Mustangs in the USA: A taste of the Wild West

Mustangs are fascinating animals which are a symbol for freedom and adventure – furthermore, they stand for the interesting and emotional history of the American continent. Learn more in the following post


The American mustang is not only a fascinating animal which conveys a feeling of freedom and adventure, but also symbolizes the history of the American continent, from its discovery by the Spaniards to the turbulent modern age.

Like no other animal, the American mustang is a symbol of freedom and the wild west. Many myths of cowboys and Indians are about the wild horses of the US. In fact, mustangs are not originally feral horses, but former domesticated animals. The origins of mustangs like we know them today goes back to the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadores explored big areas of the American continent and established colonies. The word “mustang” has developed from the Spanish language and describes the property of a cattle drover, a so-called mesta.

The Spaniards mainly used the horses as pack animals and for riding. Later the Native Americans also discovered the horses for transportation. After more and more animals have freed themselves, a stable population of wild living horses was able to spread over the northern parts of the US. Today the mustang is defined as an “alien species”, a species which was introduced and became established to the new environment.


Nowadays, the rather compact horses which can become up to 150 cm high are mainly found in the western parts of the US. Large numbers can be found in Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana. Over 30.000 mustangs roam the prairies. Through intensive protection measures and a hunting ban, the population has recovered so well, that the Bureau of Land Management must regulate the numbers. Because of their status of protection and their symbolism the animals are only captured and not shot to control the population. An adoption programme was founded in 1973 to find homes for the captured horses, when the numbers of mustangs living in capture facilities (up to 34,000 individuals) began to exceed the number of wild living horses. But the demand for mustangs from capture facilities is so low, that most horses stay in the facilities of the BLM or get sold to slaughter houses. Other problems are caused by mistreatment and neglect of the captured horses.

As part of a volunteer programme in the US, Natucate gives you the chance to support a rehabilitation and training centre for wild mustangs in Florida. If you want to learn more about voluntary work with horses and further horse projects we offer, take a look at our information page about volunteering with horses. More details on animal welfare volunteering in the United States can also be found on our information page about volunteering in the USA.


Andrea Pabel; Hauke Kock: Wilde Mustangs, kühne Reiter: die Pferde der Indianer. Stuttgart 1997

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