The Spanish used horses as powerful weapons of conquest and made every effort to keep them out of Native hands.
But, gradually, Spanish horses became Indian horses. Strays from colonial ranches and settlements formed wild herds that Native people caught and tamed. Other horses were captured in raids and rebellions against colonial forces. As horses spread across the Americas, they transformed Native lifestyles and became an important ally in fighting the European invaders.
In 1680, after a century of Spanish domination, the Pueblo Indians rose up against their colonial rulers in the region now known as New Mexico. Led by Popé, a Tewa religious leader, they attacked Santa Fe, killing some 400 Spaniards and forcing many more to flee. Hundreds of horses—perhaps more than 1,500—were left behind, the largest number to pass into Native hands at one time.
These horses became the ancestors of many tribal herds. The Pueblo people traded horses to neighboring tribes, and the horse population expanded rapidly across North America.
Spain’s monopoly of horses in the Americas was over.