The mustang is a free-roaming horse of the American west that first descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish. Mustangs are often referred to as wild horses.
In 1971, the United States Congress recognized that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”
Mustangs are a medium-sized breed of horse. They measure around 14 to 15 hands. Hands are the common standard of measurement for horses. This equals 56 inches to 60 inches. They weigh around 800 pounds.
Mustangs have a wide variety of colors. Usually, they are bay, which is a reddish brown, or sorrel, which is a chestnut color. They can also have a variety of colors, patches, spots and stripes.
About 271,000 mustangs have been removed from private land by the government since 1971, according to the American Wild Horse Preservation Organization. Most of the mustang populations are found in the Western states of Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, California, Arizona, North Dakota and New Mexico. Some also live on the Atlantic coast and on islands such as the Sable, Shackleford, Assateague and Cumberland Islands.
Mustangs live in large herds. The herd consists of one stallion, around eight females and their young, though separate herds have been known to blend when they are in danger. The herd is led by a female horse, or mare, and a stallion that is over 6 years of age. In dangerous situations, the head mare will lead her heard to safety, and the stallion will stay and fight.
Herds spend most of their time grazing on grasses, though it is not unusual to see them playing or snuggling together for a nap. Often, when it looks like they are fighting, young mustangs are actually playing a game, much like when human children wrestle.
In the wild, Mustangs can live up to 40 years. Hurt or disabled horses are protected by the herd and can live remarkably long lives when compared with other animal species that live in the wild.
In the Wild West, cowboys would catch, tame and sell mustangs. These cowboys were called “mustang runners.” Mustangs were also hunted for their meat in the early 20th century. Sometimes their meat was used for pet food.