Horse were originally native to north america but between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago they went extinct likely due to expanding glaciers into their territory. The question I propose is how could I make it so horses don't go extinct in the new world allowing for Native Americans to domesticate them?

NOTE: magic does not exist in my story

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    $\begingroup$ Why did they go extinct? If we don't know, it's tough to stop it. If we do know, then the answer is kind of trivial. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, but expanding glaciers are not the most likely reason for extinction. That happened dozens of times before in the previous couple of million years and horses never went extinct. What was different 12000 years ago was that there were human around. A lot of other large species also went extinct around then in the Americas, including some much to far south to be affected by glaciers. They were all affected by the humans though and these were new. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ AFAIK, the easiest way of preventing their extinction would be to not eat all of them. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ Since we don't know why horses went extinct in NA in the first place, then it would probably be fine to just not explain how they didn't go extinct in your alternate reality. There isn't a super-obvious reason they went extinct, so their presence in your version of the world wouldn't cause many questions. $\endgroup$
    – levininja
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


Domesticate Them

This is really your only option. A bit of history lesson on horse domestication: wild horses (here defined as horses in the subgenus Equus (Equus), rather than counting donkeys or zebras) weren't just wiped out in the New World, they were almost wiped out across their entire range in Eurasia as well. Horses are big (producing a lot of meat per individual) and apparently taste good, and so are prime targets for hunter-gatherer societies just like any other megafauna. It just turns out that they are more useful to people as mounts and draft animals than as food.

Humans basically hunted horses to extinction across all of Eurasia except for a few remnant populations in the northern steppes of what is now Kazakhstan and the Caucasus. These northern steppes (including nearby areas like present-day Mongolia) probably held horses longer because it would have been harder for humans to corral or hunt them on foot. A handful of cultures started to keep horses in captivity, mostly for meat and milk (possibly for kumis), and only later found out horses are useful for carrying people or things. At least some of these cultures may be some of the proto-Indo-Europeans (especially given the center of domestication of the horse is the same place that they are theorized to have come from) and their domestication of the horse may have contributed to them being able to spread their cultural ideas everywhere.

These peoples may have domesticated some of the last herds of wild horses, with the species going extinct in the wild shortly thereafter. It was once thought that Przewalski's Horse and the Tarpan represented remnant populations of wild horses, but it turns out that these horses are likely descended from secondarily wild individuals that escaped from captivity thousands of years ago This may not be the only domestication event of the horse, some people have suggested multiple domestication events or even one domestication of the horse combined with new genes added from bringing in wild mares from local populations, but it's very telling that herds of wild horses are pretty much gone after the Neolithic. And that a lot of other wild equid species other than the plains zebra and kiang aren't doing so well.

Notably something similar happened with a lot of Native American groups when horses were reintroduced to North America. A lot of groups (mostly peoples with more sedentary habits) saw horses as most useful for food, but a few of them like the Comanche and the Sioux found that riding horses was a lot more effective (likely because most of these cultures lived on the open plains) and leveraged it into becoming big political powers of the region (Empire of the Summer Moon talks a bit about this).

The best way to keep horses alive in the New World would be to have some culture domesticate them somewhere in either North or South America. Maybe twice if you want horses in both places, as llamas despite being domesticated in South America never seemed to become popular in Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs, Maya, or Toltecs, and the rainforests of South and Central America might make horses less useful and therefore less likely to be traded between continents. Wild horses might still exist, but as secondarily feral herds descended from domesticated escapees, similar to the modern Przewalski's horse or the mustangs in North America today.

EDIT: Looking up tarpans a bit more it's possible wild horses survived a bit longer based on historical documentation, though it's not clear whether they were actually wild or descended from escaped domestic animals because historical observers usually didn't make the distinction. Observations seem to be pretty rare. Nevertheless "wild" horses were persecuted a lot because they were perceived as good food and competition with domestic horses for grass, and they only did well where large groups of people generally weren't.

  • $\begingroup$ i doubt the ability of early humans to hunt an entire species to extinction, $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ @FamousJameis I refer you to the fate of the Moa en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moa $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ @FamousJameis Human hunting and habitat destruction is currently implicated in the destruction of a lot of the Pleistocene megafauna. The megafauna notably went extinct by continent in the same order in which humans colonized the world, and the megafauna survived the last 20 or so climate swings from the last glacial cycles without a problem until humans showed up. The overlap between humans and megafauna is thought to be longer than previous hypotheses but most evidence points to humans being the primary driver. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ New Zealand is a special case. The islands concentrated everybody in a comparatively small chunk of land. Especially so since the mountains push them to the coast to some extent. And many of the species had never developed fear of humans before humans showed up. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @FamousJameis Because they evolved alongside humans for the longest and were used to our tricks. That's why Eurasia has the second lowest extinction rate. And it turns out they weren't entirely immune, there are extinctions of carnivores in Africa (i.e., saber-tooths) correlated with the expansion of humans, likely related to competing over food than directly hunting. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.13451 $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 16:14

Have aliens use their spaceships to kidnap a herd of horses early on and keep them in cryogenic storage. Every time the horse goes extinct, the aliens descend and repopulate. Let them breed a bit, then take a subset back on board. The repopulation can continue until the aliens get bored or their tech breaks down.


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