Galloping herd of mustangs


In This Article

  • History and Origins

  • Size

  • Breeding and Uses

  • Colors and Markings

  • Characteristics

  • Diet and Nutrition

  • Health and Behavior

  • Grooming

  • Notable Horses

  • Mustang for You

  • Adopt or Buy

  • More Horse Breeds

Versatile, hardy, and intelligent, there's a lot to love about the mustang. This true American breed has a rich history and can make a phenomenal riding partner with proper training.

Breed Overview

Weight: 800 pounds

Height: 14 to 15 hands

Body Type: Stocky and hardy

Best For: Trail riding and ranch work

Life Expectancy: Up to 40 years

Mustang Horse History and Origins

Today, mustangs live wild in the western United States. They originated from Spanish horses that were brought to the country by European settlers. Some of those horses escaped or were freed, and others were bartered for or captured by Native Americans.

Escaped horses formed herds and lived wild, gradually being pushed West by encroaching development of the country. The resulting wild mustang population grew, but as the country was increasingly settled and ranchers sought out land to graze cattle on, the increased population became a problem. In the early 1900s, there were as many as two million mustangs in the United States. Currently, it’s estimated that 30,000 mustangs are still in existence.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act helped to protect mustangs from being hunted, poisoned, and harassed, but it also caused the population to grow again. The Bureau of Land Management has begun rounding up and adopting out mustangs to help manage the population.

Mustang Horse Size

Mustangs are smaller horses, typically standing between 14 and 15 hands high and weighing about 800 pounds.

Bay mustang foal on a prairie

Bay mustang foal on a prairie

 Mark Newman / Getty Images

Palomino mustang stallion challenging a herd

Palomino mustang stallion challenging a herd

 Jason Sims / 500 px / Getty Images

Breeding and Uses

Mustangs breed in the wild and currently face overpopulation issues, so captive breeding programs aren’t in use. These horses are versatile and have found successful careers in trail riding, ranch work, dressage, and more.

Colors and Markings

Mustangs come in a wide array of coat colors. Many are bay and chestnut, but black, grey, pinto, roan, and palomino coat colors also occur.

A bay and a grey mustang touching noses

A bay and a grey mustang touching noses

 A L Christensen / Getty Images

Herd of mustangs in a field

Herd of mustangs in a field

Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography / Getty Images

Herd of mustangs in a field

Herd of mustangs in a field

 Kelly Lambright / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Mustang

The mustang is known for being very hardy and surefooted, thanks to its wild heritage. These qualities make mustangs ideal as working horses and trail horses, since they can navigate terrain that other breeds might struggle with.

Diet and Nutrition

Mustangs are hardy. In the wild, they survive on a diet of grass and brush. As a result, they are relatively easy keepers in captivity. An owner may need to restrict a mustang’s access to lush pasture, since overgrazing can result in obesity and related problems, like founder.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Mustangs are hardy and are known for having strong, healthy hooves. They tend to be quite healthy.

Behavior in mustangs can vary depending on the horse’s background and level of training. A mustang that has been rounded up and adopted out with little handling will probably be reactive and spooky. Given time to gain trust in humans, mustangs can be calm and well-mannered with proper training.

Grooming

Mustangs don’t have any specific grooming needs. They’ll benefit from regular grooming and currying to promote coat health. While they have strong hooves, regular hoof care is also important to their health.

Pros

  • Hardy and surefooted

  • Intelligent

  • Many horses available for adoption

Cons

  • Smaller horses aren't ideal for taller riders

  • Unhandled horses will require significant training

Champion and Celebrity Mustang Horses

Many mustangs have become famous:

  • Cobra proved to be talented in dressage after he was adopted. He earned a Freestyle Western Dressage Level 1 World Championship in 2015 and was named USEF Horse of the Year in Western Dressage.
  • Hwin was adopted by eventer Elisa Wallace. Together, they competed in the 2015 Mustang Magic Makeover and Breyer crafted a model horse after Hwin.

Is the Mustang Right for You?

Because mustangs are smaller, they’re often best suited for smaller riders. They’re versatile and suitable for a wide array of disciplines and activities. Mustang temperaments can range from hot and reactive to calm and cooperative, so it’s most important to ensure that the horse you buy is right for your experience and needs.

How to Adopt or Buy a Mustang

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopts out mustangs every year to help maintain appropriate herd numbers so that the horses can survive on the land. If you want to adopt a mustang, start by reviewing the BLM’s adoption requirements. You’ll need to meet specific requirements about the type of fencing, facility, and even horse trailer that you have in order to be approved to adopt. Keep in mind that most of these horses have not been handled and will need to be trained in everything from halter breaking to riding.

You can also frequently find mustangs for sale from private sellers, and these horses may already be trained to ride. Mustangs tend to be a more affordable breed and they’re located all over the country. When buying a horse, it’s always a good idea to have a pre-purchase exam performed to assess any health issues that could affect the horse’s performance.

More Horse Breeds

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

  • Appaloosa
  • Morgan
  • Paint

Otherwise, you can check out all of our other horse breed profiles.

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