Native Americans and Mystical Horses
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Native American ability to connect with animals spiritually inspires with its awesome simplicity. Native Americans weave strands of all life together in a tapestry that does not easily unravel.
Totems provided Native Americans with an understanding and a way to access protection and wisdom from the animal kingdom. Hunting became a spiritual experience as the hunter and hunted fought each other in a quest for survival. Upon conquering his prey, the hunter offered a blessing and expression of gratitude for food the animal provided.
Perhaps one of the most lasting impressions of how thoroughly and courageously humans and animals can blend their spirits and hearts came when Native Americans began their centuries-long relationship with horses.
Horses evolved on the Ameri–can continent about a million years ago into Equus caballus, an ancient ancestor to the modern-day horse. Archeological evidence suggests that horses migrated across land bridges to Europe and Asia. Ten thousand years ago, Equus went extinct in the western world but found its way into the deserts of the Middle East, the mountains of the Far East, and the jungles of Africa.
According to the Native American Newsletter “Buffalo Trails,” before horses were reintroduced to the Americas, there were rare sightings of a few of their ancestors. These became known as the Curlie Horse. The Sioux revered the Curlie Horse as mysterious or mystical.
In a review for New Mexico Magazine, November 1, 2006, Georgia Jones-Davis writes about the book, “A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Culture,” edited by George P. Corse Capture and Emil Her Many Horses. Jones-Davis says, “The story begins with Christopher Columbus, who brought 25 horses to North America on his second voyage in 1493. At first, the indigenous peoples were frightened of horses. Some cultures believed they were ‘sky dogs,’ monsters or messengers from the heavens.” Later in the 15th century, Spanish conquistadors brought thousands of horses with them back to Equus’ land of origination.
Ultimately Native Americans fell in love with Equus, domesticating horses and coming to rely on them for hunting, warfare, and moving from place to place over the vast plains of the Midwest and South. Historians believe that the Comanches first recognized how important horses could be to their survival and put them to the greatest use.
Paintings survive that show Native American warriors dressed for battle with their war ponies painted the same patterns and colors as their own faces and bodies. The horse and the man were as one, a formidable force adorned identically with symbols such as zigzag lines to represent lightning and circles around the eyes to improve both the horse’s and human’s vision.
The Native Americans found strength in horses and connected with them at deeply spiritual levels. It appears to have been destiny for them to take their relationships with horses beyond that of using animals merely as “beasts of burden” into one in which human and horse spirits joined as one.
The Spiritual Connection in Modern Times
A true story in our book “Angel Horses: Divine Messengers of Hope,” makes the point that the spiritual relationship between some Native Americans and their horses continues to inspire, even in today’s high-tech, materialistic world. In “The Heart of Whitehorse” by Sherril L. Green, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian from Menlo Park, CA, she encounters an aged Indian, Chief Cloudman, one cold and windy winter night. The chief had brought his stallion and lifelong companion, Whitehorse, to Dr. Green. Upon seeing the horse, Dr. Green immediately observed that a virulent cancer had riddled the horse’s body.
Through the course of her story, Dr. Green journeys from a somewhat jaded, worn-out veterinarian to one who is caught up in a drama that restores her respect for life and a desire to offer death with honor and dignity.
Dr. Green poignantly describes watching Chief Cloudman in the barn, saying good-bye to Whitehorse.
“The chief sat cross-legged in the corner of the stall. In his deep and trancelike voice, he sang a melancholy tune that I didn’t recognize. Whitehorse had his eyes closed, his head hung low. The sweat behind his ears and the way his nostrils flared indicated he was in pain. The two doses of analgesic I had given him earlier had done little to ease his discomfort. The chief rose and dusted the woodchip bedding off his jeans. ‘I am leaving. Whitehorse and I have said our good-byes.”
As Dr. Green delivered the final injection that would end Whitehorse’s suffering, she felt the spirit of this great being leave his body when his brave heart ceased beating. Whitehorse’s courage and Chief Cloudman’s spiritual bond with the horse reminded Dr. Green of the sanctity in witnessing the sacred moment when a soul passed from this life.
Just as Dr. Green began to fathom the profundity of this moment, all the horses in the barn — “the sick and ailing, the feeble newborns, and those ready to go home” began to whinny in a chorus of good-byes. They continued their tribute to Whitehorse for minutes and then settled into silence.
Her experience that blustery night brought Dr. Green into a serene circle of love and respect that Chief Cloudman and Whitehorse had formed with each other. It brought tranquility and peace to her heart.
Interestingly, it was Dr. Green’s story from “Angel Horses” that a respected international veterinary magazine requested to reprint in one of its issues. We marveled at how Chief Cloudman and Whitehorse would now be the bearers of blessings not only to Dr. Green. Upon its publication this heart-opening story could soothe the spirits and raise the consciousness of veterinarians all over the world. It could be a seed that grows into the precious bloom of compassion as veterinarians fulfill their sacred responsibility of respectfully ending an animal’s life.
Thank you, Chief Cloudman. Thank you, Whitehorse. Thank you, Dr. Green.
Begun long ago by the indigenous people, our journeys toward greater connection with the Great Spirit continue to transcend this earthly realm.