But getting back to horses, I will just say that everybody pretty much knows that a mustang is a wild horse. Except that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is responsible for the mustangs, says that they should be called feral and not wild, because their ancestors were tame at some point in the past. The English word mustang comes from the Spanish word mesteño, which means "stray livestock animal."
Most mustangs are descended from the Iberian horses that were brought to North America by the Spaniards. Some mustangs also have a large mix of ranch stock and more recent breed releases. Mustangs in general are medium-sized -- 14 to 15 hands (56" to 60") tall, and weigh about 800 pounds. The most common colors are bay, reddish brown, or chestnut. But they can also have other colors, patches, spots, and stripes.
Mustangs live in large herds that consist of one stallion, plus about eight females and their young. One of the mares serves as leader of the herd, along with the stallion. If there is danger, the mare will lead the herd away from it while the stallion stays behind to fight. Stallions who are leaders of herds are generally at least six years old.
|Photo: Melissa Farlow|
National Geographic, February 2009
Before people began settling in the western states, it was not a problem to have a large population of feral horses there. But after cattle began competing with the mustangs for grazing land, some ranchers made it a policy to shoot mustangs. In addition, horses were captured for military use or were killed for their meat, which was especially used in pet food. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about two million feral horses in the West, but by 1926, the population was only half that size. Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act in 1971 to protect unbranded, unclaimed horses and burros. The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are in charge of administering the act.
There is a lot of controversy about the mustangs' being on public lands. Some people say they are part of the natural heritage of the American West, and that they have a right to be there. Others think they are an invasive species, because they were brought in with the Spaniards and other Europeans. The fact is that most current mustang herds live in areas that cattle cannot use because there is a lack of water. Horses have evolved to range nine times farther from water sources than cattle can. They can travel as far as 50 miles in a day, which allows them to use land that cattle cannot get to. Also, the digestive system of horses lets them get nutrients from poor forage in places where cattle would starve.
Photo: John Harwood
|Mustang gelding adopted from the BLM|
|Image from NDomer73|
|©1997 Oklahoma State University|
promise not to turn your horse into dog food, which would be an icky thing to do anyway!