Mustang horses are probably the most well known wild horse
in the United States. The name "Mustang" is derived from the
Spanish words "mesteсo" or "monstenco" which is synonymous
for "stray", "ownerless" or "wild." Mustangs come from domestic
horses which reverted to a wild state after becoming separated
from their human caretakers. They currently roam primarily
on public land in the southwestern United States of Utah,
Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona
and New Mexico, but mostly in Nevada, where the majority of
the country's remaining feral horse population resides. The
Mustang is often called "The Symbol of the American West"
and is known for their rugged endurance. Other names you may
hear are: American feral horse, Range horse, Indian Pony,
Cayuse Pony, American Mustang, Spanish Mustang, meste'os and
BLM horse, which refers to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
that oversees their protection and adoption.
In 1492, Columbus discovered there were no horses in the
New World, so today's Mustang horses descended from the domesticated
warmbloods brought to the New World by Spanish explorers,
and by Columbus himself on his 2nd voyage. Some of these horses
ran off; or swam to shore from wrecked ships; or were left
behind as the Spanish came and went over the years. When European
settlers came farther west they brought their horses with
them, including draft horses. French horses were introduced
to the gene pool from French settlers in the region around
New Orleans. German horses may also be among the genes of
the Mustang. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, the
U.S. Government purchased 150 old-style East Friesian Warmblood
stallions from Germany each year, over a 10 period, to pull
artillery or heavy wagons for the U.S. Cavalry. A few of those
may also have escaped to join the wild herds where survival
of the fittest and natural selection over 4 centuries has
built the breed.
Some horses were lost to Indian raids. Others were freed
by feral stallions tearing down fences to steal the tame mares
away to their own harems. Tame horses escaped from the owners,
or were left behind as owners died on the trail, or in battle,
just as the original horses in North America had escaped from
the Spanish. It is possible that some horses The Indians often
bartered horses between tribes as well as captured horses
from other tribes, making the distribution of the various
bloodlines more diverse.
While their Spanish genes have been diluted, many of the
Mustangs have Spanish and Andalusian characteristics. For
decades, people believed that there were no pure Spanish-type
horses remaining in the wild on the ranges. But a few small
isolated herds were found by the BLM in 1977, and blood and
DNA tests show them to be strongly related to the Spanish
horses of the 16th century. The BLM has separated these "Spanish
Mustang" herds out to preserve their purity. Among these are
the Kiger and Cerat Mustangs. Kiger mustangs carry the breed
color traits, which include dun and gruel, among others, along
with markings such as a dorsal stripe, zebra stripes or a
facial mask. Horses of draft conformation are also kept on
separate ranges by the BLM.
In other words, the Spanish mustang is a descendant of the
horses brought to the Americas by the early Spaniards; while
the American mustang is the descendant of escaped light riding
horses and draft horses, mixed with the Spanish-bred and others.
In general, American mustangs are thought to have little-to-no
remaining Spanish blood.
From an estimated 2.3 million horse at the turn of the century,
the population of Mustangs has dropped rapidly. As settlers
started ranches in the arid west, they started to kill the
wild horses because they were competing with cattle for grazing
land. Horror tales about the cruelty of their removal abounds.
From missionaries' journals in 1807 is a report of two herds
of 7,000 mustangs each that were driven into the ocean at
Mission Santa Barbara to drown. And at the San Diego Mission,
Mustangs by the hundreds were shut in corals to starve. Another
tells of horses being shot from moving trains for sport, and
left to die.
By 1926 there were only about 1 million Mustangs remaining,
and by the 1950's their numbers were reduced to an estimated
25,000. The population continued to decrease until 1971 when
the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro act was passed to protect
these animals. Unfortunately, this caused the population to
rise to dangerous levels; livestock could not get enough to
eat again, and the horses were a nuisance - again. The BLM's
Adopt-A-Horse program began 1973 as a humane way to distribute
these excess animals to concerned citizens.
Currently, less than 33,000 Mustangs remain, with many herds
already below the minimum population levels necessary to sustain
healthy populations and preservation of the species, according
Dr. Gus Cothran, the equine geneticist at the University of
Kentucky. The minimum number of horses in each herd management
area (HMA) needs to be at least 150 animals, says Cothran.
But under BLM plans, about 70 percent of the HMAs will have
fewer than 100 animals.
Mustangs come in all sizes and body types, and also in the
full range of colors. Their average size is 14.2 hands but
it is not uncommon to see one as short as 13 hands or as tall
as 16 hands. They are very hardy, healthy horses, rarely suffering
from any kinds of leg or hoof injuries; or ailments that so
often affect other domestic breeds, and they tend to live
a bit longer than the domestics, too. Their lifespan is 25
to 30 years.
Mustangs that have been removed from the wild require experienced
handlers, but they usually become as tractable as any horse
that was raised from birth on a farm. But properly gentled
Mustang can be a willing partner and a great family horse.
If an American Mustang bonds with its owner, it will bond
quite strongly, as that is a survival trait in the wild --
to bond with the herd. They are very intelligent and will
do as they please, but if treated well they will quite often
comply. Mustangs can be trained, if they want to be trained,
and they learn quickly. With patience, they can be trained
by experienced handlers to excel in many disciplines including
English, Western Pleasure, Dressage, Driving, and rodeo, among
others. It is not unusual for Mustangs to win in equine shows
and competitions, and, in fact, many have.
About the Author
Crystal writes for www.HorseClicks.com,