Many people have the common misconception that Native American Indians have always had horses throughout their long and illustrious reign over North America, but this is not the case. Horses first appeared in North America close to fifty-eight million years ago, but went extinct in North America around eleven thousand years ago, just about the same time the first Americans were gaining a foothold. In fact, there is no documented archaeological evidence that early Native Americans had any direct contact with these early versions of horses in North America. Native American Indians did not have horses until the Europeans brought them to North America. Once Native American Indians obtained horses from the Europeans, it only took a matter of decades for them to establish themselves as some of the greatest horse riders that the world has ever known.
Spanish colonies in the American West first introduced Indian tribes to horses in the late 1600s. Prior to obtaining horses, Native American Indians used dogs as their primary beasts of burden. Once Native American Indians obtained horses, their lives changed dramatically. With horses, they could travel farther in less time and with more possessions. With the mobility and speed of the horses, Native American Indians became horse-riding hunters, unmatched in skill. The rumbling herds of bison were now accessible to Native American hunters on horseback. The hunters no longer had to trap or outsmart the bison herds. With horses, they had the means to chase bison down. Horses became a form of wealth and status for the Native American tribes that possessed them. My story takes place at a time in history when Plains Indians first encountered horses.
My research for When Leaves Change Color began a long time ago, in fact, decades ago. I have
always loved horses. Perhaps my interest in horses was rooted in my early passion for Native
American culture, or perhaps it was just the majestic beauty and independence of the animal. When I
first discovered the wild horses in my home state of Wyoming, I became fascinated with watching
and studying their habits. There was seldom a road trip across the desert southwest of Wyoming
where I would not take a detour to photograph and watch the wild horses. Even though the wild horse
herds and their freedom are now dwindling, my love and respect for wild horses never will.