Learn how the small blocky-type horse made its mark on history and the modern-day Quarter Horse.
By WALLY DUNHAM, originally published in the October 1963 issue of Western Horseman
The first horses that probably were on the continent were the 16 landed by Cortez in Mexico in 1519. These horses, 11 stallions and five mares, were of Spanish type. On August 1, 1539, Hernando DeSoto and his party landed in Florida and started northward.
With DeSoto’s party of men were 200 horses. In his travels, DeSoto spent many months in the lands of the Chickasaw Indians. When the time came for the Spanish explorers to depart, they demanded male couriers and women from the Indians. The Indians considered this an insult and attacked the Spaniards. In the resulting running fight, many of the Spanish horses escaped or were captured by the Chickasaws.
The Indians took the captured horses and began to work with them and develop them to meet the needs of Indian life. Primarily, at first, the horses were used for work such as hunting, working fields, transportation, animals of burden, and other tasks.
As the Chickasaw Indians began to breed the little Spanish horses and develop them through haphazard crossbreeding, there began to develop an extremely versatile little horse.
The horse began to play an important part in the life of the Indian. On festive occasions the horses were raced and the man who had the fastest animal was looked upon as a hero. Consequently, there came about the Indians’ desire to develop speed in their horses.
The usual distance for these Indian races was about a quarter of a mile. The horses developed by the Chickasaw Indians were the fastest over that distance.
Writers of that time referred to the Chickasaw as a breed, and their descriptions give us an excellent picture of the horse. He was small from the standpoint of height, averaging around 13 hands. He was closely coupled and had a very well developed muscular structure. At short distances he showed great speed but did not have the staying power to run long races. It is surmised that the Chickasaw Horse was the best all-around horse in the early and colonial Americas.
Nye, in his book, Oustanding Modem Quarter Horse Sires, describes the development of the Chickasaw Horse in the following manner: “In the Carolinas, before the influx of Orientals began to change the whole breeding and racing picture, many of the planters enjoyed match-racing horses at a quarter of a mile. These races, which became quite a popular pastime, were run in the village streets or in any other handy locality where a straightaway of sufficient length could be found. The majority of these colonial sprinting matches were run by Chickasaw Horses, a small blocky type which the planters got from the Indians.
These Chickasaws were, in my opinion, the true beginning of the modern Quarter Horse. They were a fixed type to start with, being easily recognized wherever encountered. They were short and chunky, quick to action, but not distance runners. They were the best utility horses of their time … They could do it all, and they still can.
Of all the Indian horses of the eastern United States, those of the Chickasaw Indian appeared to be the best. At the annual fairs these horses were bought by and traded to the settlers. As late as 1792, the Knoxville Gazette was advertising the services of Piomingo, a celebrated Chickasaw stud, named in honor of a great chief of the Chickasaw tribe.
About this time some of these Chickasaw Horses were taken to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Virginia. On Ocracoke Island and Hatteras Island these Chickasaw Horses can still be seen in their original state.
About the turn of the last century the Chickasaw breed of horses began to slowly die out. This was due, in a large part, to the cross-breeding with European and Arabian stock to produce a taller, longer horse with more endurance and greater staying power for greater distance.
The Quarter Horse took the place of the Chickasaw Horse all over the country. The last real stronghold of the true Chickasaw was and still is on the Outer Banks, the remote islands of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
In 1957, J.A. (Andy) Barker, Jr., conceived the idea of bringing the Chickasaw Horse back into the prominence which he had enjoyed for so many decades. Barker organized the Chickasaw Horse Association at Love Valley, Statesville, North Carolina. In 1958, Barker sent to Canada to purchase a young stud colt from the Blood Indians. This colt was crossed with the small Chickasaws brought from the remote islands of the Atlantic coast. Today the inspectors have found and registered over 400 Chickasaw horses.
The Chickasaw Horse Association Inc. lists the qualifications of the Chickasaw Horse as short head, short fine ears, wide between the eyes, short back, square blocky hips, dock set low, short neck, wide chest, high deep shoulders, strong short pasterns, and a slight bend in the hock.
On October 4-6, 1963, the third annual National Chickasaw Horse Celebration will be held in Bedford, Iowa.