Mustangs are feral horses, and their name comes from a Spanish word for “stray or ownerless horse.” They are found mainly in the western United States.
A well-trained mustang can make a good horse for a beginner. Mustangs are very good at reading people and situations and can thus tell if a novice rider is uncomfortable. If the rider is nervous about jumping a fence, for example, the mustang will know and not jump the fence.
Untrained mustang horses, however, are not recommended for novices, for they are intelligent and can be willful. In addition, they are feral and not used to humans. They need to go through a process called “gentling” to get them acclimated to humans – and the process takes months.
History and Origins
No living horses are native to the United States. While horses did evolve there, they died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago. All horses within the US descend from breeds that developed in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
Mustang horses originally developed from horses brought over from Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries. Settlers from northern Europe who colonized the western United States also brought their horses with them, and some of those horses escaped to join and interbreed with the Spanish mustangs. At its peak, the mustang population may have reached between two and five million horses by the early 19th century. As more settlers began moving in, they began killing the mustangs to make room for their crops and cattle.
During the early 20th century, both the Forest Services and the Bureau of Land Management would remove mustang horses from the lands they administered. By the 1950s, the mustang population had dropped to around 25,000 horses. In 1959, the federal government passed the “Wild Horse Annie Act,” which was the first law to protect mustangs, to forbid poisoning watering holes or shooting horses from airplanes or cars. Since 1971, the BLM has been responsible for protecting mustangs and their lands. The current mustang population is believed to be around 75,000. Some of those are kept in federal holding pens to prevent overgrazing of public lands, and the BLM puts many of these horses up for adoption.
Since mustangs are descended from several different horse breeds, they vary widely in appearance. They tend to be small and sturdy horses, however, that are noted for their stamina and sure-footedness. They are also intelligent, independent and have a strong sense of self-preservation. A mustang can bond closely with its owner, but it takes work on the owner’s part to cultivate that bond.
Physical Characteristics of the Mustang Horse
• Height: 14 to 15 hands (56 to 60 inches) at the withers or highest part of the back
• Weight: Around 800 pounds
• Color: Just about any
• Body Traits: Range of body types with excellent stamina and sure-footedness
• Life Expectancy: 20 to 40 years
Since mustangs descend from a variety of horse breeds, they come in many body types. They all tend to be sure-footed with superb endurance.
While mustang horses can be just about any color, they are most commonly sorrel or bay. Sorrel is a chestnut color, while bay is a dark reddish-brown. They can come in other colors and/or have markings like patches, spots or stripes.
Mustangs feed mainly on brush and grass. While they can subsist on little food when necessary, a full-grown mustang will eat five or six pounds of vegetation a day when food is plentiful.
The Mustang Horse’s Temperament
As feral horses, mustangs tend to be independent and capable of fending for themselves. They can be very difficult to train. Once trained, however, they make an excellent riding horse and are noted for their even tempers. Mustangs can bond very closely with their owner, but it takes time, and the owner will have to work with them every day.
Mustangs are more intelligent and observant than are most other horses. Life in the wild has encouraged them to live by their wits, so they are very good at reading situations, people, and other animals. They are therefore particularly good trail horses because they can often detect potential hazards and avoid them.
Having a Mustang Horse
The BLM requires the owner of a mustang to meet specific standards of care. For example, each horse will need a facility with at least 400 square feet of space that provides ready access to shelter, food, and water. The BLM defines a facility as an enclosed area like a corral or stall. The walls have to be at least six feet high if the horse is over two years old, and the owner may not use barbed wire.
A trailer must have a covered top and a rear swing gate. It can be bought new or used.
Grooming supplies include a curry comb, hoof pick, face brush, dandy brush, sponges, and towels. Tack describes the equipment used when riding a horse such as a saddle, saddle pads, and bridle. Tack can be bought new or used. There are different types of saddle, and the price can vary widely. A mustang owner can expect to pay for the following:
• Trailer – $1000 to $100,000.
• Pre-purchase vet check – $250 to $550.
• Hay – around $1200 to $1500 per year.
• Routine hoof care every six to eight weeks – starts at $35 per session or $210 per year.
• Worming every two months – around $13 per session or $78 per year.
• Grooming supplies – at most $100.
• Tack – $400 to $6000.
Common Uses for Mustang Horses
Mustangs make excellent trail horses. They pay even more attention to their surroundings than do other horses and can thus protect themselves and their riders from mishaps. A mustang’s intelligence and powers of observation mean it won’t step in a hole or blunder into a swamp. It will also avoid banging its rider’s knee into a tree.
Mustangs can also be used in ranch work, pulling carriages, and various competitions. Some of the larger and showier horses have even been used in dressage.
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