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America’s First Horse – Horse Chit Chat

When Paloma arrived at the barn, which was accustomed to warmbloods, she drew a crowd of people who were waiting to see in person what a real mustang looked like. Curiosity turned to even greater intrigue when her owner said that she was a “Spanish” mustang, not the feral mustang that roams free in the west. The timing was an interesting coincidence as most of the boarders had seen the movie “Hidalgo,” in which the equine star plays a Spanish mustang.

The Spanish mustang is a descendant of the horses brought to the Americas by the early Spaniards. On his second voyage to the New World, Columbus brought a number of Spanish horses, as the breed was considered to be the finest horses in the world.

In the 1950s, because they were on the verge of extinction, an effort to preserve the Spanish mustang type began through the selection of horses that best demonstrated the Spanish mustang breed characteristics. As a result, the Spanish Mustang Registry was incorporated in 1957. “This registry was formed to preserve and perpetuate the last remnants of the true Spanish mustangs,” according to the Registry. Twenty horses were originally entered into the registry, and current numbers show about 3100.

Like the Spanish mustang breed classification describes, Paloma was just under 14 hands, with short strong canon bones and round, muscular hindquarters. But her most outstanding trait that caught everyone’s admiration was her classic Spanish head with concave forehead and convex nose. Her noble head was set on a fully crested arching neck, and she looked like a baroque horse, such as the Andalusian or Lipizzaner.

A particular herd of pure Spanish mustangs was discovered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1977 and separated to preserve their purity of traits. These horses are known as the Kiger mustangs. To be considered a Kiger, according to the Kiger Mesteño Association, a horse must be the offspring of a registered Kiger or have documented proof it was obtained from one of the Kiger herd management areas. Additionally, Kiger mustangs carry the breed color traits, which include dun and gruel, among others, along with markings such as dorsal stripe, zebra stripes or facial mask.

By contrast, the American mustang is the descendant of escaped light riding horses and draft horses, mixed with the Spanish bred and others. In general, these horses are thought to have little-to-no remaining Spanish blood.

Charged with the oversight of wild mustangs and burros is the BLM, which manages wild horses and burros on the public land in a “multiple use” mission that considers natural resources and uses such as ranch livestock grazing. The BLM monitors herds for health and population size and offers individual animals for adoption. Since 1973, BLM placed more than 213,000 horses and burros in homes through its adoption program. In 2005, Congress enacted a new law to maintain herds at healthy population levels that requires BLM to place for sale horses and burros older than age 10 or for whom adoption has failed three times. According to BLM, this affects approximately 8400 horses and burros.

Formerly wild mustangs have found success in new homes. J.B. Andrews, a large black mustang, has successfully competed in dressage to Intermediare I while schooling at the Grand Prix level.

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