The descendants of horses used by the Sioux Indian tribes until the late 1800s are considered a historic treasure in North Dakota. Called Nokota Horses, they have been honored as the state’s official equine since 1993. But in the wake of economic challenges and a hay shortage in the area, the group tasked with preserving those bloodlines is facing difficult decisions.
“This is one of the most difficult situations we’ve been in since the formation of the conservancy,” Executive Director Sally Hauge told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. “While it’s never been easy, it hasn’t been the struggle it’s been this year.”
The Conservancy believes there are approximately 1,000 Nokota Horses in the world today. Some of them roam the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Earlier this year, in recognition of the breed’s historical value to the state, the state legislature passed a resolution urging the National Park Service to take steps to help preserve these horses.
Before the breed was recognized, many of its number were rounded up and sold—many to slaughter—by the NPS in the mid-20th century. Public outcry led to the protection of the wild herds with occasional round-ups where some horses were sold to adoptive homes to keep the wild numbers in check. According to the Conservancy, stallions of other breeds, including a Quarter Horse and Arabian, were introduced to the herd to create horses that would be more marketable to buyers at auction.
In 1986, brothers Leo and Frank Kuntz began to purchase selected individuals from the herd in order to preserve what were believed to be the purest original bloodlines. That herd formed what is now the Nokota Horse Conservancy’s herd.
To learn more about the Nokota Horse and its history, visit NokotaHorse.org.