Wild horses will be allowed to roam free

Current Situation

Askolds Berovskis/Shutterstock

Wild horses roaming freely in the American West symbolize the great American spirit. The sight of these strong, beautiful creatures has inspired poets, artists, and countless other Americans over the last two and a half centuries. However, the future of these iconic animals is in serious peril. Between two and five million mustangs once roamed free in the Midwest and West in the mid-1800s. There are an estimated 85,000 wild horses and burros in the United States. In Arizona alone, where more than 500,000 wild horses lived in 1915, the number has been reduced to a mere 530 horses.

In Arizona alone, where more than 500,000 wild horses lived in 1915, the number has been reduced to a mere 530 horses

In 1971, Congress enacted the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which made it illegal to capture, brand, harass or kill any American wild horse or burro. At the time, it was a landmark decision applauded by animal-rights organizations and activists throughout the country. However, since its enactment, the Act has progressively been enforced less. In fact now, the government agency charged with enforcing the Act and protecting mustangs, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), removes thousands of them each year from federal land. The BLM claims it is “managing the population” so ranchers can graze their cattle on the same land. Using low-flying helicopters, BLM workers capture and corral the wild horses and store them in government holding facilities. Many are killed in the process, particularly pregnant mares and young foals. The surviving horses are put up for auction for a little over a hundred dollars each. The majority are not adopted, and many end up being shipped to slaughter. These once wild and free animals usually spend the rest of their lives in cramped holding pens or, even worse, are killed for their meat. Currently, approximately 50,000 wild horses are being held in federal holding facilities.

Every wild horse that has fallen victim to the BLM’s population management is a lost icon of the freedom and untamed beauty that symbolizes the American Dream. Americans must stand up and demand an end to this practice before it’s too late.

Currently, approximately 50,000 wild horses are being held in federal holding facilities

Return to Freedom
Their Turn
Jack Gruber/Save our Mustangs
American Wild Horse Campaign

Public Lands Used for Private Gain and the Bureau of Land Management

The American wild horse crisis in large part comes down to one issue: cattle ranchers in the western states don’t want wild horses competing for the same grazing land as their beef cattle. Ranchers make tens of millions of dollars annually raising millions of cows and steers, which are then slaughtered for their meat. Wild horses are seen as a direct threat to the cattlemen’s lucrative industry because they often graze on the same types of grasses as the cattle. However, much of the land the ranchers graze their cattle on is publicly owned and paid for by American taxpayers. Cattle ranchers buy permits to graze their cattle on the public lands and in return reap a large profit, vastly greater than the cost of the permits, by selling the fattened cattle to slaughterhouses. The ranchers lease the land from the BLM at an incredibly low rate of $1.41 per AUM (AUM stands for Animal Unit Month—the amount of forage allotted to an animal, in this case a cow and her calf, for one month). This rate is more than 90% below the average market value of $18.20 AUM for the same land owned by private individuals. Despite this amazing deal for the ranchers, many cattlemen believe that the public lands are theirs and the wild horse population should be “managed” in order to keep the public grazing land primarily for cattle. Many ranchers note that their families have been grazing their cattle on the lands for decades and originally didn’t have to purchase permits at all. But why are ranchers even allowed to purchase permits in the first place, when the vast majority of the land owners, the American public, want the public lands to be designated for wild horses and not rented out to the ranchers?

The American wild horse crisis in large part comes down to one issue: cattle ranchers in the western states don’t want wild horses competing for the same grazing land as their beef cattle. Ranchers make tens of millions of dollars annually raising millions of cows and steers, which are then slaughtered for their meat

American Wild Horse Campaign

The BLM, in the estimation of many conservationists and objective observers, seems to side with the ranchers. American cattle ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing on 155 million acres of taxpayer-funded public lands. Over one million cattle graze the land in comparison to the roughly 85,000 wild horses. Despite this great disparity, the cattle ranchers view wild horses as a threat to their cheap, taxpayer-subsidized livestock grazing.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is a very wealthy lobbying organization that donates millions of dollars every election cycle to politicians who favor reducing wild horse populations. The NCBA has publicly stated that they want to reduce the population of wild horses and burros in the interests of the ranchers. Many ranchers have publicly expressed that they would like to see the wild horse population exterminated altogether, citing that wild horses are not native to North America. They say this despite the fact that cattle are not native to North America either.

The Trump Administration and the New Threat

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 made the already tragic situation for American wild horses and burros even worse. A month after being elected, Trump appointed Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke as the new Secretary of the Department of Interior, the agency responsible for overseeing America’s public lands, natural resources, and wild horses and burros. The BLM is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior. Zinke, an avid hunter, is a strong supporter of coal, oil and gas exploration who considers global warming “unproven science.” Wild horse conservation advocacy groups like the American Wild Horse Campaign and others consider Zinke a close ally of ranchers, the beef industry, and other anti-animal welfare groups. In fact, the United States Cattlemen’s Association and Safari Club International both publicly praised the appointment of Zinke. The environmental conservation advocacy group League of Conservation Voters, on the other hand, gave Zinke a 3 out of a possible 100 approval rating based on his past voting record in the House of Representatives on bills concerning animal welfare and environmental legislation.

According to the American Wild Horse Campaign “we are talking about the greatest threat to wild horses in decades.”

In December 2019, Congress authorized a 25% budgetary increase for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro program. This budget increase was contingent on the BLM submitting a proposal for a new strategy moving forward. Just two months later, the Trump Administration asked Congress to approve an additional 15% budget increase for the program, as the BLM prepares to massively accelerate the helicopter roundups, and remove tens of thousands of wild horses. Currently 20,000 are at risk of being removed this year alone. Note that the BLM is not considering reducing the number of livestock on those lands (which not surprisingly follows intense lobbying from the livestock industry). While the President’s budget does not support the slaughter of America’s wild horses and burros, there are serious concerns about many elements of the budget proposal. According to the American Wild Horse Campaign “we are talking about the greatest threat to wild horses in decades.”

That said there are developments that indicate steps in the right direction. In July 2020, The House of Representatives approved a significant wild horse protection measure. They passed an amendment that will require the BLM to spend $11 million on the fertility control vaccine PZP. This hopefully indicates a shift into humane management and away from helicopter roundups.

Horse Slaughter

Horses in the United States are not bred and raised for meat, yet horse slaughter in the U.S. is a complicated issue. Although the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to end horse slaughter in 2006, the bill never came to a vote before the Senate. Yet in 2007, the slaughter of horses on US soil came to an end when a court ruling upheld a Texas law banning horse slaughter, and similar legislation was passed in Illinois. Texas and Illinois were the locations of the last three large scale slaughterhouses, and they were ordered to close. Shortly after the last U.S. horse slaughterhouse shutdown, the USDA was prohibited from spending any money on equine inspections. Important point here: the USDA must inspect any meat for human consumption in the U.S., which basically means that horse slaughter plants cannot operate in the U.S. if inspections are defunded. The language to defund horse slaughter has been maintained in most yearly spending bills to keep horse plants closed, however, it is not a permanent solution, Congress must reconsider the issue yearly. For example in 2011, President Obama asked Congress to lift the prohibition, and USDA began to review requests for “grants of inspection” from a handful of applicants in rural areas. By 2014, however, bipartisan action re-imposed the ban on equine spending, and it was re-imposed before any applicant was able to obtain a “grant of Inspection” from the USDA. Since then, the budget ban has been re-imposed annually, and there are no prospects for horse slaughter within the U.S, but as the issue comes up for discussion every year in Congress, it is always a huge risk.

Animals’ Angels

The language to defund horse slaughter has been maintained in most yearly spending bills to keep horse plants closed, however, it is not a permanent solution, Congress must reconsider the issue yearly.

Animals’ Angels
Animals’ Angels
Animals’ Angels

Documents from the USDA that were obtained by the animal-welfare organization Animals’ Angels revealed that horses arriving at slaughterhouses exhibited life-threatening injuries including eyes dangling from sockets, legs ripped from joint tendons, and severe head and back injuries.

Furthermore thousands upon thousands of horses are shipped to Mexico and Canada each year to be slaughtered for meat. It is estimated that 60,000-80,000 horses meet this horrific fate each year. The conditions the horses endure on the transport trailers to the slaughterhouses are horrific.  No water or food is provided as they languish in cramped trailer enclosures where the temperatures can reach dangerously high levels.  In the overcrowded conditions, rest is impossible, resulting in fighting, serious injuries, and even deaths.  Documents from the USDA that were obtained by the animal-welfare organization Animals’ Angels revealed that horses arriving at slaughterhouses exhibited life-threatening injuries including eyes dangling from sockets, legs ripped from joint tendons, and severe head and back injuries. Several highway accidents involving transport trailers have also resulted in unimaginable pain and suffering for the horses. Upon arrival at the slaughterhouse, the horses are crammed into holding pens just outside the facility. They can sense the fear and anguish of the horses being killed inside as the smell and sound of blood, suffering, and death are in the air all around them. Horses sick and injured from the transport often die in these pens before even making it into the slaughterhouse.

Animals’ Angels

Currently there is a big push to pass The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R 961, introduced today by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. Their measure proposes to end the transport of American horses, burros and other equines abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would also ensure that horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil remain shuttered.

Animals’ Angels
Animals’ Angels

Finding a Solution

The federal government’s policy of managing the Western wild horse population through helicopter roundups is not necessary. There are other more humane, more economical alternatives. Millions of taxpayer dollars are used each year in helicopter roundups, stampeding the horses into pens, and feeding/housing them in holding facilities. Injuries and deaths occur with every roundup. Birth control, a controversial population-control method, is a more cost-effective, humane way to manage the wild horse population according to many conservationists. With this method, horses are not rounded up by helicopter and don’t spend the rest of their lives confined in holding pens. Instead, the birth control PZP-22 is administered in the field by darting the mares. The birth control lasts for 22 months. If not administered properly and at the right time of year, however, births after the 22 months will occur in the autumn and winter months, greatly increasing mare and foal deaths. The recent development in July 2020 approved by the House of Representatives, will require the BLM to spend $11 million on this method and is a step in the right direction.

Birth control, a controversial population-control method, is a more cost-effective, humane way to manage the wild horse population according to many conservationists

Jack Gruber/Save our Mustangs
American Wild Horse Campaign
Animals’ Angels

Still, the largest part of the equation that needs to be addressed is the ranchers’ scope of influence on the issue. Their objective to have full control over what happens to the horses and burros is completely one-sided and unfair to the animals. The federal government needs to reassess, without the profit motivations of the NBCA and ranchers considered, whether continuing granting permits and leases to ranchers is in accordance with the desires of the owners of the land, the American taxpayers.

Wild horse advocates have been successful in bringing the current plight of America’s wild horses and burros to the attention of millions of Americans. But unless the federal government begins making regulatory decisions about the public land with the horses’ interests in mind instead of the NCBA and ranchers, it will all be for naught. The very existence of American wild horses and burros are in our hands.

Positive Change

VladKK/Shutterstock

Educating the public about the dire situation facing America’s wild horses and burros is undoubtedly one of the most important tools in convincing local, state, and federal lawmakers to enact pro-mustang legislation. The more people know about these majestic, iconic animals and their plight, the more pressure will be put on lawmakers to protect them. Over the last decade, wild horse and burro advocacy organizations have educated millions of Americans. Through the outreach efforts of Return to Freedom, The American Wild Horse Campaign, Wild Horse Sanctuary Alliance, and other welfare organizations, more people than ever are stepping up and and joining the fight to save wild horses and burros from extinction.

Increased Public Awareness and Celebrity Support

Dedication from concerned citizens and wild horse advocates and organizations is more vital now than ever. Massive amounts of concerned citizens have already contacted their legislators, signed petitions, and educated friends and family about the urgency of lobbying to defeat the plan.  Wild horse and burro advocacy and conservation organizations have amped up their educational outreach, informing Americans of the horrific consequences that the passage of the plan would bring to America’s remaining wild horses and burros.

Many celebrities have appeared in public service announcements aimed at heightening public awareness of the issue.   Entertainment personalities Robert Redford, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Jorja Fox, Viggo Mortensen, Ellen DeGeneres, Huw Collins, Paul Sorvino, Lily Tomlin, Rob Reiner, Wendie Malick, Ed Harris, Kevin Nealon and musicians Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, and Paul McCartney, have all publicly voiced their support for wild horses and burros.  Additionally, various industry leaders have publicly lobbied for increased protection.  The founders of Paul Mitchell hair-care product company, John Paul DeJoria and Paul Mitchell, have expressed deep concern and support for the cause, as has world-renowned electric car manufacturer, Tesla.

American Wild Horse Campaign

Entertainment personalities Robert Redford, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Jorja Fox, Viggo Mortensen, Ellen DeGeneres, Huw Collins, Paul Sorvino, Lily Tomlin, Rob Reiner, Wendie Malick, Ed Harris, Kevin Nealon and musicians Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, and Paul McCartney, have all publicly voiced their support for wild horses and burros

Legal and Legislative Victories

There have been encouraging recent victories that have given wild horse advocacy groups some hope. In July 2020 the House of Representatives passed an amendment that will require the BLM to spend $11 million on the humane fertility drug PZP. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully a step away from the horrific helicopter roundups.

In April 2017, the American Wild Horse Preservation campaign and wild horse advocates scored a major victory in Nevada, where more than half of America’s remaining wild horses live. The 9th U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an appeal by the Nevada Association of Counties and Nevada Farm Bureau Federation—an organization representing cattle ranchers—who argued that overpopulated wild horse and burro herds were damaging public Nevada grasslands and robbing their livestock of forage. The lawsuit had demanded that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expedite widespread roundups across Nevada and allow the horses to be sold for slaughter. The decision upheld an earlier ruling in 2015 by a federal judge in Reno, Nevada, who had originally dismissed their lawsuit. The 10th U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a similar ruling in favor of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign in Wyoming in October of 2016.

A bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans in January 2017 reintroduced legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives that would declare horse meat unfit for human consumption and ban the transport of American horses to foreign meat processing plants, including Canada and Mexico. This bill, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, is the latest attempt to outlaw the purchase and transport of U.S. horses for slaughter. A combination of federal legislation and court rulings in 2007 closed the last existing horse processing plants in the United States, but since then thousands of wild horses and burros have been purchased and exported to meat processing factories in Canada and Mexico. The bill importantly notes that since horses are not bred in America for human consumption, they are often administered unregulated drugs. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, where it is still being reviewed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the second-highest federal court after the Supreme Court) in a preliminary hearing on January 11, 2017 began to take steps to make significant changes in a 2013 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) directive that was aimed at diminishing wild horse protections in Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory. The territory is located in remote northeastern California and is adjacent to many cattle ranches. The directive, pushed through the USFS by the California Cattlemen’s Association and the State of California Farm Bureau, attempted to cut the wild horse population in the territory from around 2,000 to 200 – 400. The directive also aimed at cutting 25,000 acres from the area where the wild horses are allowed to graze.

On July 31, 2015, The United States Forest Service (USFS) announced that in one week they would begin rounding up wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Opposition from wild horse advocacy groups was so swift and organized that the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, publicly sided with the groups and told the USFS that he would do everything he could to halt the roundup and protect the horses. Within two days, a petition was posted online by the Salt River River Wild Horse Management Group, demanding the USFS directive be dropped. It received over 75,000 signatures in 48 hours. By August 5, hundreds of wild horse advocates had gathered in Phoenix to protest the measure. Simultaneously, tens of thousands protest calls and emails were being directed to the USFS Arizona office. As a result of the relentless pressure, the roundup was dropped. Nine months later, the state of Arizona passed a law making it a crime to take, harass, kill, or otherwise interfere with wild horses in the Tonto National Forest. It was a major victory for wild horses. As a thank you, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group in February 2017 announced that the first wild colt of the year had been born in Tonto National Forest and named “Ducey” in honor of the Governor.

As a result of the relentless pressure, the roundup was dropped. Nine months later, the state of Arizona passed a law making it a crime to take, harass, kill, or otherwise interfere with wild horses in the Tonto National Forest

Wild Horse and Burro Advocacy Organizations

The positive impact that wild horse and burro advocacy organizations have had in educating the public cannot be overstated. Organizations like American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Return to Freedom, Wild Horse Sanctuary Alliance, Habitat for Horses, Wild Horse Freedom Federation, The Unwanted Horse Coalition, Saving America’s Mustangs, Animals’ Angels, The Cloud Foundation, Salt Water Wild Horse Management Group, Fleet of Angels, Equine Welfare Alliance, and other advocacy groups have opened the eyes of Americans to the systematic eradication of wild horses and burros by cattle ranchers and the BLM over the last 30 years. They have also informed the public of the very real possibility of extinction currently facing the remaining herds. These wild horse and burro organizations have stood up to cattle ranchers and their powerful lobbying organizations, single-handedly saving the remaining wild horses and burros from extinction.

Simpson_Park/Wikicommons

These wild horse and burro organizations have stood up to cattle ranchers and their powerful lobbying organizations, single-handedly saving the remaining wild horses and burros from extinction

Return to Freedom Preservation

Return to Freedom Preservation is a devoted wild horse advocacy organization that advocates the rights of wild horses and burros and challenges the legality of BLM wild horse culls. Return to Freedom Preservation is arguably the most influential wild horse and burro advocacy group in the US. Return to Freedom Preservation staff work tirelessly for wild horses and burros, reaching tens of thousands of people annually through media, conferences, programs and events, galvanizing support for wild horses and burros from politicians and leaders in the film, music, and corporate industries. The Return to Freedom website contains in-depth daily updates of all news and legal/political activity concerning wild horses and burros.

American Wild Horse Campaign

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), created by Return to Freedom Preservation in 2004, is committed to advancing federal and state legislation to improve the welfare of wild horses and burros on both the range and in government holding facilities. AWHC actively promotes and defends America’s wild horses and burros in the court of law. AWHC has introduced and successfully pushed through litigation hindering ranchers and their lobbying groups from achieving their stated desire to eradicate wild horses and burros from public lands. AWHC has defeated numerous lawsuits advanced by these ranchers’ coalitions and associations and has even defeated litigation brought forth by local and state governments. The importance of the AWHC’s work and accomplishments cannot be overstated.

Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance

The Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance (WHBSA) is a collaborative effort by Return to Freedom, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, and Habitat for Horses. The WHBSA is committed to providing a lifetime of feed, medical care, and emotional enrichment for sanctuary horses and burros. They are also committed to educating the public through sanctuary tours, outreach programs, and events. All donations to the WHBSA go directly to the horses.

Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock

Action

Ronnie Howard/Shutterstock

Add your signature to petitions that seek to increase state and federal laws protecting the rights of wild horses

Protect Wild Horses and Burros From Roundups and Slaughter

Thousands of wild horses are living peacefully on public lands right now, completely unaware that the government is coming for them soon. Many will be rounded up this fall, and their advocates have raised serious concerns that they will be sent to slaughter, along with thousands of others.

Protect Wild Horses Don’t Let Them Kill 45,000 Wild Horses and Burros!

We request that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) return the 45,000 captive wild horses and burros, now at risk of being killed, back to public land Herd Areas established with the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act.

Support wild horse advocacy organizations and wild horse and burro sanctuaries

Return to Freedom

Return to Freedom Preservation and American Wild Horse Sanctuary

Return to Freedom Preservation is a devoted wild horse advocacy organization that advocates for the rights of wild horses and challenges the legality of BLM wild horse culls. Return to Freedom staff meet with legislators and policy-makers, and reach tens of thousands of people annually through media, conferences, programs and events, galvanizing support for wild horses and burros from politicians and leaders in the film, music, and corporate industries. The Return to Freedom website contains daily updates of all news and legal/political activity concerning wild horses.

The Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary is situated on 1500 acres on the central coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, and is home to over 400 wild horses and burros. The sanctuary’s first priority is to keep wild horses in their original family bands or naturally selected social groups. This ensures emotional well-being in the horses, which in turn facilitates optimum physical health. Through the Return to Freedom website, you can sponsor one of the horses or burros at the sanctuary.

American Wild Horse Campaign

In 2004, Return to Freedom launched the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC). The campaign has become the most powerful and effective grassroots voice for wild horses in the US, with a coalition of over 50 wild horse advocacy groups actively working together towards the same goal. AWHC is led by Return to Freedom and is committed to advancing federal and state legislation to improve the welfare of wild horses and burros on both the range and in government holding facilities. Their efforts include meeting with members of Congress and mobilizing wild horse advocates to reach out to their elected officials.

Just as importantly, AWHC defends America’s wild horses in the court of law. Working with their coalition partners, including the legal team of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, the AWHC have amassed a strong record of successful litigation opposing those working against the interests of wild horses. They have defeated numerous lawsuits brought forth by ranchers, ranchers coalitions and associations, and even local and state governments. The importance of these victories cannot be overstated.

The AWHC is the leading wild horse advocacy group, utilizing major print, TV and radio outlets with the goal of raising awareness about the plight of wild horses and empowering the American public to take a stand for wild horse protection. In 2016 alone, they collected more than 400,000 petition signatures and had 300,000 actions taken on behalf of wild horses and burros.

Wild Horse Sanctuary Alliance

The Wild Horse Alliance was created to provide financial support to wild horse and burro sanctuaries. All donations to the Wild Horse Sanctuary Alliance go directly to the life-saving needs of wild horses in sanctuaries, whether it be emergency feed, emergency handling equipment, transport, or emergency veterinary care. In addition to helping with support for emergency needs, the Alliance assists with sanctuary management concerns such as fundraising, marketing, volunteer programs, and other operating functions. The Alliance member organizations and sanctuaries are the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Habitat for Horses Sanctuary, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, Animals Voice, and the California Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Animals’ Angels

Educate friends, family, and your community about how the American wild horse population has plummeted in the last 100 years and what can be done to change it

Tell your friends and family about the dire situation facing America’s last remaining wild horses and burros. Show them some of the educational videos and documentaries on the subject, available on wild horse advocacy websites and YouTube. Join other animal activists in demanding an end to governmental policies that benefit cattle ranchers and the beef industry while wild horses and burros die. The American Wild Horse Campaign website has a comprehensive take action page which contains many pertinent wild horse and burro petitions and describes other ways you can help these animals.

Contact your state and federal congressional representatives and senators to support The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R 961

Voice your support for the remaining wild horses and burros to those that have the most power to save them. Urge your state and federal congressional representatives and senators to end the persecution of America’s wild horses once and for all. Click here to find your US state congressman and senator. Click here to find your US federal congressman and senator.

Post information on Facebook and other social media sites

Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Campaign and other wild horse advocacy organizations have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Follow their pages and share photos and posts with your friends and family. Keep them up to date on important wild horse advocacy news and issues. The Return to Freedom website contains an excellent page devoted to daily updates and news concerning wild horses and burros.

Ronnie Howard/Shutterstock

Facts

Blewulis/Shuttersotck

North American wild horses, or mustangs, are descendants of escaped Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) horses reintroduced to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. The word “mustang” is derived from the Spanish word “mustengo,” which means stray horse.

Mustangs live in herds consisting of one stallion, approximately eight mares, and their offspring. In addition to the stallion, the herd is led by one mare. In dangerous situations, the head mare will lead the herd to safety, and the stallion will stay and fight. In cases of extreme peril, separate herds have been known to unite. Herds spend most of their time grazing and can often be seen playing together.

Mustangs are a medium-sized horse. They are about five feet tall and eight feet long from nose to tail. They weigh around 800 pounds. Mustangs have a wide variety of colors but are usually bay, which is a reddish-brown color. They can also have a variety of colored patches, spots and stripes.

Historians estimate that in 1848, between two and five million mustangs roamed the American West and Midwest. Approximately 85,000 remain, living on rugged, arid terrain in Western states where they must work hard to survive. Some small mustang herds also live in remote regions of the Atlantic coast and on the Sable, Shackleford, Assateague and Cumberland Islands.

Jaime Jackson/Wikicommons

Explore

Happy monkey/Shutterstock

See

Explore the breathtaking world of America’s wild horses and burros through these photos and video clips and see how intelligent, social, and powerful these beautiful animals are.

Roughhousing in a River

Like humans and other animals, wild horses enjoy playing in water. Watch the horses in this herd near Salt River, Arizona, splashing and roughhousing with each other on a sunny, spring morning.

Up Close and Personal

In this amazing footage, wild horses in the West Desert of Utah are seen bathing in a shallow mud hole. Towards the end of the video, the horses notice the camera and become quite curious!

No Turn Signal Necessary

Feel the size, power and athleticism of these wild horses as they pass a truck driving on a remote dirt road in Wild Horse Canyon, Mojave National Preserve, California.

Wild Horses Relaxing on Beach

This amazing footage shows what a typical day is like for the wild horses of Assateague Island off the coast of southern Maryland.

Foal Meets a New Friend

Watch this footage of a young foal meeting a member of another species on Assateague Island. Notice how the foal’s parents make sure the new friend doesn’t get too close!

The Wild Horses of Oregon

Observe the grace and elegance of these wild horses in eastern Oregon as they traverse the unique sagebrush terrain of the Steens Mountains.

Communication

Ronnie Howard/Shutterstock

Horses are herd animals. In a band of wild horses, the dominant horse is responsible for the safety of the entire group. The subordinate horses expect his or her leadership and protection at all times. The herd members constantly challenge the dominant horse, making sure he/she is strong and alert enough to take care of them. As long as the dominant horse is in control, they can relax. If the leader senses danger and decides it’s worth running from, the herd will immediately follow.

Horses communicate with one another mainly through facial expressions and body language. They will neigh when aggressively making a point or when afraid. Occasionally, they will snort and nicker when eating or lounging. A horse immediately picks up on other horses’ emotions and notices the most subtle body movements. For example when a dominant horse decides he/she wants a particular patch of grass where another herdmate is eating, he will use body language to tell the subordinate to move.

Wild Horse Band Hierarchy

Watch as the stallion of this band of wild horses establishes control and respect over the rest of the herd.

INTERACT

John Harwood/Shutterstock

Through social media, you can connect and network with other dedicated wild horse activists who are committed to saving wild horses from extinction. Many of these advocacy organizations have social media pages that post news and important information on a weekly basis. The links for the social media accounts of some of these groups are listed below in addition to a link to their websites. Tell your friends, family, and communities about the plight of America’s wild horses and how they can be saved.

American Wild Horse Voices

Learn

shuttermutt/Shutterstock

The Return to Freedom and American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign websites are great sources of information concerning the dire situation facing American wild horses. Both contain up-to-date news, actions being taken by animal welfare groups to help the horses, and what you can do to join the effort. These sites are fantastic resources for anyone who wants educate and make a difference for these beautiful animals. Wild Horse & Burro Radio is an educational outreach program of Wild Horse Freedom Federation that airs on most Wednesday nights. Guests have included experts on wild horse and burro issues such as horse slaughter, wild horse rescue, wild horses on public lands, and wild horse sanctuaries. They maintain a library of these shows as a resource for public education.

Watch

shuttermutt/Shutterstock

The following documentaries are great tools for anyone wanting to dive deeper into the world of America’s Wild Horses and their fight against extinction.

The Vanishing Herd: The Fate of the American Mustang
Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies
Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions
Strong Women, Wild Horses
Palomino Valley
BLM Mustangs
American Mustang
America’s Wild Mustang, Untamed Legacy. PBS Documentary
Last of the Spanish Mustangs