Wild horses are one of America’s national treasures. On par with seeing a soaring eagle or a bear foraging for food, the wild horse commands awe and respect. Wild is perhaps a misnomer as all wild horses in North America are actually feral, meaning their ancestors were domesticated.
Theories state that the early horse did roam North America, however as the continents shifted, they only retained status in Europe and Asia.
According to the book Horse Facts, in the 16th century the Spanish Conquistadors invaded America bringing with them their domesticated horses thus reintroducing the horse to North America. These domesticated ancestors were shipped over from Europe with the intention of providing a means of travel for settlers and general field work. However, many of the animals escaped or were turned loose and were ultimately left to their own devices. Although in a new setting, the abundant room and food the new continent provided allowed the horse to thrive.
America’s wild horse, typically called a Mustang, is a true survivor. They come in all colors and typically are between 14 – 15 hands with a light-weight build. Because they are descended from the horses of Spanish settlers, they are of Andalusian, Arab and Barb origins. Unlike their domesticated counterparts, Mustangs are extremely resilient.
Once tamed, they make excellent horses for any discipline as long as they receive the respect they deserve. In fact, they have so many desirable qualities such as good cow-sense, that they have been bred with numerous other breeds like the Thoroughbred.
The most numerous breed in the United States, the Quarter-Horse, is a cross between a Mustang and a Thoroughbred. Mustangs are great for general use but have excelled in endurance riding.
Unfortunately many of North America’s 47,000 wild horses are in constant danger. As of 2004, the wild horses lost the federal protection they had that prevented them from being rounded up and sold to slaughter. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act of 1971 was lifted allowing the government agency the Bureau of Land Management to routinely round up roaming herds. The lucky captors are sent to auction to be sold to potential buyers who are looking for a challenging new horse; others sadly are sent to slaughter.
The debate is that these wild horses are grazing on land that is meant for cattle. One side says that the loss of the use of the land is debilitating to the cattle industry while the other says that there is plenty of land for both species and that the wild horses do not do the damage reported.
The fight is also on to release back into the wild the 14,000 wild horses currently being held in long-term facilities. A great group that has done tireless work to save these wild animals and adopt the captured mustangs is The Wild Horse Sanctuary (www.wildhorsesanctuary.org). They currently have over 200 wild horses and burros running free on their land. Also, they are very active in getting the government to see the value of these precious animals.
Wild horses have survived for centuries living on land that is more than accommodating. It would be a shame to see this versatile creature disappear from our landscape.