There are few images that represent the American spirit better than wild mustangs. Freedom, toughness, tenacity, romance, and beauty: wild horses embody all of the things that Americans associate with the birth and growth of our nation. It might be surprising, therefore, to learn that the wild horses of today's American West are not descended from native horses at all. At least not directly.
The Evolution and Migration of the North American Horse
The first true horses like those that we have today, Equus caballus, appeared in North America about a million years ago. They evolved from ancestors that looked nothing like horses and were the size of small foxes. From North America, Equus Caballus migrated over land bridges into South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa (Edwards, 1995).
Extinction of the North American Horse
Sometime during or just after the last ice age, around 8,000-11,000 years ago, Equus caballus went extinct in North America. Because horses had migrated to other continents before the land bridges disappeared, they continued to evolve and grow there, but there were no longer any native horses in America. This is why the wild horses in the Western United States today are not directly descended from Native American horses at all. Rather, the horse was brought back to America from Europe in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadores, such Cortez (Edwards, 1995).
Reverting to the Wild
The wild horses, or mustangs, in America's Western states today are descendants of animals that escaped or were released from the cattle ranches of early Spanish settlers in the 1500s. This means that the horses were not truly "wild," but actually "feral" (domestic animals finding themselves back in nature). In the 1850s, there were around two million mustangs in America. Hunters, mostly selling them to pet food companies, had caused the numbers of mustangs to fall drastically by the mid 1970s.
Today's Wild Mustangs
In 1971, legislation was passed to help preserve America's mustangs. Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is charged with "maintaining a balance between the needs of ranching, recreation, and wildlife" (Ginsburg, 2001). Horses are caught, held, and sometimes adopted out to preserve enough range land for ranchers.
More than half of the wild horses in America today live in Nevada. There are some in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Utah, California, North Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, and Idaho. There are also populations on several Atlantic islands (America's Wild Horses, 2014).
Debates About Wild Horses
As is the case with many issues, there is disagreement over the best way to deal with America's wild horses. Some believe that, since they are not truly from native stock, the horses are an invasive species using up resources and should all be removed. Others believe that they deserve to keep their place in America's West, whether they are direct descendants of animals that evolved there or not. One thing seems certain: America's wild horse has had a history filled with struggle, beauty, freedom, oppression, and survival. Just like America itself.
America's Wild Horses. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wildlife Land Trust: http://www.hswlt.org/wildlife/close-ups/mustang-wildlife-close-up.html
Edwards, E. H. (1995). Wild Horses: A Spirit Unbroken. Stillwater: Voyageur Press, Inc.
Ginsburg, J. (2001, October 26). U.S. Wild Horses: Too Many Survivors on Too Little Land? Retrieved from National Geographic News: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/1024_TVmustangs.html
Sign up to receive sales and coupon deals by email
Thank you for signing up for our mailing list! Your email address has been successfully received.
Western Decor & Furniture
Western decor is all about spunk and spirit, bringing together the desert beauty of the southwest with rugged cowboy charm and rustic good looks. Lone Star Western Decor is a great place to find the Western decorating ideas and decor you desire. We have everything you need to get the look you love. Our Western furniture collection sets the stage with high-quality craftsmanship and lots of Western detail, including rich leathers, nailhead trim and reclaimed woods for vintage elegance. For the bedroom, stop in and check out our Western bedding sets. We have everything you need, from complete Western bed sets, including comforters, bedskirts and shams, to lively, luxurious accent pillows in rich colors and textures. And you can light up the whole room with our selection of Western lighting. Here you’ll also find all the details that make a room complete. Try some new bath hardware with lovely turquoise stones, or a Western framed print to give your room a final, personal touch. Stop in and take a look around. Were sure you’ll find the beautiful Western looks and cowboy decor you crave.
Sign up to receive sales and coupon deals by email.
Lone Star Western Decor's products were recently featured on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We donated over 30 items to the Barrett Family including bedding, throws & home decor.
Shop for western decor, western furniture, rustic lighting, and cowboy decor at Lone Star Western Decor, your online source for country western accessories. Search for hundreds of items including western gifts, rustic home furnishing, cowboy bedding, leather pillows and more at Lone Star Western Decor. This is the largest online store selling rustic cowboy accessories, western bedding and antler chandeliers. Our home decor online store offers a vast collection of rustic and western merchandise that can be used for decorating cabins, lodges and your country western home. New arrivals this month can be found in our new items category and also in our western bedding and western furniture categories. We have also added new western art, rustic lamps and cabin bedding. New western decor items are added weekly, so please keep checking with us for the latest on western decorating ideas.