves the pedigrees of American Indian Horses. There are five classifications of registration.

• Class O horses preserve original bloodlines of Native American tribes. Class O horses registered since 1979 trace bloodlines back to various American Indian tribes and families.

• Class AA horses are at least 50 percent Class O by breeding or are of exceptional O type. Bureau of Land Management horses may qualify for AA classification. To qualify as AA by inspection, a horse must be at least four years of age.

• Class A horses are horses of unknown pedigree but of Indian Horse type. At age four, Class A horses are eligible for inspection and may be passed on to Class AA type. Bureau of Land Management and grade horses may qualify for a registration.

• Class M horses include breeding of modern type. They may have parents that are registered Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, or others. The parentage is noted on the registration.

• Class P registers ponies of Indian Horse type. Eligible ponies include those with Galiceno, Pony of the Americas, or others in their pedigrees. Ponies of unknown registry may also qualify.

• No horse or pony showing draft horse breeding will be registered.

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