People, Horses Standing Strong Together

5 September 2020

A Long History of Collaborative Relationships Between People and Horses


We acknowledge and pay our respects to first nations custodians past, present and future.


Horses and people have an ancient bond, based in part on our shared innate mammalian capacity to care for one another and to form compassionate, loving and caring social bonds.  


New evidence has come to light that demonstrates for tens of thousands of years people and horses have shared enduring, cooperative and uniquely collaborative relationships.


Modern research leads us to conclude that horses are not a domesticated species as was once thought.  Horses and people have a long history of commensal (mutually beneficial) relationships, and it is apparent that horses as a species made decisions to connect with and befriend people.


When you want to connect with your horse and feel frustrated, take a moment to remember that you and your horse are already connected.
How does it feel to be connected with your horse?

Consider how being connected with your horse influences your behaviour when riding,

training, working, playing or hanging out with your horse.?


I would like to introduce the ground breaking body of work by Dr Yvette Running Horse Collin, a Lakota/Nakota/Cheyenne scholar and journalist, detailing the long history of collaborative relationships between horses and people.


Dr Collin documents horse-human connections in the Americas, spanning at least 15,000 years.  The research more than doubles the time frame of the previously accepted history of people and horses.


Dr Collin has written a detailed PhD Dissertation, “The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”. She has followed up the PhD Dissertation in a recently published book of the same name.


Her work combines historical, archaeological and palaeontological findings of sustained horse and human relationships and cohabitation focused in North America dating back at least 15,000 years.  

She shares Indigenous oral histories, discussing horse origin and horse acquisition stories from various Nations across North America.  People share their stories of how horses came to be with people.  

In a recent interview, Dr Collin says she was “asked by elders from different Native nations to set the record straight.”         


In her dissertation,  Dr Collin goes on to say, “horses have been with people from the beginning…for all time”.  Horses lived with people for thousands of years in North America and the Americas, long before the European colonisers came with their horses from Europe.


In a Nutshell:

  • Horses and Indigenous Peoples of North America have had strong and continuous, cooperative relationships.  Fossil records of human and horse cohabitation in North America date back at least 15,000 years.  Fossil records confirm horses survived the last Ice Age, the Wisconsin Glaciation in North America, between 12,000 - 10,000 years ago, and horses have lived continuously in North America and the Americas before, during and after the last Ice Age.
  • Dr Collin’s research rewrites the narrative of people and horses, specifically rewriting the history of people in the Americas, pre and post colonisation.  She shares a history of the sophisticated culture and traditions of the Indigenous Peoples of North America, detailing a strong horse culture.
  • Oral histories and Creation stories illustrate how horses and people have always been together in a spiritual sense, and how they formed sustained cooperative and collaborative relationships.
  • Horses are a species native to the Americas, in particular to North America.  Horses are not a feral species to North America as currently classified.  This has serious implications for how wild horse herds and captive horse herds are managed in the USA.
  • Horses were present in the Americas as wild herds and in connection with Indigenous people long before and during the period the European colonisers arrived in Central and North America. 
  • The Spanish did not reintroduce the horse to the Americas.  Evidence of people having a strong and sophisticated horse culture was apparent to the early Spanish colonisers.  Records of these observations and encounters were documented in the official and personal correspondence to Spain.
  • Evidence of people and horses having highly developed and enduring relationships is well documented in Gloria Farley’s work, “In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America” and in numerous other works referred to by Dr Collin.  Horses surviving the Ice Age is documented in Joseph Leidy and Robert Gibbes’s 1847 work, “On the Fossil Horse of  America” and in more contemporary works. 


What does this mean?
People and horses have in-depth knowledge of one another.  Horses and people have the unique capacity to form collaborative relationships with one another, to help each other, to co-regulate (synchronise) with one another, and to keep each other safe.

Each person can learn to listen to their horse.  Horses are always communicating.  Our task is to listen, to pay attention and act appropriately.

When you are with your horse, take a moment to reflect on the fact that people and horses have an ancient bond, based on caring for one another.

As Dr Collin’s research filters throughout the horse community, into the wider community, we will learn much more about the complexities of the horse-human relationship and develop our horse and people skills.

My deepest appreciation to Dr Collin for her years of research and writing, and to the elders and custodians for sharing their oral history and traditional knowledge about their sophisticated, deep and long lived connections with horses.


The Sacred Way Sanctuary is an organisation committed to research, education and the preservation of the remaining Indigenous Native American horses in North America.


For information about the Sacred Way Sanctuary, about the Indigenous Native American horse, to access Dr Collin’s publications or to support their efforts visit:


For further information on listening to your horse, refer to the EPR Drum Blog  “Listening”.  

The next blog will be about the nervous system and applying the Poly Vagal Theory (the science of creating safe social bonds) to our work with horses.

Zarna Carter can be contacted at:
Johnston L.J. Yes world, there were horses in Native culture before the settlers came. (Indian Country Today) July 3, 2019.
Parks S. The Shared History of Wild Horses and Indigenous People. (Yes Magazine) April 27, 2020.
Porges S. W. The Poly Vagal Theory - Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotional Attachment Communication Self-Regulation. (Norton) 2011.
Running Horse Collin Y. “The Relationship Between the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the Horse: Deconstructing a Eurocentric Myth”. PhD Dissertation in Indigenous Studies, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. (University of Alaska) May 2017.

My thanks to Kylie Mc Martin, Ea Mulligan and Elizabeth White for editorial assistance.

Copyright © Zarna Carter 2020