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MUSTANGS. Many mustangs are descendants of sixteenth-century Spanish explorers' imported horses that had escaped and adapted to wilderness conditions. Modern feral horses represent hybrids of numerous breeds and primarily live in western states.

Books and movies usually depict mustangs sentimentally as symbols of freedom. In fact, mustangs often suffer starvation because fires, droughts, and urbanization destroy grazing sites. Pathogens spread fatal diseases in mustang herds. Mustangs occasionally die during natural disasters. Wild animals prey on mustangs. Humans sometimes poach mustangs to sell their carcasses.

The federal government approved extermination of the estimated 2 million mustangs living on public ranges in the 1930s. During the 1950s, Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston (1912–1977) lobbied Congress to halt mustang slaughtering. Nevada legislation forbade contamination of water sources and use of aircraft to hunt mustangs. The federal government designated the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in 1968. By 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect mustangs in the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) jurisdiction. The BLM established Herd Management Areas (HMA). The Wild Horse and Burro Preservation and Managment Act of 1999 assured additional federal protection. BLM personnel round up mustangs for public adoption. The Spanish Mustang Registry, Incorporated, and North American Mustang Association and Registry document mustangs. Sanctuaries protect some mustangs, including two HMAs that help Kiger Mustangs, which genetic tests indicate possess distinctive Spanish Barb traits.


Bureau of Land Management. Home page at

Dines, Lisa. The American Mustang Guidebook: History, Behavior, State-by-State Directions on Where to Best View America's Wild Horses. Minocqua, Wis.: Willow Creek Press, 2001.

Kiger Mesteno Association. Home page at

Spragg, Mark, ed. Thunder of the Mustangs: Legend and Lore of the Wild Horses. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997.

Elizabeth D.Schafer

See alsoHorse .