The mountains and the lands of the West are powerfully beautiful – dignified and majestic- as are the horses that live among them.

Wild horses are born with the colors of the mountain upon them: the browns, reds and blues, the dapple and flea-speckled grays and the white of the snow-covered peaks.

They are as tough as the steep rocky hills, and when they gallop, their hoof beats resound like distant thunder.

Horses are a nation that finds joy in living and in friendship. They play with unabashed gusto, teasing and tackling and playing catch me if you can.

Sometimes they hurt each other, but forgiveness comes swiftly. Soon they are resting side by side.

The mares watch the fillies and colts playing, standing close by like schoolmarms ready to break up mock battles if they get too rough. The words “band,” “harem” and “herd” are used to describe groupings of horses, but they fail to relay the intensity of the family of young and old: fillies, colts and mares, and the stallion that guards them all. They have close bonds of friendship and stinging rivalries, but they don’t have the human fault of holding a grudge. They are a nation unto themselves and in harmony with their environment.

The history of man and horse is woven into a story more than 5,000 years old. Horses have been at the heart of that tapestry, a vivid patchwork of conquest as man triumphed over his fellow humans and the good earth. The horse has brought us from humble caves and huts to the palaces of kings, tilled the land, carried produce to market, endured our weight going home and then freed our hearts as we raced over the mountains for the sheer joy of the wind in our hair.

Yet, in some communities, wild horses and burros have been classified as an over populating nuisance akin to rats in the cellar. But rats have never taken a bullet in our wars or fallen to the ground struggling to clear our lands or broken a leg racing for our entertainment.

Yes, the populations of wild horses and burros need to be adjusted to the conditions where they now live, confined by fences and government regulations. Where there are too many for the land to support, they need to be removed, for the benefit of themselves and the land.

But it is not humane to let them “naturally” starve or die of thirst in the unnatural environment we have created for them. Once we remove the “excess,” for whatever reason, man has the responsibility to see that they are cared for properly, as true friends and companions.

Horses need to have enough space to run freely and to live with other horses as nature intended. They can express their true joy in being alive, so that their power and majesty can shine forth like a sunrise over the mountains.

From “The Wild Horse: An Adopter’s Manual” by Barbara Eustis-Cross and Nancy Bowker. Available from the Life Foundation, 1111 So. Lamb Rd., Ridgecrest, CA 93555 (760) 375-4574 – – $30.00 book, shipping and handling

“…Congress finds
and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the
historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity
of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and
that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American

From the Wild Free-roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971


The Surprising History of America’s Wild Horses

Jay F. Kirkpatrick and Patricia M. Fazio

Modern horses, zebras, and asses belong to the genus Equus, the only surviving genus in a once diverse family, the Equidae. Based on fossil records, the genus appears to have originated in North America about 4 million years ago and spread to Eurasia (presumably by crossing the Bering land bridge) 2 to 3 million years ago. Following that original emigration, there were additional westward migrations to Asia and return migrations back to North America, as well as several extinctions of Equus species in North America.

The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, but by then Equus had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Animals that on paleontological grounds could be recognized as subspecies of the modern horse originated in North America between 1 million and 2 million years ago. When Linnaeus coined the species name, E. caballus, however, he only had the domesticated animal in mind. Its closest wild ancestor may have been the tarpan, often classified as E. ferus; there is no evidence, though, that the tarpan was a different species. In any case the domesticated horse probably did not arise at a single place and time, but was bred from several wild varieties by Eurasian herders.

Additional information on the history of horses:

Most of the evolutionary development of the horse (54 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago) actually took place in North America, where they developed the very successful strategy of grazing (eating grass) rather than browsing (eating softer succulent leaves). These grazers had evolved specialized teeth for processing the stiff and coarse grass that was at that time becoming very plentiful on the Great Plains of North America. Pliohippus, the first primitive horse that had a single toe and hoof on each leg, like our modern horses.

Horses (Equus) continued to evolve and develop for another six million years after Pliohippus and became very successful, spreading throughout North America. At some point some of them crossed into the Old World via the Arctic-Asia land bridge. Then, suddenly, no one is absolutely certain why, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, Equus disappeared from North and South America. Various theories have been advanced including destruction by drought, disease, or extinction as a result of hunting by growing human populations. At any rate, the horse was gone from the western hemisphere. The submergence of the Bering land bridge prevented any return migration from the Old World or Asia, and the horse was not seen again on its native continent until the Spanish explorers brought horses by ship in the sixteenth century.


The American Mustang is more accurately termed the “feral horse”. Feral horses (commonly known as Mustangs) are those horses whose ancestors were domestic horses that were freed or escaped from early explorers, native tribes, ranches, cavalry, etc. to become free-roaming herds all across the United States. The first domestic horses in America arrived with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. During the early Spanish exploration years, horses came over with each voyage. The Spanish explorers were supplied these horses by breeding farms in the West Indies. It is not well documented on how or when the first horses were either stolen or escaped from the Spaniards, but it is estimated that by the 1800’s there were 2 to 5 million head of feral horses, mostly in the Southwest. Currently there are only an estimated 29,000 Mustangs still free-roaming on public lands in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. These numbers were provided by the Bureau of Land Management’s herd statistics. The BLM’s concludes that there is still an excess of about 2,500 horses. Interestingly, there are 32,000 wild horses in BLM holding facilities – more than there are in the wild.

Throughout the history of the feral horse, the government devised ways to reduce the numbers of free-roaming horses to appease the cattle-ranchers vying for the grazing land, and to keep the herds from over-populating thus starving to death due to lack of grazing land. As recently as 1952 a group of concerned citizens in Storey County, Nevada protested in court against roundups of the wild horses to be sent for slaughter by the use of airplanes. They convinced the Board of Commissioners that the practice was inhumane. The use of planes for pursuit of wild horses was banned in Storey County. This was the beginning of the movement to protect wild horses and burros.

“Wild Horse Annie” continued to fight for the survival of the wild horse and burro. She brought the plight of the wild horse and burro to the attention of the U.S. Congress. She lobbied against the cruel capture practices, and for management of the herd reductions so as not to wipe out the wild herds altogether. In 1971 the Wild Free-roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed by Congress which requires the protection, management, and control of wild free-roaming horses and burros on public lands.

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