Mustang Horse: Origin and Characteristics

The Mustang horse is one of the most untamed breeds that exist and one of the few that still lives in the wild. Here you can get to know it a little better.
Mustang Horse: Origin and Characteristics

Last update: 17 August, 2021

If there’s a symbol of freedom in the prairies of the United States, it’s the Mustang horse. The few herds of Equidae that are seen in the wild in the North American region belong precisely to this breed, considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

However, it should be noted that the equines that concern us here were reintroduced to the American continent through the Spanish conquest, since, before that, their relatives had become extinct. In fact, the word Mustang comes from an old Spanish word meaning “wild horse”. Keep reading to find out more about this fascinating horse.

Origin of the Mustang horse

By the end of the Pleistocene, equines had already become extinct in North America. However, when the Spanish conquerors arrived in the territory with steeds, some of them escaped, and managed to proliferate in the immense American plains. The absence of predators and the available food contributed to its rapid expansion from the 16th century onwards.

The most recent DNA studies place the ancestors of the Mustang horse as close relatives of the marsh horses of the Doñana National Park in Spain.

Later, the Native Americans captured many of the horses settled in these lands to use them for transportation. Their breeding, coupled with growing wild populations, resulted in huge numbers of them in the early 20th century. It was then that the ranchers began to exterminate them with the excuse that they were destroying the pastures of their animals.

This massacre put the breed in serious jeopardy in the late 1960s. Later, in the 1970s, the United States government prohibited its hunting and declared it a “protected species”, thus saving it from extinction. However, and as you’ll see later, the problem is still in force today, as the expansion of industrial livestock seriously affects their habitat.

Physical characteristics

The Mustang horse has a strong and compact build, standing between 135 and 155 centimeters (53 – 61 inches) tall at the withers. Thanks to the fact that its head and neck are proportional to its size, this horse is endowed with great resistance that allows it to run long distances without becoming too exhausted.

The color of its coat varies greatly from one specimen to another, but it’s usually brown, black, white, and bay.

It’s a breed with good adaptability to adverse climates, as it has developed in large plains where inclement weather always traps them outdoors. These horses don’t need to drink as much water as those of other breeds and can feed on thorny bushes and thick leaves without major problems.

Character and behavior

The Mustang horse is known for its independence and temperament. They aren’t easy horses to tame. Their wild origin makes them anything but docile and they’re characterized by quite rebellious behavior. However, they’re very intelligent and adapt perfectly to the impediments that are found in their day-to-day lives (among them, humans).

Like other breeds, it’s a gregarious equine that usually lives in groups of 15-20 individuals. These groups follow a guide horse who’s in charge of directing the group towards the best grazing places and away from danger. In addition, it should be noted that Mustangs create strong bonds between individuals, especially between mares and foals.

Their communication, although not too intuitive to the human eye, is complex and efficient. You just have to see the perfect coordination between specimens when they run in a group. Through body positions, vocalizations and gestures, these equines are able to transmit messages and moods without any problem.

Mustang horse feeding

Horses are strict herbivores, that is, they feed exclusively on plant matter. This breed, in addition to the different species of grass found in its plains, is able to survive thanks to thorny bushes, woody plants and thick, hard leaves. As we mentioned above, it’s a horse with a great ability to survive in adverse climates.

Although it needs less water to survive than other horses, it’s still a vital element in its diet. Depending on the time of year, a healthy adult can consume between 20 and 60 liters of water a day.

Horses lose a lot of fluids through urine and sweat and need to stay hydrated to digest the large amount of fiber they take in from their diet.

Breed considerations

Today, the Mustang remains in danger of extinction. Despite being protected, populations continue to fall for the same reasons as during the last century: large livestock farms require thousands of hectares, both to house the hundreds of animals and to feed them. As a result, this displaces the few equines remaining in the wild.

Far from thinking of giving them back the space they need, a plan was proposed last year to capture the few surviving specimens of the Mustang breed and sterilize them to control populations. The North American animal organizations indicate that the problem isn’t that there are too many horses, but, rather, there is too little space and lots of environmental degradation, and they ask for more ethical solutions.

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