The very first horses originated in North America almost two million years ago. However, the species almost disappeared from the New World around 10,000 B.C.E. Researches believe that people who migrated from Eurasia to North America around this time and hunted and captured horses are to blame for their near-extinction.
From 1493 to the 1500s, the number of captured horses in North America grew. Spaniards traded and rode these horses throughout this continent. Yet, many of these horses escaped. Eventually, Mexican cattlemen set rules for capturing these strays, which they later nicknamed “Mustangs,” from the Spanish word mestengo meaning “stray.”
In addition to Mustangs, settlers brought different horse breeds to the New World to suit their needs and create greater species variety. In the 1600s, for example, colonists preferred the Canadian horse for its strength. Later, they desired the English Thoroughbred for its speed. During the 1700s, Saddlebred horses thrived throughout southern United States. The Spotted Appaloosa, cared for by the Nez Perce tribe, also roamed in the south, while the Quarter horse, or the “All-American breed,” was abundant on the eastern and western coasts at this time.
In North America, horses have a ‘capture and escape’ history. Therefore, in 1971, the Bureau of Land Management decided to pass legislation to protect wild horses. Today, national law prohibits anyone from shooting them.
Horses like the Mustangs are a symbol of rich American history. I hope to see these wild horses one day!