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                                                                                   Did you know?



The Wild Horse.



The Mustang horse is the classic wild horse of the Old West.

Nothing captures the spirit of the Old West like the free-roaming, majestic Mustangs that can be found in parts of the United States. These spirited horses give a glimpse into what life was like hundreds of years ago, in the days of the infamous Wild West. In some ways, Mustangs are still shrouded in mystery, as they often shy away from the public eye.

The Mustang is a breed of horse (yes..it is a breed with its own specifics since 1971) that tends to be of small size, but sturdy and strong boned. They average just under 15 hands at the shoulder, and rarely top 900 pounds. They are descended from Andalusian, Lusitano and barb horses brought by the Spanish conquistadors. Many of these horses escaped, along with ponies and draft horses brought by other European colonists. Mustangs are short, muscular and hardy horses. They are known for their strong constitution and intelligent disposition.

Mustangs tend to be exceptionally intelligent, due to their wild ancestry. Horses need to learn quickly to survive in a harsh wilderness, and due to natural selection, the smartest horses were those most likely to survive. Because of this intelligence, Mustangs catch on fast in a training environment.

Frank Hopkins, a Mustang expert who lived in the 1800s and was the subject of the film Hidalgo, once wrote of the Mustang:

You can’t beat Mustang intelligence in the entire equine race. These animals had to shift for themselves for generations. They didn’t have grooms keeping them out of trouble or trainers showing them what to do. They had to work out their own destiny or be destroyed. Some were destroyed in the working out of nature’s survival law. Those who survived were animals of superior intelligence. The Mustang knows what intelligence means.”

While this intelligence means that Mustangs learn fast, it also means they get bored easily. Constantly drilling a Mustang in a training session will result in a horse that will be less willing to work. It also means you have to be smarter than they are if you want to keep their minds occupied.

Mustang horses are known for having a wild nature, but they can be tamed and ridden like other horses. However, this process will take longer if they are taken directly from the wild — rather than bred in captivity — and they are not used to being handled by people.

Unlike more domestic breeds, Mustangs do not consider every horse to be part of the herd. They form strong attachments to horses they live with and consider part of their family group, and can even become protective of these herd mates, not allowing other horses near them.

Mustangs are very sensitive to their environment and can even be more reactive at a certain time of day. “For instance, because of their survival instinct, Mustangs tend to be a little more sensitive at dusk. “In the wild, this is the time when predators are out.”

A mustang can survive on as little as one to two pounds of food a day in the wild.


Mustangs have hooves of steel: These horses frequently travel long distances, which is why it’s perfect that they have harder and more durable hooves than domesticated horses.

The largest population of mustangs is in the state of Nevada, more than half of all free-roaming mustangs are in Nevada.

Cowboys used to catch, tame and sell mustangs in the Wild West — the western U.S. — from about the 1850s to 1900. These cowboys were called "mustang runners." 

Mustangs are also naturally curious, and often have very active mouths. They are famous for being able to untie themselves when they get tired of standing tied. They can also become destructive if they are bored, using their lips and teeth to dismantle and demolish whatever they can reach.

Mustangs are sensitive horses known for their ability to bond with their riders in ways not often seen in other types of horses. Once that bond is formed, a Mustang will do just about anything for you. Likewise, it can take some time for a Mustang to learn to trust you. Time spent, along with consistent, fair handling is the sure way to a Mustang’s heart

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed in 1971 made it illegal to capture, injure or kill mustangs.

There are currently more than 70,000 free-ranging mustangs in the U.S., according to the America's Mustang program. Mustang numbers declined dramatically in the 20th century as the horses were killed and captured for a variety of reasons, including for human and dog food, America's Mustang program notes. There were about 2 million mustang horses roaming the North American terrain in 1900; by 1971, their population had been reduced to just 17,300, according to AMNH. Mustangs then became protected on public lands, along with burros, under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Congress declared them "Living Symbols of the historic and Pioneer Spirit of the West."

This act also allowed for them to be managed and controlled. 


Watch: The Mustang Trailer





The Burro


Burros are a member of the horse family, Equidae. Originally from Africa, they were introduced to the Desert Southwest by the Spaniards in the 1500s. (The word “burro” is derived from the Spanish word “borrico,” meaning donkey.) Today, most of America’s wild burros reside in Arizona, where they have been present since 1679 when Jesuit priest Padre Eusebio Kino brought them to the Spanish mission at San Xavier del Bac near what is now Tucson. Burros accompanied explorers and pioneers on their treks throughout the West, surviving even when the harsh conditions claimed the lives of their human “owners.” By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, burros were used primarily in the Southwest as pack animals for prospectors. They worked tirelessly to carry supplies, ore, water, and machinery to mining camps and became indispensable to the workers. At the end of the mining boom, many of them escaped or were turned loose, and with their innate ability to survive under the harshest conditions, wild herds eventually formed and flourished.



Wild Burros have long ears, a short mane and come in a variety of colors, from black to brown to gray to red roan, pink and blue. The most common coloring is grey with a white muzzle and white underbelly. Wild burros average 44 inches tall and weight about 500 pounds at maturity. Male burros are known as jacks while females are called jennies.

The burros’ African ancestors evolved into two groups distinguished by their markings. The Nubian Wild Ass has a dorsal stripe and a horizontal stripe across the shoulders, forming a cross. The Somalian Wild Ass has leg stripes. These ancient markings can still be seen today in wild burros and domestic donkeys.

Wild burros have a lower protein requirement than wild horses and tough digestive systems that can break down desert vegetation and extract moisture efficiently. They eat a wider variety of plant species than wild horses, and they can go for long periods of time without drinking. These traits allow burros to survive – and thrive – in harsh desert conditions where water and forage are scarce.

Burros are highly intelligent animals. Although they can run almost as quickly as horses, when faced with potential danger, burros tend to assess a situation before fleeing, unlike wild horses and other ungulates. Burros can defend themselves with powerful kicks from their front and hind legs, and their tendency to stand their ground against potential threats to themselves and their established territories (homes) makes them excellent guard animals in domestic settings.

In the wild, U.S. burros do not exhibit the band structure or herd behavior of wild horses. Individual jacks stake out territories around water sources and the only stable groups are females and their foals. According to Dr. Patricia Moehlman, an African wild ass expert and chair of the IUCN Equid Specialist Group, this is due largely to the scarcity of water in the extreme habitats where burros survive today. In areas of greater water availability, wild burros will form longer-term, stable harem groups of bonded females and one or more males, similar to wild horses.

Jennies will have one foal per year. Births can occur year-round, but peak in May, June and July.


When the Interior Department's BLM conducted its first wild horse and burro census in 1974, an estimated 15,000 wild burros roamed the West. (Remember, this was a time that Congress declared burros to be "fast disappearing from the American West.) Today fewer than 9,000 burros remain. Like their cousins the wild horses, burros in the Western United States have been rounded up en masse, often to make room for livestock grazing, big game hunting and other commercial uses of our public lands. (Burros do not compete with cattle for forage, but they do have dietary preferences that overlap with sheep, including bighorn sheep.)

Unfortunately, wild burros on National Park Service (NPS) land are not protected under federal law and they have been subjected to extermination efforts in NPS areas such as the Grand Canyon and Death Valley.


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