The American Mustang has been revered through history as a living symbol of the natural heritage of the American people. Introduced in North America by early Spanish explorers in the 16th century, raised and bred by Indians, domesticated by settlers, ridden by the US Calvary and surviving harsh climates, predators, and challenging environments, the American Mustang has a long stretch of history. American Mustangs are the descendants of Spanish or Iberian horses, and the name comes from two essentially synonymous Spanish words “mustengo, ” and “mostrenco” meaning “beast without a lord” or “lost horse.” Many people think that Mustangs are just wild horses, and not a specific breed. Though Mustangs are often called wild horses, but because they are offspring of once-domesticated horses, they are accurately referred to as feral horses. They bred with other horses to create the breed we recognize today.
Most of these Mustang horses were used for farming, endurance duties and transportation in a yet untamed world. In the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Indians raided these farms, stole horses and traded them. With a lot of chaos created by the constant battles, many of these horses escaped and became feral as they ran wild in nature. They were able to thrive on forage that other breeds could not exist on, and their speed and agility set them apart as a breed to be revered. Through survival of the fittest for generations, the American Mustang essentially culled their own herds, resulting in the healthiest, sturdiest and most intelligent. They showed their ability to survive and multiplied where other breeds had perished.
Considered to be very strong with incredible stamina, Mustang horses evolved in nature as their heads grew bigger, their sight became acute, and their minds became sharpened as they focused on survival. In 1900, North America had about two million Mustang horses. However, since then, the population of Mustangs has dropped drastically. This was slightly due to some issues which continue to affect the fate of the Mustang horse. In spite of this, growing awareness of their decline led to the signing of the “Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971” by President Nixon which coincided with the recognition of Mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and exploring spirit of the West” which continue to add to the diversity of life forms within the country and improve the lives of the American people. The act also banned capturing, harming or killing Mustang horses or burros on public land. The care and management of the wild horse herds on federal land were turned over to the Bureau of Land Management. Presently, about 40,000 Mustang horses live on private ranches, wildlife refuges, American reservations, and in sanctuaries.
Most Mustang populations are located in the Western states of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota and New Mexico. Some can also be found on the Atlantic coast and on islands such as Sable Island, Assateague, Shackle ford, and Cumberland Islands.