Mustangs crossing the Salt river.

horses river

The mustang is a free-roaming horse of the Western United States, descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish. Mustangs are often referred to as wild horses, but because they are descended from once-domesticated horses, they are actually feral animals.

History of the Mustang

The original mustangs were Colonial Spanish horses, but over five centuries many other breeds and types of horses contributed to the modern mustang, now resulting in varying phenotypes. Genetic testing indicates some free-roaming horses are relatively unchanged from the original Spanish stock, most strongly represented in the most isolated populations.

In 1971, the United States Congress recognized that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people”.[1]

The free-roaming horse population is managed and protected by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Two strong controversies exist: one regarding the mustang’s sharing public land and competing over its resources with livestock of the ranching industry; and another over BLM’s wild horse population management methods. Historically, mavericks could be rounded up by anyone and condemned to the slaughterhouse for the dog food industry. Today the most common method is rounding up excess population and offering them for private adoption. However, there are too few adopters, so many rounded up mavericks now live in temporary and long-term holding areas facing a possible future as horse meat.

A third controversy exists over whether mustangs are a native species or an introduced invasive species in the lands they inhabit.



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