For decades, American mustangs have been a symbol of freedom and strength. They thrive in some of the country’s most hostile environments and inspire us all to live without restraint. Found in several states across the nation, American mustangs still run free today. Their numbers have dwindled since the days of the Wild West, but it’s still possible to travel and view these beautiful animals in all their wild glory.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing American mustangs in the wild, you know how hearing their hooves thunder across the plain and watching them interact within their family groups is a remarkable experience. We’ve put together a gallery of our favorite images of American mustangs for you to enjoy.
While a lot of people call these free-roaming mustangs “wild,” the accurate term is “feral.”
The difference is that American mustangs haven’t always been free. They were introduced to North America by Spanish explorers in the 16th century and gradually went from being domesticated to feral.
The word “mustang” has Spanish heritage.
It’s from the Spanish word “ustengo” meaning stray or ownerless horse.
There were once 2 million mustangs living free in the United States.
Today, that number is much, much lower. Generations of killing the horses to preserve land for livestock along with efforts to prevent overpopulation have greatly reduced their numbers. There’s no clear record on the exact number alive today, but estimates show the number is below 40,000.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed by Congress in 1971 makes it illegal to capture or kill feral mustangs.
Occasional roundups by the Bureau of Land Management are meant to prevent herds from getting too large for the land to support. Many of these horses are adopted or go to auction.
Mares, stallions, and foals exist in family bands within the larger herd.
Every family band includes at least one stallion and can have one or more mares along with their offspring.
Stallions must compete for their chances to mate with mares and be part of a family band.
The stallions challenge each other during intense fights. Many of these fights end with serious injuries. Sometimes, stallions even fight to the death. Surviving losers roam on their own as bachelors.
Mustangs are incredibly strong and have great stamina.
Many herds in the United States thrive in areas of rough terrain and extreme weather. Even still, they can travel up to 20 miles in a single day.
Feral mustang hooves are stronger than those of domesticated horses.
With all those miles traveled, their hooves need to be extremely durable. Another fact that sets them apart from domesticated horses is that feral mustangs go their whole lives without ever meeting a farrier.
There are herds of mustangs living in several states across America.
The largest herds exist in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. They choose to live in plains and prairies.
You can find every coat color in a mustang herd.
Chestnuts are common, and there are also striking paints and palominos. There are duns, sorrels, bays, grays, roans, the list goes on and on.
One of the most famous American mustangs to ever live is a gorgeous paint stallion named Picasso (pictured above).
When he was last seen in 2019, he was thought to be 30 years old. He now has dozens of offspring living in Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin. Click here to learn about his amazing life.
The average lifespan of a feral mustang is 15-20 years old.
Some, like Picasso, live much longer even despite their difficult lives.
Mustangs are an iconic part of American culture. They live wild and free without restraints or human intervention. Whether you love to see these powerful animals out in the wild or have adopted one of your own, we can all agree that they’re beautiful horses that deserve our respect.
If you want to learn how you can help American mustangs, read this article next.
iHeartHorses.com purchased and acquired permissions for all above photographs.