How to Identify a Mustang Horse: Key Traits and Tips

Are you curious about how to identify a mustang horse? These majestic creatures are known for their wild spirit and unique characteristics. In this blog post, we’ll explore the key traits and tips you need to know to identify a mustang horse. Whether you’re a seasoned equestrian or a curious newcomer, you won’t want to miss this informative guide. So, saddle up and get ready to learn!

History of Mustang Horses

Pair of black and white portrait of a mustang horse

Spanish Conquistadors

The history of Mustang horses dates back to the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors in the Americas. They brought with them horses from Spain, which later gave rise to the breed we know today as the Mustang. These original horses were known as Colonial Spanish Horses, and throughout centuries, interbreeding with various other horse breeds occurred, leading to the diverse population of Mustangs we see today 2.

North America Arrival

As the Europeans delved deeper into the Americas and established their colonies, they brought with them an influx of Spanish horses that played a crucial role in shaping the evolution of Mustangs. While some of these horses were able to break free from their captors or were released, others were bartered or seized by the indigenous people. Gradually, these horses grew accustomed to the varied terrains of North America and eventually gave rise to untamed herds .

Wild Populations

Today, Mustangs are most commonly found in the Western United States, living as free-roaming, wild, or feral horses 5. Due to their origins from once-domesticated horses, Mustangs are considered feral rather than truly wild. The wild populations of Mustangs have further diversified with the introduction of new horse breeds, resulting in different breeding populations with unique characteristics that set them apart from one another 2.

Herd Management

The preservation, wellbeing, and safeguarding of Mustangs, the iconic symbols of the pioneering spirit of the West, require efficient herd management. The Mustang Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, and other organizations, strives to protect and manage the current Mustang populations. This involves closely monitoring the herd sizes, setting aside specific Herd Management Areas for the horses, and organizing adoption initiatives to identify suitable homes for the horses when required.

These efforts serve to preserve the rich history of Mustang horses and the important role they have played in shaping the landscapes and cultures of North America.

Mustang Characteristics


Mustangs possess a wide range of physical characteristics due to their diverse genetic background. They typically have strong muscular bodies and narrow, well-defined chests. Their hindquarters are usually rounded, and their backs tend to be short. Mustangs come in various sizes, shapes, and facial features, making them versatile and unique among the equine world.

Size and Height

The size of Mustang horses varies significantly due to their diverse gene pool. Most Mustangs measure between 52 and 60 inches (13-15 hands, where one hand equals four inches). This range in height allows for a variety of uses, making Mustangs adaptable to many equestrian disciplines.

Coat Colors and Patterns

Mustangs exhibit a wide array of coat colors, including solid and patterned variations. Some common coat colors found in Mustangs are:

  • Black
  • Bay
  • Brown
  • Chestnut
  • Dun
  • Grullo
  • Palomino
  • Roan
  • White

While solid colors are more common, patterns such as pinto, appaloosa, and overo can occasionally be observed. The diverse coat color spectrum of the Mustang is reflective of its genetic pool, which includes multiple breeds of domestic horses.

Facial Features

The facial features of Mustang horses can vary greatly from individual to individual. However, some common traits include:

  • Broad forehead
  • Pronounced jaw and cheekbones
  • Almond-shaped eyes
  • Wide nostrils

Mustangs often have expressive eyes that convey a sense of intelligence and curiosity. In addition, unique facial markings, such as stars, stripes, or snips, can help distinguish individual Mustangs and make their appearance even more distinct.

To identify a Mustang horse, look for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) brand on the left side of its neck and observe its physical characteristics such as size, body shape, and eye color. Mustang horses are a diverse and versatile breed, and their varying characteristics make them a fascinating subject of study for equestrian enthusiasts.

Behavior and Temperament

Beautiful bay stallion galloping across the field on forest background

Wild Behavior and Herds

The behavior of Mustang horses is heavily influenced by their innate understanding of herd dynamics, owing to their feral nature. These equines are primarily found in expansive, open terrains that require them to possess exceptional endurance skills for survival. As prey animals, they are prone to getting startled easily and often display a protective streak towards their herd mates. Mustang horses are known to exist in diverse groups, with a well-defined social order in place, where they depend on each other for protection and direction.

Human Interaction

When it comes to human interaction, Mustangs’ behavior varies depending on their individual backgrounds and levels of training. A Mustang that has been rounded up and adopted with little handling can be quite reactive and skittish around humans. However, once a bond or trust is established with humans, their naturally intelligent nature leads them to adapt and become more amenable to training and human interaction.

Intelligence and Trainability

Mustangs are highly intelligent creatures, making them relatively trainable despite their wild nature. With proper handling, time, and patience, these horses are capable of learning a wide range of skills expected of domesticated horses. Their endurance and hardiness, which have been honed in their natural habitats, contribute to their impressive capacity for physical tasks and adaptability.

Physical Attributes

Mustangs display a variety of physical characteristics that help in their identification. Most Mustang horses feature strong, muscular bodies, narrow yet well-defined chests, rounded hindquarters, and short backs. They typically stand between 13 and 15 hands (52-60 inches) in height. Their compact, rounded hooves and low-set tails are also standard for this breed. Mustangs can be found in various colors, including black, bay, dun, palomino, gray, and spotted.

Bureau of Land Management and Adoption

Wild horse Mustang in sandy area

Herd Management Areas

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is entrusted with safeguarding and managing the wild horse population, including Mustangs, by designating specific regions known as Herd Management Areas (HMAs) across public lands in the United States. These areas serve as a suitable habitat for maintaining sustainable and healthy populations of wild horses.

To identify a Mustang, one must familiarize themselves with the equine’s physical attributes and behavioral tendencies that differentiate them from other breeds. These hardy horses typically measure between 13 to 15 hands high (52 to 60 inches at the shoulder) and weigh anywhere from 700 to 1000 pounds. Mustangs exhibit a range of coat colors, including bay, black, chestnut, dun, grulla, palomino, and pinto. However, their most prominent distinguishing feature is their thick, low-set tail, which often displays a unique pattern of black and white hairs.

Mustang Adoption Program

The BLM has established the Adoption Program to help rehome excess wild horses and burros, including mustangs, into private care. This program aims to place these animals into suitable homes, providing them with the care and shelter they need. Eligible adopters can receive up to $1,000 as an adoption incentive through the Adoption Incentive Program, applicable for all untrained animals, which helps promote successful adoptions.

Adopting or purchasing a mustang through the BLM requires following specific guidelines and ensuring that the adopter can provide adequate care for the animal. Potential adopters must meet the BLM’s requirements, such as having suitable facilities and the ability to care for the adopted horse or burro. It is important to note that these adopted animals cannot be sold, traded, or offered for auction until ownership has been officially transferred, which typically happens after a probationary period.

To further streamline the adoption process and help potential adopters find mustangs or burros, the BLM has also introduced the Wild Horse and Burro Online Corral. This platform allows users to browse available animals, submit adoption applications, and track the status of their applications, all in one user-friendly interface.

Health and Care

A mother and her colt mustang eating grass

Diet and Nutrition

Mustang horses, like other horse breeds, require a balanced diet for optimal health. The foundation of their diet should consist of forage, which includes pasture plants and harvested hay. Mustangs typically graze on a variety of grasses and other plants, providing them with a diverse range of nutrients. In addition to forage, they may require supplemental feed, such as pelleted feed and grains, depending on their individual needs, age, and activity levels. It is crucial to monitor their weight and adjust the diet accordingly to keep them in good health.

Health and Lifespan

Mustang horses generally have strong genetics, contributing to their overall health and resilience. This breed has a lifespan of around 20-30 years, with some individuals exceeding that age range. One common health concern for Mustangs pertains to their feet. In the wild, they traverse rugged terrain, keeping their hooves in check. As a domesticated horse, their hooves require regular maintenance from a professional farrier. Another essential aspect of a Mustang’s healthcare involves dental care, ensuring their teeth remain in good condition throughout their life.

Shelter and Elements

While Mustangs are a hardy breed, they still require protection from extreme weather conditions and access to a shelter. Providing a pasture with trees or a constructed shelter will help shield them from wind, rain, and excessive heat. Mustangs thrive in various environments, from arid deserts to mountainous regions; however, they must always have access to clean water sources and shade.

Feral Animal vs Domesticated Horse Care

Although Mustangs originated as feral animals, once they are domesticated, their care requirements become similar to other horse breeds. This includes consistent and responsible pasture management, providing access to fresh water and forage, and maintaining their living environments. Domesticated Mustangs also need regular veterinary care, including vaccinations and Coggins tests for Equine Infectious Anemia.

Adapting a feral Mustang to a domesticated environment may initially pose some challenges, as they may be less trusting of humans and require additional time and patience to establish a bond. However, once a relationship is built, a domesticated Mustang becomes a loyal and trainable companion.

In conclusion, taking care of a Mustang horse involves providing appropriate shelter, diet, and medical care, as well as tending to their unique needs and traits. By ensuring their health and well-being, these magnificent horses can be a valuable and cherished addition to any equestrian enthusiast’s family.

Activities and Uses

Brown Mustang horses in mountains on sunny day

Mustang horses are well-known for their versatility, making them suitable for various activities and uses. These horses exhibit strength, athleticism, high endurance, and trainability, which allow them to excel in different areas of equestrian sports.

Trail Riding and Dressage

Mustangs are excellent trail-riding companions due to their surefootedness, intelligence, and adaptability in different terrains. These horses often display a steadfast and trustworthy nature, making them the ideal choice for both novice and experienced riders enjoying outdoor exploration.

In dressage, the mustang’s natural athleticism and trainability provide the necessary foundation to excel in this discipline. Their ability to quickly adapt and learn complex movements allows riders to develop a deep connection with their horse, leading to successful dressage performances.

Racing and Endurance Sports

Though mustang horses may not be as well-known for their speed as thoroughbreds and Arabian horses, they possess a high level of stamina that makes them suitable for endurance sports. Their hardy build and stamina provide them with the capacity to endure long distances and challenging conditions.

While you might not typically find mustangs competing professionally in flat racing, they can indeed participate in local racing events or competitions reserved for non-thoroughbred breeds.

In conclusion, mustang horses are truly versatile, suitable for various activities and uses such as trail riding, dressage, racing, and endurance sports. Their characteristics, including trainability, athleticism, and strength, provide equestrian enthusiasts with a wide array of options for enjoying and engaging with these extraordinary animals.

Different Types of Mustangs

Mustang horses are known for their strong, muscular bodies and adaptive nature. Their unique characteristics make them a fascinating subject for horse enthusiasts. In this section, we will explore the different types of Mustangs, providing you with the key features that set them apart.

Pryor Mountain Mustang

The Pryor Mountain Mustang is a distinct type of Mustang found in the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming. These horses typically have a grullo (blueish-gray) or dun coloration with distinct leg stripes and dorsal stripes. Pryor Mountain Mustangs are known for their durability and sure-footedness on rugged terrain.

Kiger Mustang

The Kiger Mustang is another popular breed, predominantly found in Oregon. They are characterized by a Spanish heritage, leading to their compact bodies and distinctive head shape. They often have a dun or grullo color, with a few bay or chestnut specimens. Kiger Mustangs have a reputation for their intelligence, strength, and agility.

Cerbat Mustang

The Cerbat Mustang hails from Arizona and is typically roan, chestnut, or bay in color. They often feature a blaze marking and white legs. These horses can reach a height of 14 or 15 hands (approximately 60 inches or 150cm), and are recognized for their calm temperament and ambling gait.

Spanish Mustang

The Spanish Mustang is a direct descendant of the horses brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. They have a sleek and agile appearance, with a well-muscled body and distinctive head shape. Their coat colors come in a variety of shades, including bay, sorrel, dun, and grullo. Spanish Mustangs are known for their hardiness, endurance, and versatility.

Chincoteague Pony

Originating from the barrier islands of Virginia and Maryland, the Chincoteague Pony is a small yet sturdy breed. They are often referred to as “Mustangs” due to their feral ancestry, but are technically considered a breed of pony. Chincoteague Ponies are highly sought after for their gentle nature, making them a popular choice for young riders and families alike.

Colonial Spanish Mustang

The Colonial Spanish Mustang represents the last remaining strains of the true Spanish Mustang. They possess the typical Spanish features, such as a well-defined head, rounded hindquarters, and a narrow chest. Colonial Spanish Mustangs are highly adaptable and resilient, showcasing their ability to thrive in varying climates and conditions.

By understanding the different types of Mustangs and their unique characteristics, horse enthusiasts can better identify and appreciate these resilient and versatile equines.

How to Identify a Mustang Horse

The herd of wild mustangs on a summer day

To accurately identify a mustang horse, it’s vital to examine its unique physical features that set it apart from other breeds. Mustangs tend to be smaller and stocky, typically measuring between 52 and 60 inches (13-15 hands) in height and weighing up to 800 lbs. They possess strong muscular bodies, narrow yet well-defined chests, rounded hindquarters, and short backs.

A variety of colors are found in mustangs ranging from palomino, chestnut, and black, among others. Although there isn’t an official standard for the breed, variation in color and body shape can be expected.

A notable characteristic of mustangs is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) brand found on the left side of their neck. This branding is used to manage and identify these feral horses. In addition to the BLM brand, observing the mustang’s distinctive eye color is also helpful for identification purposes.


Identifying a mustang horse requires careful observation of its physical characteristics and knowledge of the breed’s unique features. Paying attention to details such as height, body shape, color, eye color, and the presence of a BLM brand on the neck will help differentiate a mustang from other horse breeds. Mustangs, with their roots in North America, are an essential part of the region’s history and serve as a symbol of the untamed spirit of the American West. Becoming familiar with these distinguishing features will surely help anyone interested in spotting these fascinating creatures in the wild.