Nokota Horses
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About Nokota HorsesAbout Nokota Horses



Nokota horses are feral and semi-feral horses located in the badlands of southwestern North Dakota in the United States. They get their name from the Nokota Indian tribe that inhabited North and South Dakota.

Nakota horses are often blue roan, which is a color rare in other breeds, although black and gray are also common. Other, less common, colors include red roan, bay, chestnut, dun, grullo and palomino. Pinto patterns such as overo and sabino occur occasionally.

  They have an angular frame with prominent withers, a sloped croup, and a low set tail.

There are two general types of Nokota horses. The first is the traditional Nokota, known by the registry as the National Park Traditional type. They tend to be smaller, more refined, and closer in type to the Colonial Spanish Horse, and generally stand between 14 and 14.3 hands (56 to 59 inches, 142 to 150 cm) high. The second type is known as the ranch-type or National Park Ranch type. They more closely resemble early foundation type Quarter Horses, and generally stand from 14.2 to 17 hands (58 to 68 inches, 147 to 173 cm).

Both types often exhibit an ambling gait, once known as the Indian shuffle. Nokota horses are described as versatile and intelligent. They have been used in endurance racing and western riding, and a few have been used in events such as fox hunting, dressage, three day eventing, and show jumping.

They were developed in the southwestern corner of North Dakota, in the Little Missouri River Badlands. Feral horses were first encountered by ranchers in the 1800s, and horses from domestic herds mingled with the original feral herds. Ranchers often crossbred local Indian ponies, Spanish horses, and various draft, harness, Thoroughbred, and stock horses. The goal was to develop make hardy, useful ranch horses.

In 1884, the HT Ranch, located near Medora, North Dakota, bought 60 mares. The mares were from a Sioux Indian herd of 250 that was originally confiscated from Sitting Bull and sold at Fort Buford, North Dakota in 1881. Some of these mares were bred to the Thoroughbred racing stallion Lexington, also owned by the HT Ranch.  

By the early 1900s, the feral horse herds became the target of local ranchers looking to limit grazing competition for their livestock. Many horses were rounded up, and either used as ranch horses, sold for slaughter, or shot. From the 1930s through the 1950s, federal and state agencies worked with ranchers to remove horses from western North Dakota. However, when Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in the 1906, during construction, a few bands of horses were accidentally enclosed within the Park fence, and by 1960 these bands were the last remaining feral horses in North Dakota. Nonetheless, the Park fought to eliminate these horses, and in the 1970s won exemption from federal laws that covered other free roaming horse management actions.

In the late 1970s, growing public opposition to the removal of feral horses prompted management strategy changes, and today the herds within the Theodore Roosevelt National Park are managed for the purposes of historical demonstration. However, the Park added outside bloodlines in the 1980s with the aim of modifying the appearance of the Nokota. The dominant herd stallions were removed and replaced with two feral stallions from the Bureau of Land Management's Mustang herds, a crossbred Shire stallion, a Quarter Horse stallion, and an Arabian stallion. At the same time that the stallion replacements took place, a large number of horses from the park were rounded up and sold at auction.

In 1993, the Nokota was declared the Honorary State Equine of the state of North Dakota. In 1994, researchers conducted a study of the horses in the park, and discovered that none of the horses in the park had characteristics consistent with Colonial Spanish Horses. Since then, the horses on the Kuntz ranch have been bred to maintain and improve their Spanish characteristics. Nokota horses can be found in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Montana, and Oregon, as well as North Dakota.  

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has continued thinning the herd, with several roundups conducted throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In 2000, the last horse to be considered of traditional Nokota type was removed from the wild. The National Park Service currently maintains a herd of 70 to 110 horses.

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