How did the horse help the Plains Indians?

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The Plains Indians so respected the horse and what it meant to their culture that they called them “sacred dogs.”  The Native American tribes that adopted the use of the horse had a tremendous advantage over tribes that did not use them. There are three basic ways that horses were utilized to improve the life of the Plains Indians.

The Plains Indians were pastoral nomads that relied on hunting for a food source.  The bison was used for food, clothing and shelter.  Hunting bison by foot was incredibly difficult.  Using a horse to ride up behind a herd of bison made hunting much more efficient.  Food supply was greatly improved by the Indians using horses to hunt.

Before the Spanish brought horses to the Americas, the Plains Indians had an inefficient system of moving from place to place.  While they were able to utilize dogs, a lot of the supplies needed to be carried by people.  With the introduction of horses to carry supplies, the process of moving from place to place made a nomadic existence easier.

A third important use of the horse was in the area of warfare.  Tribes that adopted the horse had a tremendous advantage over tribes without them. Entire tribes of Native Americans were forced to move great distances by the Plains Indians that had adopted horses.  Fighting from horseback represented a major advantage on the battlefield.  Tribes could travel great distances to make war and they would be well rested to fight.

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