A Blessing for the People: Native Stories of Horse Origins

Native peoples had their own stories of how they acquired horses.

Diné (Navajo)

The god Begochiddy originally created the horse for the Diné people. The Sun rode a favorite horse as he crossed the sky and kept herds to the north, south, east, and west of his home. Turquoise Boy journeyed to see the horses. Mirage Man showed him the corrals, with white-shell horses to the east, turquoise horses to the south, yellow abalone-shell horses to the west, and spotted horses to the north. They were the colors of the four directions—the colors of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.

Turquoise Boy then undertook a quest to find a means of travel for the Diné. After several false starts, he finally visited a mesa in the Dinetah, the original Diné homeland, where he found a fat man and his family living in a hole in the ground. The fat man turned out to be Mirage Man, who gave Turquoise Boy the bead, pollen, and horse saliva fetishes needed to produce horses.

Siksika (Blackfoot)

As an orphaned and abandoned boy, Long Arrow was adopted by the elder Good Running. Upon reaching manhood, Long Arrow asked Good Running how he could repay him. Good Running told him of a spirit people at the bottom of a distant lake who had an unknown animal, swift as an elk but also a burden-carrier, like a dog. It was called ponoka-mita (Elk Dog).

Long Arrow found the lake and met a young spirit who took him to the bottom, where the spirit grandfather lived. The young spirit told Long Arrow to watch for a glimpse of the old man’s feet, which he kept hidden under his long black robe. If Long Arrow saw them, the old man would grant his request.

After four days, the old man’s robe caught on a post, and Long Arrow saw that he had hoofs like the Elk Dogs. The old man was the master of the Elk Dogs. Long Arrow asked for three things: the black robe that prevented horses from running away, a rainbow-colored quilled belt that carried Elk Dog dance songs and prayers, and a herd of the animals. The old man granted the requests and also gave Long Arrow a magic rope to catch the Elk Dog. And so the Blackfoot have been horse-people ever since.