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.