where did mustang horses come from

Where Did Mustang Horses Come From? [wild and free tracing their roots]

Mustangs are descendants of horses brought to North America by Spanish Conquistadores in the 1500s. They are a symbol of freedom and joy to many.  Often called the Spanish Mustang, these beautiful and intelligent horses have fascinated horse lovers for decades.

Keep reading as we discuss Mustang horses in depth covering their history, where they came from, and many interesting facts about them you probably didn’t know!

What is a Mustang Horse

What is a Mustang Horse?

Mustang horses are feral horses or “free-roaming” horses that live on public lands, predominantly in the western United States. 

These horses’ origins in the United States stem far back to the 16th century and the Spanish explorers that originally brought them to the New World.

Mustangs were basically domesticated horses that escaped from the Spanish Conquistadors and found a way to flourish on their own. 

The American Mustang is a symbol of freedom and power. Wild Mustangs are the modern-day descendants of Spanish horses brought over by Spanish Conquistadors. 

The Colonial Spanish Horse

The very first Mustangs were referred to as Colonial Spanish Horses, but there are several breeds that played a role in the creation of the Mustang variations that are seen today. 

Some of these breeds include draft horses, Arabian horses, Thoroughbreds, and many others. 

Even today, you can still see some of the direct descendants of the original Spanish-bred horses within the more remote or isolated Mustang populations of the Wild West!

History of the Mustang Horse

History of the Mustang Horse

Where Did Mustang Horses Come From?

The history of Mustangs goes back hundreds of years. 

While the modern-day Mustang is technically considered a wild or feral horse, they are the direct descendants of domesticated Spanish horses that were released into the wild.

Did you know? The English word “Mustang” is believed to be taken from two separate Spanish words, Mestengo and Mostrenco. These words mean strayer or wanderer. 

The term “Mustangers” was coined to describe the cowboys or vaqueros who were in charge of capturing, driving, and even breaking Mustangs. 

 When Did Mustang Horses First Appear in North America?

Historians believe that these horses first came over on the ships with Spaniards as they came to explore the new world. 

Once they landed on the American continent, many of these horses were released, left, or otherwise became feral. 

The Native Americans and Vaqueros were the first people to catch, train, and utilize these horses. 

Types of Mustang Horses

There are several types of Mustang horses which include:

  • Cerbat
  • Chincoteague
  • Colonial Spanish
  • Kiger
  • Prior Mountain

What is a Kiger Mustang Horse?

The Kiger Mustang is a unique version of the Mustang that is found in Oregon. 

What makes the Kiger Mustangs so rare is that they actually have markings very similar to the original Spanish horses brought to the area hundreds of years ago.

What is a Kiger Mustang Horse

These markings were so distinct that the Kiger was noticed during a round-up of wild horses and set aside for special handling and care.

Protecting the Mustangs

In the early 1950s, a lady named Velma Johnston became aware of the plight of wild horses and burros in the western USA. 

Stories of ranchers, poachers, and others capturing and killing the Mustangs for commercial purposes were widely known in the region.

Velma, who later became known as Wild Horse Annie, took it upon herself to help save these amazing creatures from a cruel fate. Her efforts led to legislation to save the Mustangs.

The 1971 Fre-Roaming Horses and Burros Act

When 1971 rolled around, the US Congress officially recognized that the Mustang and wild burros were the living symbols of the spirit of the historical pioneers of the Wild West. 

Via the Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, these populations of horses and burros are federally protected and regulated by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The Burro Act was aimed at helping these animals but there have still been countless problems and controversies surrounding these wild animals, land management, and farmers. 

Wild Mustang Horse Population

The wild horse population grows very rapidly, and many farmers have been frustrated with the sheer number of horses utilizing the same land that they need for their livestock. 

The BLM created a program called the round-up. 

This is where they use helicopters, ropers, and other tactics to bring in groups of wild horses when the numbers of wild horses begin exceeding their limits. 

Wild Mustang Horse Population

Unfortunately, there are far fewer adopters than there are horses, so many of these horses end up sitting in holding pens for quite a long time before they are adopted.

How Many Mustang Horses Exist Today?

The BLM estimates there are fewer than 90,000 free-roaming Mustangs at this time.

What are Mustang Horses Used For?

Mustangs are a very hardy and intelligent breed of horse. But they tend to get a bad reputation for being wild horses that have no lineage, or training. 

However, many people have done exceedingly great things with their Mustangs, proving that this misconception is entirely false. 

They are trainable, stout, and able to conform to do just about anything you could desire to do with them. 

Mustangs Can Make Good Show Horses

From jumping and dressage all the way to trail riding and even working as therapeutic horses, Mustangs have been and can become everything. 

As someone who owned and trained a Mustang through adoption from the BLM, I can express that these horses are very similar in mindset to a Quarter horse.

Of course, this depends on the breed “heritage” the horse has, but they tend to have more wit. They make great project horses if you are familiar with and experienced in horse training. 

Youth Programs For Mustang Horses

There are many amazing programs involving both adult and youth handlers/ riders for Mustang-specific training and competitions out there to attend. 

One of the coolest things about owning a Mustang is that you can find Mustangs in just about any color, size, temperament level, and breed style. 

This means that there is a Mustang for everyone no matter what your personal preferences are!

How to Adopt a Mustang

Mustangs can either be purchased or adopted through private parties or trainers or adopted straight through the BLM. 

America’s wild horses are fairly easy and inexpensive to get your hands on. There are many horses rounded up each round-up who don’t find homes for a very long time. 

After you have weighed the pros and cons of investing in the Mustang horse breed and getting one of your own, you will need to attend an auction after a round-up.

Or you can directly contact the BLM and fill out their application and adoption form. They usually will always have horses in one of their pens somewhere. 

How To Get Your Mustang Home

Your horse may need to be transported to you, or you may need to pick them up with your own truck and trailer. 

There is also the option of participating in a raffle at a Mustang event or competition, such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover. 

These horses have been worked with and trained to an extent and would be the best option for someone with little to no horse experience. 

NOTE: Mustangs are wild animals and need to be carefully trained before inexperienced people handle or try to ride them.


What are Mustang Horses Most Known For?

Interestingly, there any many activities, shows, and competitions that are Mustang ONLY. Mustangs can compete in just about any discipline, as they are very versatile. 

You can commonly find them competing in jumping, dressage, driving, flatwork, competitive trail, mounted shooting, and many other disciplines or styles of riding/ handling. 

Mustang Horse Competitions

Is a Mustang a Good Horse For Me?

Whether or not you should get a Mustang instead of another breed of horse is going to be dependent on a few factors, such as:

  • How long have you been riding, training, and handling horses, combined with your experience level dealing with difficult, untrusting, and sometimes dangerous horses 

Are Mustang Horses Mean?

Mustangs are not inherently mean horses, but they can be very challenging to work with immediately after they have been rounded up. 

This is because of these horses’ lack of experience around people and being reliant upon their flight or fight responses from being in wild herds. 

If you plan on bringing your horse to a horse trainer’s facility and getting instruction and help, adopting straight out of the corral MAY be a good choice for handlers who are less experienced.

What Does Gentling a Horse Mean?

The term gentling refers to the process of taking a wild horse and training them enough so that they are comfortable with you (or another human) touching them and being around them.

This can also include getting the horse to be okay with you brushing them, picking up their feet, and other activities that are normal for a domesticated horse.

If you wish to check out some videos on Mustang gentling and what to expect, here is a list of some things to look into and check out.

What Are Some Famous Mustang Horses?

Cobra The Mustang

Cobra is a BLM Mustang adopted in 2010 who has excelled at dressage. 

Cobra is a prime example of how a wild horse can compete against the big boys, including sports like dressage that are dominated by fancy horses with fancy pedigrees.

This proves that a horse does not have to be worth tens of thousands of dollars to compete and excel at a high level.

Cobra and his rider, Marsha Hartford-Sapp, worked as a team to excel at dressage competitions. 

In 2015, Cobra was able to earn a World Championship title in Level 1 Freestyle Western Dressage.

That same year, Cobra was named USEF Horse of the Year in Western Dressage as well as the 2015 USDF Adequan All Breeds National Champion.

Misty Of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague was a beautiful palomino mare that was one of the most famous horses of Chincoteague. 

She is commemorated in a children’s novel by Marguerite Henry called “Misty Of Chincoteague.” Chincoteague is a town in Viginia. 

They have a beach that is the primary home of a band of wild, mostly pinto ponies. 

Picasso The Mustang

Picasso is arguably one of the most renowned Mustang stallions to have ever lived. He is believed to still currently live in Colorado in the Sand Wash Basin. 

Although he has not been seen since 2019 or 2020, fans worldwide are hoping this beautiful stallion is still alive.

 He is a favorite among photographers and videographers who come to the area to film wild horses or animals. He is well known for his striking beauty and bright pinto coat pattern.


The story of Hidalgo the Mustang was made famous by a 2004 motion picture film about Frank Hopkins. The film tells how he competed in a long-distance race in 1891 with his Mustang horse.

Later the pair became a regular performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. 

There is some controversy regarding how much of the story of Frank and Hidalgo is true, but the story and subsequent film highlight the mighty Mustang horse!

How to Train a Mustang Horse

In this section, I am going to walk you through the same process I used on my Mustang to gentle him for the groundwork portion of the competition I competed in. 

*Please be advised that we are simply sharing experiences and research. Your and your horse’s safety is always your priority and responsibility. 

Working with any wild animal presents many different dangerous situations. If you do not feel comfortable working with your horse, please seek professional advice and help.

Day One With My Mustang Horse

After I brought him home, we unloaded him into the arena (where we were keeping him for the time.) 

I had a horse in a round pen who was rehabbing at the time and ended up removing my Mustang’s halter, so we ended up having to rope him at that time. 

Usually, your horse will come with a halter placed on them. 

When beginning to work with a Mustang, you want to work in the round pen.

This is so you can start moving your horse’s body around and begin setting the stage for trust, respect, and, ultimately, control and training. 

The process could take a day, a week, or even longer. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time and that you have a plan for your horse program or training before you jump into it. 

After working in the round pen, you begin doing in-hand exercises such as walking, trotting, and backing.

Also, moving to the front and rear, and working on generalized manner and etiquette. Then move on to desensitizing. 

During the process of desensitizing, you will want to make sure that you are effective and work on both sides. 

Your training process may look different from mine depending on whether you adopt yearlings or adult Mustangs. 

There is more than one way to train a Mustang and this is just explaining what worked for me.

Related Mustang Horse Questions

Isn’t a Mustang horse just a stray horse?

No, Mustangs are free-roaming horses. The word stray implies ‘homeless’ whereas Mustangs are living in small herds in their original habitat of the western United States.

Do Mustang horses have any natural predators?

According to the BLM, Mustang horses don’t really have much to worry about from natural predators which is why they feel the Mustang population is growing too large. 

Probably, the Mountain Lion would be considered the largest threat to kill a Mustang horse but Mustangs know how to survive and can fight back!

Are Mustangs competitive if I want to enter a show? 

Yes, frankly speaking, most of the Mustangs I have seen move nicer than some of the top-dollar show horses. 

It all depends on what your plans are, your training techniques, and the conditioning/ feeding methods you use with your horse.

Are Mustangs generally healthy?

With any horse, you cannot simply predict in entirety whether they will stay healthy and sound over a long period of time. 

Mustangs are especially hardy. In my own experience, they are much easier to take care of and are generally much sounder than other horses.

What is the Lifespan of a Mustang Horse?

The question of how long a Mustang horse will live depends on many factors including if they live entirely in the wild or become domesticated.

In general, a wild Mustang horse will only live around 15 to 17 years. Compare that to the average lifespan of a domesticated horse of around 25 years or more.

It is much harder for a Mustang horse to survive in the wild, especially as it begins to age.

Mustang Horse Are Amazing Animals

Mustangs have long been the symbol in many people’s minds of freedom, the pioneer spirit of the West and America. 

They have a phenomenal amount of capability and potential but can require the right owner when they enter the gentling process. 

The sky is your limit on what you can accomplish with a Mustang. I hope this article has been found very useful in your search for a horse or Mustang ownership. Take care!

Where Did Mustang Horses Come From

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