Nevada's Wild Horses A Western U.S. Symbol Of Freedom

June 29, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Nevada wild horses photographed by Glenn Franco Simmons.Nevada's Wild HorsesWild horses at Wilson Park in Carson City. Although I describe the horses roaming all over Nevada as “wild horses,” they are actually feral horses, if you want to be a stickler.

“Mustangs are often referred to as wild horses, but because they are descended from once-domesticated animals, they are actually feral horses,” according to Wikipedia.

The point could be made, however, that they’ve been “wild” so long, the distinction rather loses its meaning for the average person.

Thus, I prefer to call them wild. There is something magical and free about them, wherever they are, be it in urban settings where they've wandered ~ usually looking for park lawns, or in the wild, among the sagebrush or the higher plains of local mountain.

Nevada wild horses photographed by Glenn Franco Simmons.Nevada's Wild HorsesWild horses at Wilson Park in Carson City. In fact, they are almost a symbol of freedom in the Western United States, where people come from throughout the world to view Nevada's wild horses, and I'm sure that is true, perhaps to a lesser extent, in other Western states where mustangs roam free (sort of; please visit the BLM Wild Horse & Burro Management Program.).

Because the horses have interbred, they’ve taken on the name of “mustang.”

“Many … breeds and types of horses contributed to the modern mustang, now resulting in varying phenotypes,” according to Wikipedia.

OK, so what’s a phenotype?

“A horse phenotype is the observable coat color of a horse, which is determined by its genotype (the genetic code for the coat color) and environmental factors,” according to Bing Chat which cited U.C. Davis’ Veterinary Genetics Laboratory and a Wikipedia entry on ‘equine coat colors and genetics.’

“There are many possible coat colors in horses, but they are all produced by changes in only a few genes,” Wikipedia continues. “The base coat colors of horses are chestnut, bay, and black, which are controlled by the interaction between two genes: Extension and Agouti. Other genes can modify the base coat colors by diluting or distributing the pigment, such as Cream, Champagne, Dun, Pearl, Silver, and Mushroom. Some genes can also create patterns of white or speckling on the coat, such as Roan, Pinto, Leopard, White, and Gray.”

Nevada wild horses photographed by Glenn Franco Simmons.Nevada's Wild HorsesWild horses at Wilson Park in Carson City. “Some free-roaming horses are relatively unchanged from the original Spanish stock, most strongly represented in the most isolated populations,” according to a Wikipedia article on Mustang horses.

So, what is Mustang?

“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word mustang was likely borrowed from two essentially synonymous Spanish words, ‘mestengo’ (or ‘mesteño’) and ‘mostrenco,’” according to Wikipedia.

“… Mesteño referred originally to beasts of uncertain ownership distributed by the powerful transhumant merino sheep ranchers’ guild in medieval Spain, called the Mesta (Honrado Concejo de la Mesta, 'Honorable Council of the Mesta').

“The name of the Mesta derived ultimately from the Latin: mixta, lit.  ‘mixed,’ referring to the common ownership of the guild's animals by multiple parties.”

“The original mustangs were Colonial Spanish horses,” according to Wikipedia. “Mustangs of all body types are described as surefooted and having good endurance. They may be of any coat color.”

Nevada wild horses photographed by Glenn Franco Simmons.Nevada's Wild HorsesFor scale, a wild horse by my Prius at Wilson Park in Carson City. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Herd Management Areas, you will find a diversity of colors and combinations of colors.

“{A} light riding horse type predominates, though a few horses with draft horse characteristics also exist, mostly kept separate from other mustangs and confined to specific areas,” according to Wikipedia. “Some herds show the signs of the introduction of Thoroughbred or other light racehorse-types into herds, a process that also led in part to the creation of the American Quarter Horse.

“The mustang of the modern west has several different breeding populations today which are genetically isolated from one another and thus have distinct traits traceable to particular herds.”

The West’s wild horses also come from other sources.

“Genetic contributions to today's free-roaming mustang herds include assorted ranch horses that escaped to or were turned out on the public lands, and stray horses used by the {U.S.} Cavalry,” according to Wikipedia. “For example, in Idaho some Herd Management Areas … contain animals with known descent from Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse stallions turned out with feral herds.”

Nevada wild horses photographed by Glenn Franco Simmons.Nevada's Wild HorsesWild horses at Wilson Park in Carson City. The genetic story is an interesting one.

“Many herds were analyzed for Spanish blood group polymorphism (commonly known as ‘blood markers’) and microsatellite DNA loci,” Wikipedia notes. “Blood marker analysis verified a few to have significant Spanish ancestry, namely the Cerbat Mustang, Pryor Mountain Mustang, and some horses from the Sulphur Springs HMA. The Kiger Mustang is also said to have been found to have Spanish blood and subsequent microsatellite DNA confirmed the Spanish ancestry of the Pryor Mountain Mustang.

“Horses in several other HMAs exhibit Spanish horse traits, such as dun coloration and primitive markings. Genetic studies of other herds show various blends of Spanish, gaited horse, draft horse, and pony influences.”

The mustangs’ genetic quality is contested.

“The herds of the West to be inbred and of inferior quality,” according to Wikipedia. “However, supporters of the mustang argue that the animals are merely small due to their harsh living conditions and that natural selection has eliminated many traits that lead to weakness or inferiority.”

For me, the Mustang remains a symbol of freedom, something we should cherish. Below is a slideshow of the Wilson Park mustangs.




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