In 1493, on Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. caballus, were brought back to North America, first in the Virgin Islands and, in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent. These Spanish and European horses were smaller because of the space constraints on ships, but through breeding with larger horses eventually developed into bigger breeds. Horses were often lost or stolen as well, becoming wild or feral horses, eventually evolving into today’s wild mustangs.
Wait, Isn’t mustang a breed?
You may have heard that a mustang is a breed. This is false. A mustang is nothing more than a wild horse. In Fact, I have two of them myself. Now, Just because a horse is a mustang does not mean that all of their offspring is also a mustang. Mustang only goes down one generation. So If my little mustang mare has a foal, then that baby would be a mustang. However, if that foal has offspring, that horse would not be a mustang.
Are there still Mustangs in the Wild?
Absolutely there are and seeing them running free is one of the most beautiful you could ever watch. There are a large number of herds that are all over the world. Granted, most of the wild horses nowadays are actually decedents of domesticated horses that have not been tamed. They are still very hardy horses and one of the most sure-footed of all horses.
So are there a lot of Mustangs still around?
There are still a lot of mustangs running around but that number is dwindling quickly. At the moment the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with upholding the 1971 legislation written to protect these amazing animals. Unfortunately, their strategy are far from effective and are considered inhumane by a large number of people. The issue can be very complicated and has a number of conflicting interests. These interests range from those who want to see wild horses stay free, to those who object to the way various entities are limiting herd growth, to ranchers to graze on public lands and view the mustangs as competition.
In late July 2017, a Congressional Committe voted to reverse a ban on euthanizing healthy wild horses and donkeys. Now, if this becomes law it would give the BLM the right to kill horses that they consider un-adoptable that are in holding pens or still roaming public lands.
Here are a few facts about mustangs:
- The population of Mustangs is currently strained. There are a record around 67,000 wild horses on roughly 27 million acres of federally managed land while millions of privately owned cattle graze across about 155 million acres of public lands.
- Mustangs and wild burros can be found mainly on government-designated Herd Management Areas in 10 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. The BLM has reduced designated mustang habitats by more than 15 million acres since 1971.
Recently here in Arizona there have been a number of Mustangs that have been shot by random individuals. Some of this has made a huge splash in the equine world because the herd in Heber, Arizona is a protected herd. It’s amazing driving down the highway and looking out the window and seeing mustangs grazing as they have done for centuries.
So All Horses Come from Europe?
Not quite, there were similar equine species on the North American Contenent before the european and Spanish horses came. However, these species went extinct along with some other ancient mammals around the time of the Ice Age. Each breed typically comes from somewhere different in the world. Arabians come from the Arabian Peninsula, Tennessee Walker comes from the Southern United States. So as you can see, even though horses were brought to North America from Europe, that doesn’t mean that every breed comes from somewhere outside the United States.
So Since Horses Came from Europe are they all the same?
Nope, Not at all. There are over 400 different breeds of horses in the world. Some are much more popular than other due to movies or sporting events. For instance, many people know what a Thoroughbred is because of horse racing. That’s great but did you know that a Quarter horse is more common for working cattle? Or that an Arabian is very common in the show arenas? Now I’m sure that this bought up another question in your head right? Well if it brought up the question it did for me when I first heard that then Let’s move on and get that answered.
So What Breeds are Good for What?
Well lets start with the Arabian. This horse has been a favorite all over the world. Originally this breed comes from the Arabian Peninsula (Makes sense doesn’t it?), this breed is very easy to spot with its distinctive head shape, high tail, and the proud way it carries its tail. It is thought to be one of the oldest breeds and is normally known for its spirit and endurance. Nowadays this breed is used a lot in the dressage and endurance trail competitions.
Next up is probably the most popular breed in the United States, the quarter horse. The largest breed registry in the world is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). The Quarter horse is mostly known for western pleasure riding or events such as barrel racing, roping, and cutting. Although they can also make great hunting mounts.
This is probably one of these most widely known breeds due to its participation in horse racing. The Thoroughbred was originally developed in England in the 17th and 18th century. The breed is generally known for its high spirit and especially its heart. The thoroughbred that we have has so much heart it’s crazy to see. The thoroughbred also make great sport horses and are used as hunters and jumpers and also as mounts in dressage, polo and fox hunting.
This breed is what’s known as a gaited horse. Basically a “gaited” horse is a horse that has been bred that has the ability to perform one of the smooth to ride, intermediate speed, four-beat horse gaits. Now the Tennessee Walker was developed in the Southern United States during the 18th century for use on farms and plantations. Because of its gait it was one of the most popular breeds during the Civil War for Generals because of it’s comfort over long distances. It is widely believed that Robert E. Lee’s mount, traveler, was part Tennessee Walker.
This one tends to spark a lot of discussion. The Paint. The American Paint Horse is a unique and in many cases quite a beautiful horse. Up until a few years ago the Paint was not recognized as a breed. It was recognized as a color. This is where the heated discussion can come in. Anyway, the paint typically is a combination of the conformation characteristics of the western stock horse and the colors of a pinto. The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) does consider them a true breed and states that they have strict bloodline requirements and distinctive characteristics of the breed.
The Appaloosa or Appy as many people call it, was originally developed by the Nez Perce Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest. They are best known for their colorful spotted coat pattern. Appy’s are considered tough, independent, hardy and very sure footed. They have large bodies and sparse manes and tails. Often they are used as stock horses and pleasure mounts but also make great trail horses.
Now, to start with Warmbloods are not a breed but it is a grouping of a few breeds such as the thoroughbred, Clydesdale, Belgian, etc. They are characterized by open stud book policies and are known for being great sport horses. They excel in jumping and dressage.
That by far does not encompass all of the various breeds of horses the list itself is absolutely massive.
So now we come to the part where you may ask yourself
“If horses aren’t generally indigenous too the United States, and they were brought from Europe, then all horses are European right?”
In short, no, some breeds were developed in the United States by mixing existing breeds.
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