View Full Version : native american horse feed

07-15-2011, 09:02 PM
I was wondering today how the native americans and mountain men fed their horses. Any thoughts on how they handled this while traveling or when they were holed up for extended times? I'm especially curious about wintertime horse feed.

07-15-2011, 09:36 PM
I have 2 horses and a Jackass. They eat heavy in the winter to warm themselves. Processing food creates warmth. I am not sure how they did it in winter. Any other season a horse will graze and there was plenty of land to graze. I suspect they let a horse be a horse more so than a 2011 dog. My horse has been hobbled in AZ to graze.

07-15-2011, 09:46 PM
We feed our horses in the winter, but I've noticed that they will eat the bark off trees in the winter time.

07-15-2011, 10:03 PM
On Cumberland Island, Georgia there is a wild horse population. The island is a National Seashore and park. There is absolutely zero intervention with the horses. They are not fed. They are not cared for. Horses were first introduced onto the island in the 16th century. I don't remember when the island was "willed" to the park service, but since that time, and the "hands off" policy regarding them the population has remained at about 200. Sometimes a few more. Sometimes a few less. They graze anywhere they want. They have adapted so that they can drink brackish water.

The point of the long winded answer - they'll eat whatever they want.

07-15-2011, 10:10 PM
thanks for the responses. Did the northern plains indians or mountain men put up and store horse feed for winter time use? If so how did they store it?

07-15-2011, 11:28 PM
My guess would be that in the winter the horses just got skinny. They'll paw thru the snow for grass just like everything else. In the winter most plains indians went hungry alot of the time until spring from my understanding. One thing you should keep in mind is that the grass was probably alot taller and plentiful than your thinking. Prarie fires do a great job of getting rid of all the crap thats seems to choke everything now.

I would be surprised to learn indians put up hay for the winter just for the simple fact that they had sooo many. Horses equaled wealth and most had many, they would have to have a hay storage area that was enormous. On top of that putting up hay would be considered womans work and they had enough trouble cooking, gathering and things like that. Men hunt, gamble and make tools or war.

07-16-2011, 10:30 AM
I'm not sure whether this will answer your question, but may provide a bit more food for thought. Over here the Native breeds of ponies live off the land and in the roughest parts of the UK. The Welsh Mountains, Exmoor, Dartmoor, Scottish Highlands and Yorkshire Fells. They are well adapted to living on forage with little or no nutritional value. This ability to make use of nothing or "living on fresh air" has been many a Natives' downfall, when put on rich Lowland pasture and given supplementary feed allsorts of ills befall them, the most common being Laminitis. Maybe this is also part of the answer to your question, the Horses and Ponies domesticated by Native Americans probably were the same, much tougher and able to make good use of low nutritional value than modern Horses, that are bred with a particular work in mind, and that being said, need extra rations and better quality feed. The old saying, "Horses for courses" comes to mind. HTH

07-17-2011, 04:46 PM
Most of the horses I have owned were mustangs. They can survive on just about anything. When the grass is gone they start on the bushes. When the bushes are gone they start on the trees.

The native americans grazed their horses. They had their summer camps and winter camps. Winter camps usually had better grazing and had been left alone until winter. They didn't feed hay, except for a select few horses kept tied near the teepee for emergencies. These were fed by the women who collected what they could. The native americans didn't have horses until they were introduced to the area.
When the white man decided to eliminated the native americans they would almost always choose the wintertime to hunt them. The grain fed horses could easily run down the grass fed horses of the indians. Not much chance of resisting or running.

07-17-2011, 04:56 PM
A good many of the plains Indians were nomadic. They did not stay in one spot but moved from place to place in search of food. Usually following the herds of bison. Obviously, some tribes did live in small communities. Remember that the plains Indians did not know what a horse was until it was brought to Central America by the Spanish and then there were very few.

If you study the plains Indians you'll find there were not many of the northern Indians that had horses. Partly because they did not have access to them and partly because they could not feed them through the winter. Southern plains Indians fared much better with both greater access and milder winters.

I wouldn't think it much of a stretch to assume that if winters were particularly bad and food scarce that horses were on the menu.

07-17-2011, 05:35 PM
Thanks for the comments and thoughts. For some reason I find it all very interesting. I've often wondered why Native americans didn't domesticate any large animal. I've seen photos of moose in harness though. I wonder if stored food was a factor regarding not domesticating a large animal. Then I wonder about the sammi and their reindeer and how they traditionally handled winter feed. These are the things I wonder about when I'm not wondering about something else. LOL

for the sake of discussion, not argument, some claim that the first contact native americans had with horses was from the russians. I believe the traditional history about the horse being introduced by the Spaniards but history has a funny way about changing at times.

07-17-2011, 06:15 PM
I believe the reason local many native americans and other abo peoples didn't domesticate and farm as much as others have is because resources were extremely abundant and there was little demand for such endeavors. When required, typically due to lack of natural resources, natives did farm and raise animals to whatever extent was needed.

Why tame a buffalo when they grow on trees and are ripe for the picking all season long? Why ride horses when you can catch game on foot? Why farm when all you have to do is reach down and pick up something to eat?

Our country has changed drastically since white man has laid claim to it. No more is it the happy hunting ground of pure unadulterated nature, but a poisoned bastardized cesspool of dwindling resources and foriegn invaders.

Why feed the horses when they can feed themselves? Why chain them up and fence them in when they will return of their own accord? The relationship between man and dog or man and horse is one of necessity on both parts. We're all intelligent species with a basic instinct of community.

If you think about it, back in the day, cattle ranchers didn't feed the cattle, they were free range and fed themselves.

07-17-2011, 06:32 PM
Makes you wonder what North America would be like today had white man never set foot here....

07-17-2011, 07:00 PM
Makes you wonder what North America would be like today had white man never set foot here....

Rush hour.


01-21-2013, 12:22 AM
According to Osboure Russell in "Journal of a Trapper" and various other fur trade references the trappers would cut cottonwood limbs for the horses and mules to eat the bark off of and then use the limbs for fire wood. They used the cardinal rule of "wood, water and grass" when they picked a wintering spot. Some place where the snow would not drift too deep and that the animals could find grass under the snow and then when the snow did get deep it was time for the cottonwood. I am sure that most folks today if they could see a trapper's mount from the 1830's would be horrified at how poor and "bad" they looked. Another old rule is "it is better to count ribs than to count tracks" so they did not turn them loose much to graze at all...picket rope and again according to Mr. Russell he slept with his picket rope tied to his wrist so he must have been within 15 feet or so of his mule all night.

01-21-2013, 03:06 PM
SPARKY 93 - "Makes you wonder what North America would be like today had white man never set foot here.... "


The "American" Indians would still be living in the Stone Age.


01-22-2013, 11:21 PM
The mtn. men and indians did feed them cottonwood bark and limbs etc... But they prefer to winter where the wind and weather kept the snow clear...and they had cured feed all winter.. horses will also paw thru snow to get to grass unlike cattle....One of the prefered wintering areas was the Wind Rivers around Dubois , WY. down toward Riverton....The Indians and Mtn.Men also had what we call wranglers that stayed with the horses as they grazed during the daylight hours... Usually young men (the last step before they went on their first raid )...One last thing Horses are like Beaver in that they can eat the orinal feed and get nutrition from it but they also can eat it again and get nutrition from it... Wild horses will start building Piles of dropping when they feel the intial on set of feed shortage so that they can eat their droppings and not starve some piles are up to 4ft. high..