When did horses first come to Kauai?

Jul 7, 2017 | General Information

Horses became important in Hawaii, and in Kauai, as a result of the introduction of cattle to the islands. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver brought the first cattle to the Big Island. King Kamehameha was impressed with the introduction of these animals and placed a ‘Kapu’ (taboo) for 10 years on the slaughtering of any of them so they could multiply. Within a decade literally hundreds of wild cattle were roaming the slopes of the Big Island and the beef industry had begun.

The 10 year mark of the kapu saw in 1803 the introduction, this time, of the first horse to Hawaii. This came in the form of a gift to King Kamehameha from an American trader named Richard Cleveland.

Another 20 years passed and 1823 saw the introduction of the first Mexican/Spanish vaqueros, or cowboys, who became known to the Hawaiians as ‘Paniolo’. Cattle ranching by this time had become an industry of its own as the sandalwood industry had diminished in Hawaii due to the almost total eradication of the sandalwood forests. The Hawaiians needed the expertise of someone who knew how to deal with the abundance of newly raised cattle in the islands and these vaquero were brought in to teach the Hawaiians all they needed to learn about how to raise and profit from cattle ranching.

The traditions of cattle raising with its attendant vaquero history actually predated the cowboy traditions in the wild west on the American continent. With the cattle industry becoming a burgeoning source of revenue it was inevitable that cattle ranching would spread to Kauai and the fertile North Shore regions surrounding Hanalei became ideal ranching areas with abundant foliage for grazing. With the cattle of course came the paniolo’s and hence this was the genesis of the first horses to come to Kauai.