Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mestengo: The origins of the American Mustang

Mestengo: The origins of the American Mustang

By Diane Ward

            The name Mustang comes from the Mexican Spanish word mestengo which is derived from the Spanish word mesteño meaning stray or ownerless horse. Mesteño more accurately describes the American Mustang because they are arguably not a wild breed, instead mustangs are legally considered feral, because they are not  indigenous to the land. The original mustangs were the descendants of domestic Spanish horses brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th century, however their roots can be traced back to the 8th century.

            In the 8th century, the Moors invaded Spain bringing with them desert horses known as the Barbs or Berbers which were a cross between the Andalusian and Jennet. By 1492 the Moors had taken the country and started exploration to the New World.  The king of Spain ordered in 1492 that all ships sailing under the Spanish flag carry horses and because of this horses sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic). In 1519, Cortez brought 16 horses to the America’s mainland during his march to Mexico City. Two decades later De Soto started his Exploration from Florida to Mississippi with over 200 horses. Cornado brought over 500 horses in 1540 when he began exploring Mexico and the southwest United States. 
            By 1640 Native Americans were acquiring horses and by the 1700’s nearly every Native American tribe owned horses. Some of the most notable tribes for horsemanship were the Comanche, the Shoshoni, and the Nez Perce. While the Comanche became the leaders of the Plain Indians Horse Culture, the Nez Perce became master horse breeders, and bred the Appaloosa, one of the first distinctly American breeds 
            In February 28, 2010, the Bureau of Land Management estimates that approximately, 33,700 horses and burros are roaming on BLM-managed land in 10 western states. Because wild horses have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years, the BLM must regulate herd size. If the herd size was not regulated, the herds would consume the natural resources and eventually cause a “crash” in herd numbers. The ecosystems of public rangelands are not able to withstand the impacts from overpopulated herds, which include soil erosion, sedimentation of streams, and damage to wildlife habitat. Much of this is due to the fact that the mustangs are not a native specious, and do not self regulate to the land, making the BLM’s management necessary.
            Today some herds still retain a heavy influence of the original Spanish stock, but there is myriad diversity throughout herds and locations. Signs of Thoroughbred bloodlines or other light racehorse-types in the mustang herds were a part of a process that led in part to the creation of the American Quarter Horse. Other herds show signs of the intermixing of heavy draft horse breeds turned loose in an attempt to create work horses and more isolated herds. Because the mustang herds have been added to both deliberately and accidently by western explorers and various other parties up to the mid-century, there is a great variety of colors, and builds between herds. The modern mustang has several different breeding populations which are genetically isolated from one another, giving them distinct traits traceable to particular herds. These herds vary in the degree to which they can be traced to original Spanish stock with many having a makeup of more recent breed releases, however there are still some herds that are relatively unchanged from the original Spanish stock.


 The Mustang Heritage Foundation.

National Wild Horse Adoption Day

The Spanish Barb Breeders Association

No comments:

Post a Comment