Horse sense, n.: Stable thinking.
Save Our Wild Horse
Wild Horse Origins
The horse originated on the North American continent, beginning with
Eohippus (a small, horse-like animal) as early as 60 million years ago.
This species was a small forest animal suited to the marshy environment
of the time. Thousands of complete, fossilized skeletons of these
animals have been found in the Eocene layers in North America, primarily
in the Wind River basin of Wyoming . In the Oligocene Epoch (34-24
million years ago), the climate of North America started changing to a
drier climate, and the forests gave way to grasslands. Mesohippus and
Miohippus appeared during this time, and these fossils were also
prevalent in Wyoming . Parahippus and Merychippus arose during the
Miocene Epoch (24-5.3 million years ago) as the large grasslands
evolved. Merychippus was distinctly recognizable as a horse. Equus
arrived about 4 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch. Equus is
the genus of all modern equines. The first Equus were 13.2 hands tall
with a classic "horsey" body.
2.6 million years ago the horse also spread, via land bridges, the
Isthmus of Panama and the Bering Strait, to South America, Asia, Europe
and Africa. The massive herds covered large areas, much like the bison.
About 8000 years ago the horse disappeared from its land of origin. Many
theories abound, but we don't really know why. An increase in volcanic
activity, disease epidemic, and climatic change may have contributed.
Humans arrived around the time the horse disappeared, so hunting by man
most certainly played a part. We may never know the whole story.
However, for the first time in tens of millions of years the Americas
had no equids.
Horses returned to North America in about 1500 AD, with the arrival of
the Spanish explorers and conquerors. The "Age of Exploration" should
have been called "The Age of the Spanish Horse" because without the
Iberian, Barbs and Jennets, Spanish penetration into the continent would
have been impossible.
The horse was able to obtain its freedom and thrive in the environment
where they developed and evolved. The horse escaped human domination
either by choice or by abandonment, and easily resumed their place in
the wild. These Spanish horses were from the finest strains and were
regarded as the best in Europe. They formed the nucleus of the great
herds of wild horses that spread upward from Mexico into the United
States and the western plains country.
By the time Anglo explorers arrived in the 1800, the horse was well
established. Herd sizes shrank as the area was settled and as ranchers
shot the horses and bison to quell the native American uprisings.
The horse completely transformed Native American cultures, with many
Plains and Great Basin groups becoming expert horsemen and horse
breeders. Conquered Native Americans were enslaved and forced to work
on the Spanish rancheros. While there, they acquired horses for
themselves, and learned horsemanship skills which they soon put to good
use against their captors. Native peoples generally managed their
horses somewhat loosely by European standards, allowing the horses
considerable freedom. This management style augmented the growing wild
Wild horses were variously called "mustangs," "mestenos," broncos,
chapos (meaning short and chunky), Cayuse (after one Native group who
raised them), Indian Ponies, and Spanish Mustangs.
In the '50s and '60s it was virtually open season on the wild mustangs
of the West. Only a few herds remained of the millions that had once
roamed free. The law offered no protection because the animals were
classified as feral (once domesticated), not wild. And their enemies
were many: ranchers who wanted their land for cattle; sportsmen who
wanted their land stocked with target animals to shoot; profiteers who
sold their carcasses to dog food canneries; and an assortment of others
whose hatred seemed to stem from resentment of their untamed nature.
One woman, Velma Johnston of Reno, made it her business to put a stop to
the cruel slaughter. Her enemies derisively dubbed her Wild Horse Annie,
but Velma wore her nickname with pride in her tireless efforts to expose
the brutal practices. The Wild Horse Annie Bill, passed in 1959, was a
hard-won victory but limited in scope. It was not until 1968 that the
mustangs have their first refuge, when Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Refuge
was established. Passage of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro
Act in 1971 finally gave the horses federal protection.
With Marguerite Henry's prize-winning children's book, *Mustang: Wild
Spirit of the West*, Wild Horse Annie became a popular heroine to
millions of American children. With clear, innocent vision, they quickly
grasped the heart of the issue, as one young reader's letter to Ms.
/"It makes me angry and I think that the horses should be allowed to run
free. They will soon be like the Buffalo that used to roam the plains of
On December 15, 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and
Burro Act (PL 92-195) www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov/92-195.htm
to implement laws relating to wild horses and burros on public lands.
The objective of the regulations was to provide criteria and procedures
for protecting, managing, and controlling wild horses and burros as a
"*recognized component"* of the public land environment. This meant that
wild horses and burros now had a legal right to live on the public
lands. The horses and burros would share this right with native wildlife
such as deer and privately owned domestic cattle, whose owners leased
the public lands from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest
The law gave the responsibility for the management and protection of
these animals to the U.S. Department of the Interior to be administered
by the BLM and to the Department of Agriculture to be administered by
the Forest Service.
From 1971 until the BLM took over the adoption program in 1976, Wild
Horse Organized Assistance (WHOA) under the direction of Wild Horse
Annie, International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros
under the direction of Ms. Helen Reilly and NOAH under the direction of
Ron Zaidlich, DVM, adopted out approximately 10,000 wild horses.
Horses and burros rounded up on lands not protected by the law were
adopted by hands-on groups such as the LIFE Foundation under the
direction of Ms. Barbara Eustis-Cross.
In 1978, with the passage of the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PL95-154), the U.S. government was permitted to transfer ownership of up to four animals each year to individual adopters who had given the animals one year of humane care and treatment.