The Mustang

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The Mustang horse is a symbol of the wild west, and a beloved icon to horse lovers. Learn more about the breed’s legendary history and its characteristics.

Mustang Horse History

Mustang is a derivative of the Spanish word mesteña, which means wild or stray. Horses roamed America 10,000 years ago but vanished from the landscape until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century with their horses of Barb decent.

Wild Mustang horses
Photo by Bob Langrish

Many Native American tribes “liberated” horses and brought them further into North America. As America evolved, horses from Europe were imported, and offspring accompanied the settlers moving west. Wild horse bands formed from escaped or abandoned horses.

A galloping herd of wild Mustang horses
Photo by Bob Langrish

In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed protecting Mustangs from slaughter. Congress established Herd Management Areas, and the Bureau of Land Management gathers and offers the excess animals for adoption.

Wild Mustang mare and foal
Photo by Bob Langrish

Mustang Characteristics

Mustangs have no overall characteristics because different breeds of horses have contributed to the development of wild horses in various areas. Draft horses were popular in certain areas among settlers, and hot-blooded horses were more popular in others.

Wild equines in the mountainous desert
Photo by Bob Langrish

Some are large and full-bodied, while others are smaller and daintier in appearance. The abundance of or lack of forage also helps determine size.

Horses range from 13 to 16 hands high and are all colors, including black, bay, dun, palomino, gray and spotted.

Herd of BLM Mustangs
Photo by Bob Langrish
A wild mare and foal
Photo by Bob Langrish

For More Information

Further Reading:

This article was originally published in 2006 with Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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