Sunday, September 22, 2013

Col. Dodge - the American Bronco

American historian, traveller and military man, Col. Theodore Ayrault Dodge wrote many interesting books  - the list from modern equivalent of  Alexandrine library collection -; and from his book 'Riders of Many Lands' comes a description of a bronco or horse of the US plains before coming of the Quarter Horse et al.
Well, let us read:


''There is no horse superior to the bronco for endurance; 
few are his equals. His only competitor in the equine 
race is his lowly cousin, the ass, of whom I shall say much 
anon. The bronco came by his toughness and grit natu- 
rally enough; he got them from the Spanish stock of 
Moorish descent*, the individuals of which breed, aban- 
doned in American wilds in the sixteenth century by the 
early searchers for gold and for the Fountain of Youth, 
were his immediate ancestors; and his hardy life has, by 
survival of the fittest, increased this endurance tenfold. 
He is not handsome. 
His middle-piece is distended by grass food; it is so loosely 
joined to his quarters that one can scarcely understand where
he gets his weight-carrying capacity, and his hip is very short. 
He has a hammer-head, partly due to the pronounced ewe-neck
which all plains or steppes horses seem to acquire by 
their nomad life. He has a bit too much daylight under him, which 
shows his good blood as well as the fact that he has had 
generations of sharp and prolonged running to do. His 
legs are naturally perfect, rather light in muscle and slen- 
der in bone, but the bone is dense, the muscle of strong 
quality, and the sinews firm. Still, in an Indian's hands 
his legs finally give way at the knees from sharp stopping 
with a gag-bit, and curbs will start on his houghs [hocks], for a 
redskin will turn on a ten-cent piece. 
The pony is naturally quick, but his master wants him to be quicker. His hunting and all his sports require work which 
outdoes polo. One form of racing is to place two long 
parallel strips of buffalo-hide on the ground at an interval 
of but a few feet,and, starting from a distance, to ride up
to these strips, ross the first, turn between the two, and 
gallop back to the starting-point. A fraction of a second 
lost on a turn loses the race.
Until one thinks of what it means, a twentieth part
of a second is no great loss. But take two horses of equal speed
in a hurdle race with twenty obstacles. One pauses at each 
hurdle just one-twentieth of a second; the other flies his
hurdles with-out a pause. This lost second means that he 
will be forty- five feet behind at the winning-post — four 
good lengths. Another Indian sport is to ride up to a log 
hung horizon- tally and just high enough to allow the pony 
but not the rider to get under, touch it, and return. 
If the pony is stopped too soon, the Indian loses time 
in touching the log; if too late, he gets scraped off. 
The sudden jerking of the pony on its haunches is sure 
eventually both to start curbs or spavin, and to break his 
knees. Still the pony retains wonderfully good legs considering. 
The toughness and strength of the plains pony can scarcely be exaggerated. He will live through a winter that will kill the hardiest cattle. He worries through the long months when the snow has covered up the bunch- grass on a diet of cotton-wood boughs, which the Indian cuts down for him; and though he emerges from this ordeal a pretty sorry specimen of a horse, it takes but a few weeks in the spring for him to get himself into splendid condition and fit for the trials of the war-path. His fast has done him good, as some say sea-sickness will do him good who goes down to the sea in ships. He can go unheard-of distances. 
Colonel Dodge records an instance coming under his
observation where a pony carried the mail three hundred
miles in three consecutive nights, and back over the 
same road the next week, and kept this up for six months
without loss of condition. He can carry any weight.
Mr. Parkman speaks of a chief known as Le Cochon,
on account of his three hundred pounds avoir- dupois,
who, nevertheless, rode his ponies as bravely as a 
man of half the bulk. He as often carries two people as 
one. There is simply no end to this wonderful product of 
the prairies. He works many years. So long as he will 
fat up in the spring, his age is immaterial to the Indian. 
 It has been claimed by some that the American climate 
is, par excellence, adapted to the horse. California and 
Kentucky vie for superiority, and both produce such wonderful
results as "Sunol" (famous trotting mare) and "Nancy Hanks.'' Man certainly
has done wonders with the horse upon our soil; and 
alone the horse has done wonders for himself. I have 
sought for great performances by horses in every land. 
One hears wonderful traditions of speed and endurance 
and much unsupported testimony elsewhere ; but for re- 
corded distance and time, America easily bears off the palm. 
We shall recur to this point hereafter. Ever since Brown-Sequard 
discovered that he could not always kill an Ameri- 
can rabbit by inserting a probe into its brain, and enunci- 
ated the doctrine of the superior energy and endurance of 
the American mammal, facts have been accumulating to 
prove his position sound. 
 One peculiarity of the pony is his absence of crest. His 
ewe-neck suggests the curious query of what has become 
of the high, well-shaped neck of his ancestor the Barb*. I 
was on the point of saying arched neck — but this is the 
one thing which the Arabian or Barb rarely has, being 
ridden with a bit which keeps his nose in the air. But he 
has a peculiarly fine neck and wide, deep, open throttle of 
perfect shape, and with bit and bridoon carries his head 
just right. There are two ways of accounting for the
The Indian's gag-bit, invariably applied with 
a jerk, throws up the pony's head instead of bringing it 
down, as the slow and light application of the school-curb 
will do, and this, it is thought by many, tends to develop 
the ewe-neck. But this is scarcely a theory which can be 
borne out by the facts, for the Arabian retains his fine 
crest under the same course of treatment. A more suffi- 
cient reason may be found in the fact that the starvation 
which the pony annually undergoes in the winter months 
tends to deplete him of every superfluous ounce of flesh 
wherever it may lie. The crest in the horse is mostly 
meat, and its annual depletion, never quite replaced, has 
finally brought down the Indian pony's neck nearer to the 
outline of the skeleton. It was with much ado under his 
scant diet that the pony held on to life during the winter; 
he could not scrape together enough food to flesh up a 
merely ornamental appendage like a crest. Most Moors 
and Arabs, on the other hand, prize the beauty of the high- 
built neck, and breed for it ; and their steeds are far better
fed. There is rarely snow where they dwell; forage 
of some kind is to be had in the oases, and the master 
always stores up some barley and straw for his steed; or in 
case of need will starve his daughters to feed his mares.
 The Indian cares for his pony only for what he can do 
for him, and once lost, the crest would with difficulty be 
replaced, for few Indians have any conception of breeding. 
The bronco's mean crest is distressing, but it is in inverse 
ratio to his endurance and usefulness. Well fed and cared 
for, he will regain his crest to a marked extent.''
Juan Carlos Altamirano on Horses of La Conquista  
Dr. Phil Sponenberg on Spanish Colonial Horse 
Iberian horses genetics 
eg The Origins of Iberian Horses Assessed via Mitochondrial DNA
Prints by Frederic Remington and one by  Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum

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