The Nar­ra­gansett

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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).

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