A product of natural selection, the American Mustang has long been a symbol of the Wild West. These horses are smart, fast, tough, and perfect for life in the wild. Many people have tamed wild Mustangs and use them on their farms for riding. However, the American Mustang still lives on in free, wild herds roaming the countryside.
Scientific & Common Names
Genus & Species - Equus caballus
Common Names - Mustang, American Mustang
Because Mustangs originated from a variety of horse breeds, there are no particular distinguishing characteristics of the American Mustang. They come in every possible color and pattern. They range in height from 13 to 16 hands (52 to 64 inches), and Mustang sizes can vary depending on the available forage. Generally, Mustangs have stronger legs, harder feet, and higher bone density than many domestic horses to enable them to withstand living in the wild.
Most mustang mares are 3 or 4 years of age when they have their first foals. The mare is pregnant for about 11 months before giving birth. The foal will nurse for up to two years before the mare gives birth again.
Wild Mustangs live in herds consisting of young foals, reproducing mares, and one stallion. When the young are old enough to reproduce, around 2 or 3 years of age, the stallion forces them to leave the band. The females will join with another herd to breed with that herd's stallion. Males form "bachelor herds" where they will hone their fighting skills until they can create their own harems of females.
The fossil record shows that horses did exist on the North American continent before the discovery of the New World in the late 1400s. However, these horses became extinct around 10,000 years ago. It wasn't until the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Central America that the horse was reintroduced to North America. Over the years, some of these horses escaped from humans and created herds of wild horses ranging in Mexico, throughout the Western United States, and on a few Eastern barrier islands. As Eastern settlers migrated to the West, their escaped and abandoned horses added to the wild herds, creating a mixture of genetic possibilities in the Mustang.
Once the Western United States was settled, large herds of Mustangs became problems for ranchers and property owners. Ranchers began shooting Mustangs because they competed with cattle for forage. In 1971, Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to keep these horses from extinction. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management manages most of the herds of Mustangs on the range. The BLM estimates that there are fewer than 20,000 Mustangs living in the wild.