What is a Mustang Horse: Comprehensive Guide on the Wild Breed

Are you curious about the majestic and untamed Mustang Horse? Wondering what sets this breed apart from others? Look no further! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history, characteristics, and unique traits of the Mustang Horse. So, what is a Mustang Horse? Let’s find out.

What is a Mustang Horse?

Beautiful Wild mustang running in desert

The Mustang horse is a breed of horse found primarily in the western United States. Known for their speed, agility, and hardiness, these horses have a rich history that dates back to the time when Spanish explorers brought their horses to the Americas. Today, Mustangs continue to thrive in the wild and are also used for various equestrian activities, such as trail riding and racing.

Origin and History

The origin of the Mustang horse can be traced back to the Spanish horses that were brought to the Americas by explorers and settlers in the 16th century. Over time, some of these horses escaped or were released into the wild, where they interbred with other free-roaming horses, eventually resulting in the development of the distinctive Mustang breed we know today.

Throughout history, Mustangs played an essential role in the lives of Native Americans, settlers, and pioneers, being used as workhorses, for transportation, and even in warfare. In the 20th century, their role began to evolve as they became more popular for recreational purposes and equestrian sports, but their wild populations continued to thrive in certain areas of the western United States as well.

Domesticated vs. Feral Mustangs

While some may refer to Mustangs as “wild” horses, it is important to note the distinction between truly wild horses and those that are considered feral. Mustangs actually fall into the latter category, as they originate from domesticated Spanish horses that eventually became free-roaming and adapted to life in the wild. These feral horses have maintained the survival skills they acquired throughout the centuries, enabling them to thrive in the often harsh landscapes of the American West.

Some domesticated Mustangs exist today due to the efforts of horse enthusiasts who capture, adopt, or purchase these horses from government programs that manage and protect the wild populations. These domesticated Mustangs have been trained and integrated into human households, where they can be used for various purposes, ranging from pleasure riding to participating in equestrian sports.

Physical Characteristics

The physical characteristics of Mustang horses vary, but they generally possess certain traits that make them unique and fascinating.

Size and Shape

Mustangs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes due to their diverse genetic ancestry. Their height typically ranges from 13 to 16 hands high and their bodies can be either full-bodied or daintier in appearance. The availability of forage in their habitat also influences their size.

Coat Colors and Patterns

With a multitude of ancestry lines, Mustangs display a variety of coat colors and patterns. Common coat colors include black, bay, dun, palomino, gray, and spotted. The patterns of their coats can be diverse as well, reflecting the many different breeds that have contributed to their genetic makeup.

Head, Eyes, and Legs

Mustangs often have well-shaped heads that give them an intelligent appearance. Their eyes are wide-spaced, typically brown, but may also be blue with bald face markings or green or gray in some Spanish Mustang lineages. Mustangs have well-proportioned and strong legs that contribute to their durability and athleticism.

Hooves and Surefootedness

One of the most striking features of the Mustang is their strong, healthy hooves. These hooves give them exceptional surefootedness and the ability to navigate rough terrain with ease. In the wild, their hooves have been naturally honed to withstand various conditions and can endure without frequent intervention by a farrier.

Breeding and Population

A group of American wild mustang horses standing

Mustang horses, descendants of domestic Spanish horses brought to the Americas in the 16th century, are known to breed in the wild and currently face overpopulation issues. Due to their versatile nature, these horses have found successful careers in various fields like trail riding, ranch work, and dressage.

Feral Horse Herds

Although classified as wild free-roaming horses, Mustangs are, in reality, feral horses, as they are descendants of once-domesticated animals. They reside mostly in the western United States, forming herds that maintain unique social structures and band organizations. These herds are generally led by a dominant stallion and consist of several mares and their offspring, ensuring a strong gene pool and contributing to their population growth.

Herd Management Areas

Due to the significant impact of these herds on the environment and potential conflicts with other land uses, Herd Management Areas (HMAs) have been established to balance their ecological needs with those of the surrounding ecosystems. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for implementing herd management programs across these designated areas, which includes population control measures like fertility control, adoption programs, and roundups when necessary.

These management efforts aim to ensure that the Mustang population remains at sustainable levels, while also preserving the overall health and genetic diversity of the herds. Monitoring and data collection in HMAs help inform decisions related to the maintenance of the Mustang population, the preservation of their unique heritage, and the mitigation of their impact on the environment.

Habitat and Range

Mustang horses running in green mountains

Mustang horses are predominantly found in the western United States, particularly in states such as Oregon, Montana, Nevada, California, and Wyoming. Their habitat varies depending on their location and access to essential resources like fresh water and grazing areas.

Western United States

In the western United States, mustangs have successfully adapted to the region’s diverse landscapes. From arid deserts and mountainous terrains to open grasslands, these wild horses have evolved to thrive in these unpredictable environments. Their ability to navigate challenging terrains gives them a competitive edge over other horse breeds in the wilderness.

Grasslands and Fresh Water

One of the key factors contributing to the success of mustangs in the wild is their preference for grassland and prairie habitats with ample vegetation. These areas provide a reliable food source for the horses, primarily consisting of grass and brush. Additionally, access to fresh water sources is vital for their survival. Mustangs can often be found near rivers, streams, or other bodies of water that provide them with the hydration they need to maintain their health.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the wild horse and burro populations in the United States, allowing them to freely roam on designated public lands. To ensure the welfare of these animals and protect their habitats, the BLM has allocated approximately 26.9 million acres of public land for mustangs and burros. This land management strategy provides a balanced ecosystem where the horses can coexist with other local wildlife and the natural resources they rely on.

Under the BLM’s supervision, mustang horses, along with their burro counterparts, continue to roam and inhabit the diverse landscapes of the western United States. This unique partnership between the horses and the agency ensures these iconic equines can thrive in their natural habitats and maintain their place as a significant part of American history.

Care and Diet

A group of magestic American wild mustang horses

When it comes to the care and diet of a mustang horse, understanding their unique features, background, and feeding requirements are crucial. Mustangs are wild horses that originate from North America and have developed a reputation for their hardiness and adaptability to various environments. They have not only adjusted to life in the wild but have also successfully been tamed and integrated into domestic life. In this section, you will find a detailed guide on mustang horse care, focusing on feeding requirements, shelter, fencing, health issues, and hardiness aspects.

Feeding Requirements

Mustang horses primarily thrive on a diet consisting of grasses found in their native pastures. As opportunistic feeders, they can also graze on shrubs and other plant materials to meet their nutritional needs. In a domestic setting, you should provide your mustang with harvested hay, making sure they receive about 2-2½ percent of their body weight in food each day. If necessary, supplement their diet with grains, but bear in mind that mustangs naturally have a lower caloric requirement than many domesticated breeds.

Shelter and Fencing

Due to their wild origins, mustangs tend to have a preference for pasture living, with access to plenty of natural grazing. However, they still need shelter and protection from the elements, predators, and other potential hazards. As a result, it’s crucial to provide them with a well-constructed, safe, and secure shelter that offers proper ventilation and adequate space for movement. Fencing should be sturdy and tall enough to deter mustangs from escaping while still enabling them to see their surroundings and socialize with other horses.

Health Issues

Mustang horses are known for their overall good health, but they can still face issues related to their adoption, domestication, and care. Their hardiness serves as an advantage, but it’s important to keep an eye on any signs of illness, injury, or discomfort. Just like other breeds, mustangs should be routinely checked by a veterinarian for parasites, dental care, and general well-being. Additionally, keeping an up-to-date vaccination and deworming schedule can help maintain your mustang’s optimum health.

Hardy Nature

One of the most fascinating features of mustang horses is their hardy nature, making them adaptable to various environments and able to survive with limited resources. Their strong, healthy hooves and resistance to many common equine health issues are a testament to their remarkable resilience. However, this doesn’t mean they can be neglected or provided with insufficient care. To maintain their hardiness and ensure their well-being, it’s vital to meet their unique requirements, proper pasture management, and consistent health care.

Training and Discipline

American wild mustang horse on a beach

When working with a Mustang horse, the key to success is patience and consistency. These horses have developed survival instincts in the wild, so understanding their nature and building a strong bond with them through proper training is essential. In this section, we will explore the steps to build trust, human interaction, and the versatility and trainability of Mustangs in various disciplines.

Building Trust and Human Interaction

Building trust with a Mustang starts with creating a safe and comfortable environment. As it is important to establish a bond between the horse and the handler, daily interaction is crucial. Consistent handling and spending time grooming or simply being in their presence can help build the foundation of trust and make the horse more at ease with human presence. It’s important to remember that Mustangs have a history of feral living, and they may take longer to trust humans compared to their domestic counterparts.

The process of gentling a Mustang involves working with their natural instincts and using pressure-release techniques. This can be achieved through methods such as working on leading, yielding to pressure, and teaching the horse to respond to basic cues on the ground. Establishing trust in the early stages of training is pivotal for successful human-horse relationships, paving the way for further training in various disciplines.

Trainability and Versatility

Once trust and communication are established, Mustangs are widely known for their trainability and versatility. They possess a strong work ethic, natural athleticism, and intelligence, making them suitable for a variety of disciplines, including trail riding, dressage, jumping, and western riding. Given their survival instincts, they are often level-headed and adaptable to new environments and challenges.

Training sessions should be consistent, with a minimum of one hour a day, five days a week, as recommended by experts (Horse Illustrated). This consistency is critical, as inconsistency in training may cause the Mustang to revert back to their feral tendencies. Additionally, it’s important to break the sessions into manageable, short durations that allow the horse to process and retain information without feeling overwhelmed.

Mustangs can be versatile in numerous disciplines, making them suitable companions for various equestrian activities. Their unique features, such as the dorsal stripes, are indicative of their hardy and resilient nature. Training a Mustang requires time, patience, and dedication, but the reward is a loyal, intelligent, and talented partner, ready to take on any challenge or adventure.

Mustang Horse Types and Special Cases

Wild Mustang horses running in autumn

The mustang horse is a wild horse breed native to North America, known for its strength, endurance, and adaptability. This breed has several unique types, including the Kiger Mustang, Pryor Mountain Mustang, Cerbat Mustang, and Spanish Mustang. Each type has distinct characteristics and histories, making them fascinating subjects for enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Kiger Mustang

The Kiger Mustang is a rare and distinctive type of mustang, known for its dun and buckskin coats. These horses are thought to be direct descendants of the original Spanish horses brought to North America by explorers. The Kiger Mustang’s unique features include a primitive dorsal stripe down the spine and zebra-like markings on the legs. They also have a compact and sturdy build, making them well-suited for various types of riding and ranch work.

Pryor Mountain Mustang

Originating from the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming, the Pryor Mountain Mustang is another descendant of Spanish horses. These mustangs exhibit a wide range of coat colors, including bay, chestnut, black, palomino, and roan. They have a strong social structure and are known for their friendly and intelligent nature. The Pryor Mountain Mustang is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to ensure their preservation and to allow for adoption by qualified individuals.

Cerbat Mustang

The Cerbat Mustang is a rare type found primarily in the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona. These horses exhibit coat colors such as brown, bay, and chestnut, and are known for their gentle and calm demeanor. They have a strong connection to the Native American tribes that once inhabited the region, and their historical significance has led to efforts to preserve and protect the Cerbat Mustang population.

Spanish Mustang

The Spanish Mustang has a rich heritage, with roots tracing back to the horses brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors. These mustangs are often pinto-colored, with a wide range of coat patterns and colors such as black, bay, chestnut, and palomino. Spanish Mustangs are well-adapted to the wild, with hardy constitutions and excellent endurance. They have a deep bond with the Native American tribes who utilized them in various capacities throughout history.

Each of these types of mustang horses offers a unique glimpse into the diverse characteristics and histories of this iconic North American breed. As research and management efforts continue, the conservation of these distinctive types will help to ensure the mustang’s enduring legacy as a symbol of the American Wild West.


In conclusion, the Mustang horse is a unique and historically significant breed that has roamed the western United States for centuries. These feral horses, originating from domesticated ancestors, have adapted to their environment and developed characteristics that set them apart from other breeds. Known for their versatile size and muscular physique, Mustangs have been appreciated for their stamina, endurance, and adaptability, both in the wild and in domesticated situations.

Over time, the hardy Mustang has demonstrated its ability to survive and thrive, even in harsh conditions. This resilience translates to impressive lifespans, with some Mustangs living up to 40 years in the wild and between 25 to 30 years in captivity (The Horse and Stable). The breed exhibits a wide array of colors, reflecting its diversity in both genetics and appearance.

While Mustangs can be tamed and ridden like other breeds, their wild nature may make the process more challenging than with a typical domestic horse (Live Science). Nevertheless, enthusiasts and horse lovers alike appreciate these energetic and adaptable creatures for their unique presence in American history and their contributions to the equine tapestry.