Mustangs Haven’t Always Roamed Free in North America

Many years ago, horses here considered wild animals roamed and lived free. For centuries, they ran in large herds around the world among humans and other species.

The first known horse in North America was the Dawn Horse, which was considered a prairie animal just like the American Camel, Saber Tooth Tiger, and Wooly Mammoth. The Dawn Horse migrated to other parts of the world including Spain and Portugal and eventually evolved into the horse we know today.

The domestication of the early horse happened in regions of the Black Sea over 4,000 years ago. While horses became domesticated, transportation also changed and evolved throughout the world.

In the 1400’s, the conquistadors transported workhorses from Spain and Portugal to the New World by sea to aid explorers who were looking for gold. Over the centuries, as horses escaped from the conquistadors and bred with horses already living in America, a new breed of horse developed: the Mustang. The name “Mustang” originates from the Spanish word “mesteno,” which means “stray” or “free running.”

As settlers came to the United States in increasing numbers, they brought different breeds of horses with them, like the Morgan, Clydesdale, and Belgian. Though these breeds weren’t 100 percent Spanish, they were still referred to as “Mustangs.” By the mid 1800’s, millions of Mustangs were roaming free in the U.S.

The wild horse’s future on federal ranges transitioned in the 1970’s as a federal law was passed that banned abusing and killing wild horses on public land. With this law, the care of wild horse herds on federal land was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management.

Despite regulations like this, wild horses struggle to survive to this day. Today, almost 50,000 wild horses live on private ranches and Native American, wildlife refuges, and federal sanctuaries. The future of the historied Mustang hangs in the balance as federal courts continue to argue the legality of killing this tough, majestic creature.

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