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America's Feral Horses
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America's Feral Horses

America's free-ranging horses are a beloved western icon. In the late 1500's the Spainards introduced domestic horses to North America. As time passed some of these horses escaped their owners or were set free creating a population of feral horses.

The Bureau of Land Management has more than 69,000 lands where more than 37,000 feral horses range freely. Another 32,000 wild horses are maintained in government run corrals and pastures at a cost of $40 million a year.

The difference between feral and wild horses is simply this; wild horses' ancestors were never domesticated where feral horses' ancestors were once domesticated, but are now wild without any human care. Horses which live in an untamed state but have ancestors who have been domesticated are not true "wild" horses; they are feral horses.

Many modern day feral horses are direct descendents of horses that were domesticated in Europe. Feral horses are not a natural part of the western ecosystem. They often damage landscapes by trampling vegetation, hard packing the soil and over grazing.

Lands that feral horses run have fewer plant species, less plant cover and more invasive cheat grass. Often times plant life that desert snakes, lizards and other amphibians use for cover is lost significantly harming their populations.

Feral horses do not just stick to the lower lands. They often travel to higher elevations to graze.

Feral horses live in groups known as bands, herds, harems, or mobs. Feral horse herds, like those of wild horses, are usually made up of small bands led by a dominant mare, containing additional mares, their foals, and immature horses of both sexes. Usually herds have only one stallion, but at times though a few less-dominant males may remain with the herd.

Modern types of feral horses that have a significant percentage of their number living in a feral state, even though there may be some domesticated representatives, include the following breeds:

Banker horse, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina Brumby, the feral horse of Australia Chincoteague Pony, on Assateague Island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland Cumberland Island Horse, on Cumberland Island off the coast of southern Georgia Danube Delta horse, in and around Letea Forest, between the Sulina and Chilia branches of Danube Elegesi Qiyus Wild Horse, Canada; lives in the Nemaiah Valley, British Columbia Garrano, a feral horse native to northern Portugal Kaimanawa horse, New Zealand Kondudo horse, in the Kondudo region, Ethiopia; threatened with extinction Marismeño, present in the Doñana National Park in Huelva, Spain Misaki Pony, Japan Mustang, legally protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 in the western United States Namib desert horse, Namibia Nokota horse Sorraia, a feral horse native to southern Portugal Sable Island Pony found in Nova Scotia Welsh Pony, mostly domesticated, but a feral population of about 180 animals roams the Carneddau hills of North Wales. Other populations roam the eastern parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

No matter where they are located their beauty and grace is undeniable.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Ronnie
    Great article! Voted up!
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  2. chloe
    Voted up...up...up!
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  3. chloe
    Very interesting piece! Voted up.
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  4. evgr
    Great piece!
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  5. jst4horses
    I feel crabby today. I am not sure what your point of the difference between feral and wild horses is. It seems as if you are making a claim they should not be there, like the developers and those who move into their areas, or want the grazing land do. Horses were, I wrote a book on Native American rodeo, and studied this in depth, yes, left by the Spanish and even Columbus had a large number either stolen, or ranged away from their encampments. The real Zorro (saith history channel) was really a Native Southern Californian (then Mexico) who realized that horses gave the Spanish power in their collecting the people like herds of animals killing off those who could no longer work, enslaving the rest to field or house work. So, he stole their horses, bred them and sold them all over the Americas. Rather a different story than the native peoples wonderingly calling them "magic dogs" and being afraid of the awesome riders who slaughtered whole cities and communities and nations to take away their lands. Native Americans treated horses like any other great gift from nature and The Creator. It is interesting to note that the few surviving Vikings (also on history channel) still treat their animals in the same way, and are world class and famous equine therapists! The movies have done more harm to horses than anything else. The chase scenes simply are not true. My friend Deborah Ginsberg did a series of articles on horseracing when she was an editor for CalThoroughbred Magazine. One article featured the reality that horses can not, and did not ever run mile after mile. It appears that even the Pony Express was populated by young people, often Native American and surprisingly orphaned girls who cut their hair and had their own tough ponies. The stops were frequent and reached by walk, trot, canter, not the movie version of gallop for miles. A trained, in top health racehorse can only run a little over a mile before it will suffer permanent lung, heart or leg damage and often dies. The rule of thumb is for every minute run, an hour walked. For racehorses that hour is often up to FOUR hours before it is safe to put the animal in and they often still die. So, those chase horse scenes of movies, while exciting on film, never existed. While europeans thought of horses as expendable and did not take care of them, many used them for their sole livelihood and DID take care of them. Native Americans, not to their best historical memory, began to eat their horses rather than starve and then to go to the accepted european vicious ways of "breaking" horses. I still feel crabby. I hope one day we can all treat animals with the respect they deserve, they are not video games, or bicycles. They are living creatures that have their own culture which we daily disrespect and destroy. NO matter their broken hearts and spirits. If your point is to be taken to the human point, there are a lot of feral Americans as well. Native Americans had a whole different relationship with animals of all kinds. The "wild" herds so devastated by europeans were not WILD, they were owned by large groups of people. Just as in Africa today. People owned a few animals and young men (after horses) rode out there and watched the animals and circulated them to keep them from over foraging any area
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    1. jst4horses
      I would also like to add, training out a spoiled 1800 boy for someone who raised him to think he is a human, playing and gamboling with him, letting him kick at them as a foal, and demand anything he wanted..........now he is sold down and not manageable........ That horses are not my little pony toys either. They are huge animals that need to learn to live in YOUR herd with respect and safety. This latest horse was quite shocked when he was sent out to learn that he is a horse. I had an alpha mare that used to help me with this type of horse. In one night she let them know they were NOT the boss, it helped me in the next step. She also taught them to be a horse. I have heard of people with horses in the house, and more blankets, hoods, shoes, boots, than a fashion-ista. While I do not want to put the horse fashion industry out of business, people need to realize, a horse is a horse, not a pet, not a friend (I learned that from the head trainer of the job I had training horse handlers for the state licensing-his old palsie had bitten off a couple of fingers, who knows why?) if you lose your respect for the danger lurking, you are not a horseman. AND a horse is a lifetime responsibility. That horse depends on YOU and there are few and far between lovely homes for your old horse. Mine have insurance in case I die they will be shipped to my younger son's ranch, or my daughter can afford to keep them if she decides to do that, but they are not going to suffer and be sold off to slaughter or some kid who will abuse them (those nice little kids are few and far between as well) should I die. A horse is also not a metaphor, which one equine therapy program tries to say they are. Maybe the therapy they are used for is a metaphor, but a horse is a horse, and I disagree with horse programs that use seat belts (except small pony rides in contained areas with seriously trained ponies) or that say no horse experience necessary. It takes a lot of horse experience and courage to go after a bucking, kicking horse that has been stung by a bee and grab back a therapy student before they are injured. I train all of my students to pay strict attention and how to get off on command, walk, trot, or canter. WE practice, so if there is an emergency, I can help them and not let them get rolled on, seat belted to a horse, or even fallen on by a horse with a heart attack, seat belted to it. People need to be safer and more responsible around and for horses than they are.
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