World’s best horse breeds: the Mustang

Its name comes from the Spanish word mesteño, for stray or wild, but the Mustang is technically feral, from domesticated stock. There were no equines in the Americas before the Spanish conquistadors brought their horses with them in the 16th century, and these were the ancestors of the Mustang. They would have been a mix of the noble Barb horses from Morocco, the somewhat unprepossessing grey-dun Sorraia from Portugal and the magnificent Andalusian from Spain.

When the Native Americans rose against Spanish rule in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the invaders retreated, leaving thousands of horses behind. The Pueblo people were great natural horsemen and had learned to ride but instead of rounding up the wild horses, they would raid Spanish settlements and steal the domesticated ones. In response, the Spanish government shipped tens of thousands to horses to the New World in the hope that the native people would catch them and leave the settlements alone.

Those wild horses would have been influenced over time by German draught breeds used by the American government to pull heavy artillery, and French mounts brought by European settlers. These and some cowboy ponies almost certainly escaped or were allowed to run free, adding their bloodlines to the original equines.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than two million horses roaming the American plains and they were seen by ranchers as pests, eating the grazing that was meant for their cattle. The ranchers took to shooting the horses and, by 1970, fewer than 17,000 remained.

Stating that Mustangs were “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act in 1971.

Today, there are around 41,000 Mustang and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, including the occasional grullo, or grey-dun, that harks back to its Spanish heritage.


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