The Mustang horse is found in the Western United States. It is a free-roaming horse and a descendent of horses that were first brought by the Spanish to the Americas. Even though Mustang horses are classified as wild free-roaming horses, in reality, they are feral horses as they are descendants of horses that were once domesticated.
The original Mustang horse was one of the colonial Spanish horses. However, today, Mustang horses have varying phenotypes, as, over the years, several other horse types and breeds contributed to the evolution of the modern Mustang. However, some Mustang horses, particularly the ones that are parts of isolated populations, resemble the original Spanish horses.
Mustangs, irrespective of their body types, are known for their endurance and sure-footed nature. All in all, they are versatile horses that have seen success in dressage, trail riding, and ranch work.
It was the conquistadors, the explorers, knights, and soldiers of the Portuguese and Spanish Empires, who first brought the Mustang to the Americas. Columbus and Cortes were two of the first conquistadors credited with bringing the Mustang to the West Indies first and then to Mexico. The population of Mustangs flourished after the founding of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico by Juan de Onate, who expanded his herd from only 75 to 800.
Across the 17th and 18th centuries, the Native American population adopted the Mustang as a means of transportation. It was in this period when the Mustang dispersed across the entirety of the Americas, primarily due to the lack of fenced enclosures. By 1800, the population of Mustang horses had grown to 24,000. Some sources suggest that the population of the Mustang further rose in the first part of the 19th century to a million Mustangs.
In the 20th century, the qualities of the Mustang were deployed in wars such as World War I and the Spanish-American War. These events proved costly for the original Mustangs, whose numbers steadily went down. Efforts were made to preserve the original Mustang, but the population dwindled due to abusive capture methods and hunting, and by the 1950s, only 25,000 Mustangs remained. The preservation of the Mustang horse was helped by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which aimed to protect herds of wild horses and burros that were previously established.
As there is a wide variety of isolated breeding populations, not all modern-day Mustangs have the same traits. Generally, most Mustangs are known for being healthy horses that are quite hardy with strong hooves.
In terms of behavior, there may be numerous differences between one Mustang and another, depending on their training levels and backgrounds. A rounded-up Mustang that’s adopted out without proper handling will, in all probability, be quite spooky and reactive.
For a Mustang to display proper behavior with humans, it needs to be trained. Mustangs that have been thoroughly trained are typically well-mannered and calm. Mustangs also display a high level of intelligence. Regular currying and grooming are required by Mustangs to maintain coat health, and they also need hoof care, even though they are known for their strong hooves.
Mustangs don’t have any significant dietary issues. As they are known for surviving only on bush and grass in the wild, in captivity, they are among the easiest horses to keep.
The only concern for owners regarding the diet of Mustangs is that excessive exposure to lush pastures may lead to overgrazing. As a result, typical problems associated with overgrazing, such as founder and obesity, may be experienced by the horses.
Breeding And Uses
At present, the Mustang is facing issues related to overpopulation, which is the reason why captive breeding programs are a strict no-no. In terms of their uses, Mustangs are known for their versatility, which has led them to become popular and successful in careers such as ranch work, trail riding, and dressage.
As mentioned before, Mustangs are incredibly surefooted and are among the hardiest horses around. The fact that modern Mustangs descended from wild horses and burros makes it easy for them to get around across a wide variety of terrain. Even on the harshest and toughest of terrains, Mustangs can make their way around quite easily, even though other horses may struggle.
The standard of measuring horses is known as ‘hands,’ and wild Mustangs typically measure around 14 – 15 hands. If you translate that into inches, it becomes 56 – 60”. In centimeters, that’s 140 -150 cm. The smallest Mustangs are generally not shorter than 13 hands, and the biggest isn’t taller than 16 hands.
All in all, Mustangs are medium-sized horses, and a fully grown and healthy adult Mustang weighs around 700 – 800 pounds (318 – 363 kg).
What Breeds Make Up The Mustang?
The modern-day Mustang is the result of the breeding of the original Mustangs that the Spanish brought with them to the Americas with other herds. The fact that they bred with many wild horse herds has made it difficult to exactly identify the exact breeds that make up the modern-day Mustang. However, experts have traced back as much as possible to identify at least a few breeds that share several similarities with the Mustangs of today’s times.
The native wild horses who roamed the lands of eastern United States along with the western herds are said to have contributed to the Mustang evolution. The blood of French horse breeds also runs in the modern-day Mustang, as herds in and around New Orleans were primarily brought to the Americas by French settlers.
During the late 19th – early 20th centuries, the U.S. government heavily purchased old-type East Friesian horses, which originated in Germany. Up to 150 horses were bought each year, and they also participated in the U.S. war efforts across the Spanish-American War and World War I. As the Mustangs had roles to play in the same wars, it is assumed that the East-Friesian breed also had a hand in making the modern-day Mustang what it is.
In terms of their colors, Mustangs can be quite varied. They are also known for their striking coat patterns. Solid-colored Mustangs may be brown, black, bay, chestnut, or grey. Many Mustangs also feature diluted colors such as buckskin, dun, and palomino. Some may even have rare colors such as appaloosa, roan, pinto, or pearl.
What Do They Look Like?
Mustangs have well-shaped heads along with eyes that are wide-spaced, which give them a naturally-intelligent look. Typically, Mustangs are known to have brown eyes. However, they may also have blue eyes if bald face markings are present. The original Spanish Mustangs may have green or grey eyes as well. In terms of eye shape, generally, the eyes of Mustangs are slanted or almond-shaped.
The most striking physical feature of Mustangs is their legs and hooves, which are known for their strength and sturdiness. This is because of the rocky and harsh terrain that their ancestors roamed in, particularly the ones that can be traced back to the wilderness of western United States. From their back legs, they may develop light hair or leg feathering. The Mustangs develop this hair typically during the winter but shed them in the summer. Their hooves are round and have thick walls.
What Are They Used For?
Some of the activities that Mustangs are used for include:
- Ranch work
- Leisure riding
- Trail riding
- Racetrack use
- Show ring use
Where Do They Live?
In today’s times, the habitat of most Mustangs is in the western United States, which is known for its grasslands. This environment gives Mustangs the perfect conditions for grazing. The Mustang population in the U.S. is managed by The Bureau of Land Management, which ensures that the horses live in freedom on North American public lands that are approximately 34 million acres.
According to studies and surveys conducted by the American Wild Horse Preservation Organization, around 271,000 Mustangs have been removed by the government from private land since 1971 and moved to government-owned herd management areas.
Today, most American Mustang populations live in North America. High populations can be found in the states of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, Oregon, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Some populations can be found on the islands of Cumberland, Shackleford, Sable, and Assateague as well. Some others roam the lands of the Atlantic Coast.
Mustangs tend to live as parts of large herds, which consist of a single stallion, approximately eight female Mustangs, and also the younger ones. When threatened by any type of danger, separate herds may blend. Typically, a female Mustang, along with a stallion above six years of age, leads the herd.
When forced to meet any threats in the wilderness, the female is responsible for ensuring the safety of the herd, while the stallion is responsible for fending off the threats, giving the others the necessary time to escape.
Mustangs mostly spend their waking lives grazing in the grasslands, and when they aren’t grazing, they are playful. During sleep, it’s not uncommon to find Mustangs huddled together in a tight group.
How Long Do They Live?
Generally, most Mustangs live until they are 40 years old. Even disabled or hurt Mustangs tend to live a long time as they are well-protected by their respective herds, even when faced with serious threats in the wilderness.
All in all, Mustangs are known for leading some of the longest lives when compared with other types of horses. If cared for properly, Mustangs can live healthily until the very end.
However, improper care may render them vulnerable to some common health issues experienced by horses, such as:
- Arthritis: This degenerative disease of the joints involves the wearing down of the joint cartilage. It gradually reduces the affected area’s movement and is known for being incredibly painful.
- Colic: Colic is a condition that’s characterized by moderate to severe abdominal pain. In worst-case scenarios, colic may require surgical intervention.
- Gastric ulcers: Mustangs that experience chronic stress may develop gastric ulcers, which are caused by gradually developing erosions within a horse’s stomach lining. Gastric ulcers can affect not just a Mustang’s appetite but its behavior and appearance as well.
- Laminitis: Laminitis is a condition that affects a horse’s hooves. Even though Mustangs are known for their strong hooves, age may weaken them, which can lead to inflammation of a structure of soft tissue within the hooves known as laminae. This condition is characterized by moderate to severe pain in the affected hooves.
- Desmitis: Ligament inflammation or desmitis may affect the coffin joint’s collateral, check, and suspensory ligaments. If the condition is severe, it may lead to lameness.
How Fast Are They?
The fact that Mustangs are muscular horses with a lot of agility makes them one of the fastest horses. Mustangs can achieve running speeds of up to 54 miles per hour. They can reach such high speeds because on their feet, they are incredibly light and quick.
Most Mustangs achieve their highest speeds in short bursts. When galloping in a sustained manner, their top speeds drop down to around 50% of the speeds they can achieve within short bursts. However, galloping may not be consistent across all Mustangs. Depending on their origins, some Mustangs prefer fast trotting.
How the horses are raised also contributes to their top speeds. For example, the Mustangs exposed to the wild tend to be faster as they have more threats to deal with, which keeps their fight-or-flight response consistently active. However, the ones who are protected and raised primarily in captivity don’t have the same fight-or-flight response levels due to the lack of threat in their immediate environment, and this can affect their top speeds.
How Much Do They Cost?
A Mustang horse may cost buyers anywhere between $125 – $5,000. Some of the factors that determine the cost of a Mustang include:
- Bloodline: A Mustang Horse that’s descended from a recorded pedigree would cost much more than one descended from an unregistered bloodline.
- Age: Mustangs in their prime would cost significantly more than older horses. Typically, the most expensive Mustangs are 7 – 10 years old.
- Training: Untrained horses are relatively inexpensive compared to the trained ones.
- Behavior: If a Mustang displays good behavioral traits, it would be expensive.
- Health: Mustangs carrying injuries and/or injury risks are more affordable than completely-healthy Mustangs.
Owning a Mustang horse requires owners to be aware of several other expenses as well, which add to the costs in the long run. Some of the factors that contribute to additional costs include:
- Feeding costs that include expenses on feed, hay, and supplements. On average, a Mustang owner can expect the yearly feeding costs to be around $1200.
- If a Mustang owner opts to keep the horse in a stable barn, the costs may range from $400 – $1000 every month.
- Medical costs, including regular check-ups and vaccinations, would set Mustang owners back by around $200 annually.
- Waste management costs may cost as much as $250 every year.
- Annual farrier costs would approximately be $700.
- Dental health and de-worming costs would add another $350 to the annual expenses.
Even the most expensive Mustangs are considered relatively cheaper than other horse breeds. However, before buying one, you should consider the additional expenses that you would have to spend for properly maintaining the horse.
Are They Good For Beginners?
How a Mustang horse behaves with a beginner is completely down to its training. If a Mustang is untrained, it’s not suited for a beginner, as the horse will take a long time to trust the person. In such a scenario, it’s best to hire a reputed trainer who can act as the bridge between the owner and the horse. However, this would also add to the maintenance expenses.
On the other hand, Mustangs that have been well-trained and display good behavior don’t take much time to gel with beginners with little or no riding experience.
The Mustang is an incredibly agile and intelligent American wild horse. The best thing about Mustangs is that they can be trained to be domesticated horses easily, even though their origins are in the wilderness. The fact that they also live long lives also makes them one of the most desired horses in the world.
While maintaining Mustangs comes with the usual costs of feeding, medical expenses, and more, it must be said that compared to other breeds, they are more affordable to maintain. All in all, if you’re on the lookout for a horse that has numerous positive qualities without being too expensive, look no further than the Mustang.