This map summarizes the “recipe” for the Narragansett Pacer, which was the first horse breed created by Europeans in North America. During the 16th century, English colonists in Massachusetts imported Hobbies directly from England (8), as did those in Virginia and the Carolinas (18). Those in Rhode Island, Maryland and northern Virginia were soon crossed with imported ambler-galloper Thoroughbred (15) and a dash of Caribbean Jennet (17) to produce the Narragansett Pacer.
Horses may have been brought to North America by Leif Eriksson’s Icelandic Vikings during the 10th century, but if so there is no evidence of their survival. The record of the horse in the Western Hemisphere thus begins with Christopher Columbus, who on his second voyage to America in 1493 brought 15 horses to the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
These bred on and are considered the first founding population in the Western Hemisphere. From Hispaniola horses were soon taken to Cuba and the Bahamas, and then to Panama (by Balboa, 1509), Mexico (by CortŽs, 1519) and Florida (by DeSoto, 1539). Almost all of these animals were island-bred, not imported directly from Spain. All were derived from common Iberian Jennets (5, Map 2), preferred by the conquistadores and their men because they were inexpensive and tough.
Expedition horses were acknowledged as essential but were considered disposable, although many survived the warfare and plunder of the era and were either let loose or escaped to found burgeoning feral herds. Islandbred Jennets were crossed with Hobby not only in New England but everywhere across the old Spanish Main during the era of sugar production when slaves, horses and dry goods formed the cargoes of three-masted wooden brigs. On the islands, especially Puerto Rico and Cuba, Jennets were selected—both deliberately and by natural attrition—to produce a lighter, rangier body form that could better survive the tropical climate. Islanders also strongly preferred ambling gait.
In Virginia and the Carolinas, imported Hobbies found the country so congenial that herds soon numbered in the thousands. Landholders initially attempted to confine the excess on offshore islands, and this is the origin of the Banker ponies. Later, these were augmented by shipwreck survivors, many of which were of the island Jennet type. Southern Hobbies taken west and south by their owners were traded to tribal villagers, who already possessed horses of Iberian extraction; this created the Choctaw-Chickasaw (22, Map 6). Readers wanting more detail concerning the era represented by this map should refer to “Horses of the American Colonies”(EQUUS 468).