The mustang: all you need to know about this breed of horse


The mustang is a horse strongly associated with the concept of freedom. It has become a myth very closely linked to America. If you are ready for the trip, follow us to discover this exceptional horse.

Where does the name of the mustang come from?

The name of the mustang comes from the Spanish-Mexican word mestengo, derived from spanish mesteño that some translate as “wandering”, others “untamed”, and still others “without master”. These qualifiers are like 3 ways of considering the mustang, a wild horse evolving in free herds, without an owner.

Closely linked to the history of America, the mustang does not however originate in the strict sense of the term. The horse has indeed been reintroduced during European exploration trips. In 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in America, he did not meet any horse because these animals had disappeared from the continent for several thousand years, and this even though North America was the cradle of the prehistoric ancestors of the horse. It would be during his second expedition that the explorer was entrusted with horses by the King of Spain and introduced them to the continent. The breeding of horses in this point of the globe spread over the following centuries.

If the story ends there, it does not reveal all the secrets of the mustang. Because, we are still at the stage of the domestic horse. In this case, where would the fact that the Mustang is a “masterless” horse come from?

The mustang is a maroon illustration

The mustang is the result of the adaptation of horses returned to the wild. Marronnage or feralization is the term for the evolution of domestic animals into the wild. The horses escaped or were released into the wild because they were sick and their owners no longer wanted to take care of them. The horse being a deeply gregarious animal, these horses in freedom eventually find themselves and constitute wild herds evolving in the American Great Plains. Their survival is facilitated by the fact that they encounter very few predators. The puma is arguably its worst enemy.

This adaptation to wild life gave birth to a kind of horse whose morphology varies enormously, the height at the withers being between 1.32 m and 1.50 m. It is not characterized by any particular dress because the man did not do any selection work. On the contrary, the latter could only note that the return to nature had favored the development of very hardy and extremely frugal horses.

So, when the horse grows in importance, in a context of conquest of the West, they are captured to be eaten or to be put to work. It is estimated that the number of horses living in freedom was 2 million. But man also voluntarily injects well-chosen domestic horses into the wild herds to improve the population and then capture the beautiful specimens resulting from these crosses.

Description of the mustang

Breeding is a delicate job because man must select certain individuals for reproduction, while avoiding the devastating effects of inbreeding. In contrast, the return to nature and the free life of the horse, far from any human intervention, has given birth to one of the strongest wild horses in the world. The natural organization of mustang herds limits the risks of consanguinity: a stallion protects one to twelve mares, their foals of the year and the young males and females of previous years, the young, both males and females, being excluded towards the age of 3 years or the first heat.

Stocky, this horse has a low, sloping rump. Its frame is solid and its hooves very hard, to the point that the irons are unnecessary. It is a rustic horse that shows agility and speed. This robustness has enabled it to adapt to Canadian territories, where climatic conditions are severe and where predators are more numerous. And these characteristics have also led to the use of the name Mustang to promote products such as the Ford Mustang automobile or the P-51 Mustang fighter plane.

The sturdiness of the mustang also comes from its digestive system, common to all horses, which allows it to efficiently extract nutrients from a small amount of food.

Today the presence of this wild horse is controversial: some see mustangs as an almost invasive species with a negative impact on the environment, harming cattle and other wild species. Their defenders are based on history and highlight the anteriority of the presence of horses over that of Europeans.

However, research has shown that mustangs occupy areas of little use to humans and livestock. Most of the mustang herds live in arid areas where livestock cannot venture out due to a lack of water source.

The mustang is a symbol

In the United States, since 1971, it is forbidden to kill or poison mustangs under penalty of prosecution. Depending on the areas and the number of horses / number of predators ratio, mustang populations may not be in balance and grow excessively. Population control is therefore necessary.

When it becomes necessary to intervene, the Americans have developed an amazing technique that involves training a horse to bring a targeted herd into a fenced area. The goal is to take samples from the wild without necessarily killing the animals. The captured horses are therefore donated, along with a small amount of incentive money (around one hundred euros) to owners who attest to their ability to take care of them. But their growing number sometimes requires the use of slaughter.

In the collective imagination, the mustang is the mount of American Natives. In fact, in the Nemaiah Valley in British Columbia, wild horses benefit from the efforts of the Xeni Gwet’in Indians for the preservation of their territory and their heritage, including mustangs.

This horse ultimately turns out to be a symbol with very romantic dimensions: a poetic interpretation presents the animal as the one who refused civilization. He has become the archetype of the indomitable horse, when in fact it is a very easy horse to train!