Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Friday, December 18, 2009

Patagonia. Extant pre-Hispanic horses?


hippidion saldiasi
Hippidion saldiasi. Online

Horses originated in America several million years ago, from there they spread into the Old World where they multiplied and survived. Their American relatives became extinct. Horses were re-introduced into America by the Europeans after 1492. That is the official story.

There may be another one:

Native American Horses

There were two kinds of horses living in Patagonia before the arrival of Europeans; and they are believed to have become extinct at the end of the last Ice Age some 8,000 years ago.

One of them, the primitive Hippidion which appeared about 2.5 million years ago (Ma.), reached Tierra del Fuego; the other, a modern Equus which appeared only about 1 Ma, extended its range to northern Patagonia.

Both co-existed with men, who hunted them and their extinction is quite a mystery since the virtually identical Old World horses introduced by the Spaniards flourished in the same environment.

This has led some authors believe that not all of these horses died, and that some managed to survive until the arrival of the European horses “influenc[ing] the morphology and other sui generis features of the current Creole horse” by interbreeding with them.[1]

In other words, they survived and mated with their European relatives.

Circumstantial evidence

Notice the spotted red and white appearance of the Hippidion's coat (in all the depictions that I found, it is represented with a spotted coat).

French engineer Narcise Parchappe reported in 1828 that “it is notable that nearly all the Indian’s horses are picazos (red and white) and stained in a strange manner; while this variety is very rare among the Creoles”. As these colors were also rarely found in the large herds of wild horses; he thought that the natives selectively bred these strange colored animals.[2]

Actually, these horses were not “picazos” but “overos” of a very special kind. Picazos known as piebald, have a black base coat, while the overos have a solid color with splashes of white.

The native’s variety of overo is known as “overo manchado”; in Spanish, manchado means stained in the sense of something “splattered on”. This color has only cropped up in Argentina in horses from different breeds. The pattern is also atypical and is not related to the spots of any other horse breeds (like appaloosa, sabino or chubari).[3]

Thoroughbred Manchado Overo Horse (but not Criollo). From [3]

Furthermore, it appears as a sudden mutation in animal breeds that don’t have spots such as Criollo, Hackney, Arab and Thoroughbred,[4] this would imply that they could not be selectively bred by the natives.

The pre-Hispanic horses could have introduced this peculiar coat color into the genetic pool of the horses introduced by the Spaniards; and it now appears randomly.

Regarding southern Patagonian horses, Musters wrote during his 1870 journey through Patagonia that “near Port San Julian […] there are numbers of wild ponies, about the size and make of a shelty, which the children play with”.´[5] Could these ponies have been a remnant group of adult Hippidion?

Hr also noted that the Aonikenk horses were “altered […] to a considerable degree from the original [Spanish] race”, and that though they were smaller than them, their heads and legs were larger.[5] This perhaps reflects not an alteration of pure European horses but their interbreeding with pre-Hispanic horses.

Is there other evidence of these surviving prehistoric horses?

Yes, we have the testimony of Spanish conquistador, Captain Juan Fernández who was the first to explore Nahuel Huapi region in 1621. He wrote that the natives on the Limay River had horses.[6]

It could be argued that they had obtained them from the Spanish settlements in southern South America (dating back to the 1530s), which would have given them at least 90 years to come across, tame and master these new beasts.

However there are pre-Hispanic horses in rock art depictions; at Nahuel Huapi Lake one represents a horse riding warrior; it was discovered by Asbjorn Pedersen in 1960.[7]

Pedersen wrote that he was amazed by these horsemen but was even more surprised when he “later noticed that these paintings could be the first tangible manifestation of an extinct fauna, since they do not represent the common horse (Equus caballus), but the American horse (Equus rectidens)”.[8]

These depictions are not contemporary to the Spanish Conquest but ancient because according to D’Orbigny, the Patagonian natives’ “drawings have the uniqueness of never representing animal figures”.[9] This was an exclusive trait of the “ancient” Indians.

Click to See the rock art depicting ancient American horses.

"Mancha" a Manchado Creole horse. From [10].

Mancha was a Creole horse, that was bred from a group of horses purchased by Dr. Emilio Solanet in Chubut. They had belonged to Tehuelche chief Liempichún.
He had the spotted coat of a Manchado horse. He is famous because he rode from Buenos Aires to Washington DC (16,000 km - 10,000 mi.) between 1925 and 1928.

Notice the different build of the Creole (Mancha in the bottom photograph) in comparison to a thoroughbred (upper photograph). They are shorter and sturdier. Also note the domed nasal bone on Mancha -a feature that characterizes Hippidon.

The intriguing possibility of surviving prehistoric Megafaunal Age horses is very exciting. Perhaps science will unveil the mystery by finding recent remains of both creatures.


[1] Mac-Leod Silva, C., (1999). Estudio de los equinos carretoneros…. Univ. Nac. de Chile. pp. 6 [Thesis]. Citing: Evans, W., et al., (1979). El Caballo. Zaragoza: Editorial Acribia.
[2] D’ Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 79.
[3] Wellman, K. The Sabino Pattern and The Myth of the True-Breeding White/Albino Horse.
[4] Zubizarreta, H. Pelajes Equinos Genética y Transmisión.
[5] Musters, C. Op. Cit. pp.130+
[6] Fernández, M., (2006). Economía y sistemas de asentamiento aborigen en la cuenca del río Limay. Mem. am., ene./dic. 2006, no.14, p.37-73. Citing: Vignati, M., (1939). Los indios poyas. Notas del Museo de La Plata, 4 (Antropología, Nº 12): 211-44. B. Aires. pp. 238-239.
[7] Houssay, A., (1971). El caballo de guerra en la iconografiá argentina.. B. Aires: Ejército Argentino, Comando y Dirección General de Remonta y Veterinaria. pp. 111.
[8] Pedersen, A., (1979). Las pinturas rupestres del parque nacional Nahuel Huapi. Anales de Parques Nacionales XIV (1978): 7-43.
[9] D’Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 326 and 327.
[10] Aimé Tschiffely - Long Rider

Another version on extant "native American Horses" is the Mormon one Here (I am not a Mormon).

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters


  1. This is an interesting theory, thank you! I found your blog looking for Manchado coloring. Though I am not an expert on the breeding of Argentinian purebred horses, I would wonder when a native breed would get a chance to cross into a Thoroughbred or a Hackney? Both being valuable, and their lineage proven by paperwork and sometimes by testing, it seems to me unlikely that Manchado patterning would be introduced into any purebred TBs or Hackneys. Criollos, yes... :) Manchado is interesting because it starts on the forehand, along the neckline or over the withers, and moves downward. It does not make the legs white (like tobiano or sabino or splash)it is more like a frame over. However, it bears no relationship to the spotting on the American horses pictured.Those horses have pangare (white underbelly, white muzzle, etc) and spots more like a deer would have. (or a juvenile tapir, a close relative of the horse) Manchado might be environmental, caused by a specific parasite in utero, perhaps?

  2. "Mancha" doesn't have the Manchado pattern, I don't think, not as it is currently being described. See how his mane is dark, but the Thoroughbred's mane is light? (proof that the white crosses the topline on the TB but not on Mancha) See how the TB's legs are dark, but Mancha's aren't? Notice that the TB's head is dark, and Mancha's is white? Looks to me like Mancha is a tovero (tobiano/frame overo) of a more typical manifestation. If you check out other Manchado horses that are attracting attention, you will see that their white patterning sort of flies backward like someone poured white paint on their necks when they were running... and it doesn't affect the head or legs, which have much more typical white markings.

  3. Sorry, but the idea of preHispanic American horses just doesn't hold water, in either North or South America.

    When Spanish horses got loose on both the South American Pampas and the North American Great Plains, there was a massive population explosion. A handful of runaways multipled into vast herds in short order. They literally exploded into the new habitat.

    From an ecological perspective, this just screams, "unfilled niche!" And indeed, the grasslands of the Americas coevolved with equines for eons. Hence ancestral horses were very well adapted to the local climates, soils, plants, parasites, and predators. It was even noticed, early on, that horses freshly brought from Europe automatically recognized the sound of a rattlesnake as dangerous. Certainly, having been shaped by the New World for most of their history, horses retained their easy adaptability to it. All they had to do, was get loose...

    And so it's impossible to avoid concluding: If there had been any preHispanic/postglacial horses surviving in the New World -- if any at all had survived the terminel Pleistocene extinction event -- I guarantee you, they would have re-filled those ecological horse niches on their own, long ago, and European explorers would have marvelled at the vast herds of free, wild horses in the New World.

    Didn't happpen. Hence... equines could NOT have been here when the Spanish arrived.

  4. PS.... and the domed noses can be found in some European draft breeds. It's not a sign of native American ancestry.

  5. Anonymous, there are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in your philosophy... There is a possibility of a north american survival of the aboriginal horse, check out the history of the american curly horse, first found in a remote valley in Nevada, as well as the Lakota Sioux traditions of horses
    The appaloosa horses also have some similarities to the manchados, not that this means anything. I am from Wyoming, and my mother's ancestors (who were wandering around in what is now Wyoming-Montana-Dakotas area when it was still pretty much just them and the natives) were given horses by some Indians, I am not sure of the exact time frame, but the descendants of these horses are still kept by my cousins, though well mixed with other breeds at this point. The horse of this lineage that we had when I was a child tended toward curliness as well as being spotted red and white, more appaloosa-like than the manchados.

  6. I read somewhere (sorry can't remember the source) that in 1936 the archeologist W.C.McKern uncovered a horse skull from a native burial site in Wisconsin that was radiocarbon dated to before 1100AD. Hope this helps your research.

  7. Gavin, thanks for the comment. I will check out the McKern source.

  8. And there's this as well;

    BTW I love your site, it is amazing!

    1. Thanks for the link and also for your comments!! I am delighted that you like the site!


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