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I was recently watching horses running and playing in a pasture. It made me think about horses in the wild and wonder if there are still “wild horses” in the world, so I decided to do some research to find the answer to this question.
There are still wild horses. The largest population of wild horses is in Australia. In the United States, wild horses live on beaches, in National Forest, and in the Western United States. The Przewalski horses are the sole “wild horse” breed, but DNA has recently challenged their status.
Wild horses roam our vast country. They can be seen in various regions, and most are under the control of the Federal Bureau of Land Management. There is a lot of interesting information about “wild horses,” including what is considered a “wild horse.”
What are wild horses?
There is some debate over what exactly constitutes a “wild horse.” Some people believe that any domesticated animal that has been released into the wild should be considered a wild horse.
Others feel that only animals who have never been in contact with humans should be considered wild. The definition and meaning behind this term are unclear.
Wild horse characteristics
In general wild horses have a stockier build than domesticated horses. They also tend to be more agile and athletic, due to their natural survival instincts. These animals are often very wary of humans and will flee at the slightest provocation.
Wild horses live in herds and use their strong social bonds to protect each other from predators and danger. In general, they are known for being hardy and adapting to their environment. Many are also resistant to disease.
Wild horses typically stay within their designated territory but may migrate if food becomes scarce or if they encounter a threat from another animal or human development project. While many herds have survived for centuries, others have become extinct due to various factors (such as climate change).
Wild horses live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands and deserts. They are more common in countries that were once part of the British Empire, such as Australia and Canada.
The most numerous wild horse population is located in the U.S. in the western plains; however, these animals have been found all over the country.
Wild horses on the beaches.
Have you ever seen wild horses on the beach? They are a breathtaking sight. Their coats shimmer in the sun, and their manes blowing in the wind. They seem to embody the power and beauty of nature.
These creatures have been roaming our beaches for centuries, and they show no sign of disappearing any time soon. If you’re lucky enough to see them on your next trip to the shore, take a moment to appreciate their timeless beauty. Here are some great locations to see wild horses on beaches:
The outer banks of North Carolina has wild horses on Swan Beach.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a string of islands that separates the mainland of North Carolina from the Atlantic Ocean. It is known for its beaches and wild horses. Wild horses are present on the Shackleford Banks, Corolla, and Ocracoke Island.
No one can say for sure how the horses made their way to these islands. But the region is legendary for shipwrecks. So the prevailing theory is some 500 years ago, a Spanish shipwrecked, and aboard the vessel were horses. These horses swam to the islands and flourished.
North Carolina formally recognized these wild horses as the state horse. To see the horses, you can schedule a tour or go on your own. The horses primarily stay in remote locations, so a guide is recommended. Swan Beach is known as one of the best places to watch wild horses.
Assateague Island is where the Chincoteague ponies live.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland, is close to other tourist destinations, like Washington D.C. and Annapolis. It would be worth including in your vacation plans to see the wild horses on the beach.
Like the horse on the Outerbanks of North Carolina, these horses could be survivors of a Spanish shipwreck. The horses on the island are tiny; some people refer to them as ponies.
The harsh conditions and sparse food sources may have stunted their development over the years. You will also notice they have bloated bellies; this is not from overeating but the salt content in their diet.
Don’t get close to the horses or ponies.
As with other horses, be careful not to get too close; even though they are small, they could still cause harm. The most famous horses on Assateague Island are the Chincoteague Ponies. The Chincoteague fire department has a herd of horses on the island, separated by fences on the Virginia/Maryland state line.
They have an annual custom of culling the herd down to 150 each year. The yearly culling is a tradition that has been around since before the formation of our country. It is referred to as Pony Penning and involves swimming the horses across a channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island to the auction.
The event is scheduled for the last Thursday in July and draws tens of thousands of spectators. The pony auction helps control the herd size and raises money for the fire department.
Cumberland Island has wild horses with Tennessee Walker and Paso Fino bloodlines.
Cumberland Island, Georgia, is only accessible by boat or ferry. It is believed the horses arrived with Spaniard settlers who abandoned them when they left the island. The island has a hotel, and reservations are needed if you intend to take the ferry.
The Carnegie family built a couple of Mansions on the island, one of which is used as a hotel today. The horses are believed to be a mix of Tennessee Walker and Paso Fino bloodlines. The herd size on the island is approximately 160 strong. The horses live on the island free of any assistance, just like other wild animals.
Best places to see wild horses.
If you’re looking for an amazing wild horse sighting, look no further than these top picks in the United States. Wild horses symbolize freedom and are a beautiful sight to behold, and with so many different areas where they can be found, you’re sure to have a great experience spotting them in their natural habitat.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
The wild horses in this Park are easy to view. The mustangs in this region are descendants of settlers’ horses that evaded capture. In late 1800, ranchers allowed their horses to free-range and, when needed were, rounded them up.
Wild stallions galloping across the open range are a sight to see. The mustangs here have a rich history, being descendants of settlers’ animals that evaded capture during the late 1800s and early 1900s when ranchers allowed them free range so they could be rounded up when needed again.
The horses that evaded the ranchers are the foundation of the wild horse breeds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. For years the government tried to rid the park of wild mustangs. However, their attempts were unsuccessful, and the horses became an iconic fixture. Now there is an effort to maintain the number of horses at the park.
Pryor Mountain Mustangs, Wyoming and Montana
Pryor Mountain Mustangs, Wyoming, and Montana The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range was the first public wild horse range established in the United States. It preceded the Free-Roaming Wild Horse & Burro Act 1971 by three years.
The range boundary covers over 38,000 acres of land and includes parts of Montana and Wyoming. The “wild horse” origin has been traced to the conquistadors of the 1500s.
The horses in the Pryor Mountain region are called Pryor Mustangs because of their distinct features. The mustangs tend to be small, measuring an average of just 14 hands, and have broad foreheads.
The Pryor Mountains are a great place to watch mustangs interact. Most can be seen in the East Pryor Mountain area; currently, there are about 150 undomesticated mustangs in that region. If you are interested in seeing real-time pictures or learning more about these animals, check out the Facebook page of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.
Virginia Range Herd Nevada,
Virginia Range Herd Nevada is approximately 30 square miles located just east of Reno, Nevada. To see the wild horses, it is best to hike. They are not readily viewable by car.
You can see this range in the western TV series Bonanza. No one can say for sure how long the wild horses have been on the range.
One of the great pioneers, known by the nickname “Wild Horse Annie,” led an effort to protect wild horses in this region. She was instrumental in passing legislation that still protects “wild horses” today.
Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, Colorado
The Spaniards began an exploration of this region in the 1500s. In Little Book Cliffs, the “wild horses” are believed to be descendants of horses who escaped from these explorers. The horses that freely roam the area are called “mustangs.”
The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area encompasses more than 36,000 acres of land and includes canyons and plateaus. It is a great place to hike, especially in the spring and fall, when the weather is mild, and the horses are readily seen.
Hikers and horseback riders are welcome year-round, but travel by vehicle is only open from May to December. The Little Book Cliffs are eight miles northeast of Grand Junction,
To best see the “‘wild horses,” join a local hiking group to Coal Canyon or Hoodoo trails. About 150 “wild horses” live at Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area.
Oatman, Arizona, is a ghost town and home to “wild burros” and “wild horses.” The burros are much more populous and easier to find. You may encounter the burros on Route 66, so be careful driving in the area.
They were initially brought to the area by the miners seeking gold. When the mining industry died, the miners left the area and their donkeys.
There are about 100 “wild horses” in the Oatman area. However, unlike the burros, they do not stay in the town. They roam the thousands of acres in the surrounding area, encompassing thousands of acres.
To find the horses, you will need to seek the advice of a Bureau of Land Management agent who monitors the horses’ movements.
Most of the wild horses are in the western states.
The wild horses living in the United States descend from horses brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. The majority of wild horses are in the Western United States. Below are the statistics from the Bureau of Land Management.
Western States Horse Population
Wild horses mostly populate the western states; however, wild horses roam freely in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and the beaches of North Carolina.
Wild horses can be dangerous, so don’t approach them.
Wild horses are beautiful creatures that can be seen running free across the open plains of North America. However, they can also be dangerous. They are known to attack people and animals and can cause a lot of damage. If you see a wild horse, it’s best to stay away from it.
Horses are prey animals, and their first instinct is to bolt from danger; however, they are large animals, and if they feel threatened, they know how to defend themselves and can hurt you. Wild horses are unpredictable and dangerous.
If you are familiar with horses, you should be able to read a horse’s body language. (See my article here on what a horse’s ears tell us)
Even the most seasoned horseman knows that an unfamiliar horse can be unpredictable. You can take specific steps to create a safer environment when near wild horses.
- Keep a safe distance between you and the wild horse. If you see a horse backing up because you are approaching, then you are too close. Some land management areas have rules that establish the distance you must maintain between yourself and a wild horse. This is normally 50 feet, which is a good distance for you to use on your own.
- Never feed a wild horse. Besides the obvious, getting dangerously close to the horse could harm them. A wild horse could develop serious gastric intestinal issues from eating food they are not accustomed to digesting. (see my article on colic here).
- Use Common Sense If you are taking pictures, pay attention to the movements of the horses. Don’t get between a mare and her foal. Don’t be loud or make a quick movement that could be interpreted as a threat to the horses.
The largest population of wild horses is in Australia.
“Wild horses” in Australia
Australia has the most “wild horses” in the world. The country that is famous for the movie about horses, is “The Man from Snowy River.” The wild horses’ population has been estimated to be close to a million or as low as 400,000, and their population is growing by 20 percent each year.
In the United States, “wild horses” are referred to as mustangs; in Australia, they are called “Brumbies.” Brumbies are present all over Australia, and their population is causing a problem. One of the issues is their massive numbers are creating havoc on the ecosystem.
Australian wild horses are called “Brumbies.”
They live in areas where their hard hooves damage the vegetation. The Brumbies’ feet crush sensitive alpine and subalpine environments where the vegetation supports delicate creatures such as the she-oak skink and corroboree frog.
There is a worry that the Brumbies harm water sources and spread weeds and compact soils in spots where they congregate. With the support of its citizens, the Australian government is trying to take control of the situation humanely.
People love to see a herd of wild horses, the majesty of the sight is breathtaking, and no one wants to see these creatures mistreated. Getting the Brumbie problem under control will be a monumental task.
They are currently trapping wild horse in fenced areas. They set out some horse treats and close the gate behind the horse when he enters. This is successful but a slow process and does not keep up with the growing population. But once captured, the Brumbies have made good horses. They are rugged and athletic.
The Przewalski horse is the last “wild horse.”
Could a wild horse be an animal that lives independently without any help from humans? Let’s look at the Przewalski horse for some guidance. The Przewalski horse was the last known wild horse everyone could agree on. But as you will learn, that also changed.
In 1879 Nicholas Przewalski led an expedition to Central Asia and returned home with the skin and skull of a mammal from the horse family. No one knew what to make of it. Was this a wild horse?
As they became known, the Przewalski horse was considered the last remaining “wild horse,” and they ran free well into the 20th century.
Although similar to a domestic horse, Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and his colleagues published a study showing that Przewalski’s and domesticated horses have significant differences in genes that govern metabolism, muscle contraction, reproduction, and behavior.
Most Przewalski horses live in zoos today.
These relatives of the modern-day horse still survive today, but almost exclusively in Zoos. They resemble the domestic horse in most ways but are shorter, built heavier, and have a large head in relation to their bodies, coupled with a thick neck and short legs.
Przewalski’s horses can be traced to the Central Asian steppe in the Kazakhstan region. They were listed as extinct in the wild in 1969. The only remaining ones were all in Zoos.
A successful breeding campaign was begun, and in the ’90s, some of the Przewalski horses were reintroduced to the wild in Mongolia, Hungary, China, and Russia. Today they have a population of only about 2,000.
Some scientists believe the Przewalski’s horses are a distant cousin to the domestic horse, and they have a common ancestor from over 500,000 years ago. Much debate has been raised about whether or not the Przewalski horse is a true “wild horse.”
What were the first wild horses to be domesticated?
Botai horses were the first to be domesticated. In 2018 scientists gathered DNA from what they believed to be domestic horse remains excavated in Kazakhstan.
These horses are referred to as Botai horses, which are considered the first domesticated species of horses. The remnants are over 5,500 years old. The purpose of the DNA test was to confirm that Botai horses were the modern horse’s ancestors. However, the DNA test results showed a commonality with the Przewalski horse.
Therefore the scientist concluded the Przewalski horse was not a wild horse but domesticated horses that escaped from a Kazakhstan owner thousands of years ago and began breeding in the wild and are thus feral.
This theory has raised numerous arguments among scientists, and there is no clear answer. Many people still accept Przewalski’s horse to be the only remaining “wild horse” group in the world.
For others who accept the DNA results from the Botai horses, they conclude the wild horse is extinct. Click here to read about how horses relied on intelligence and instincts to survive.
It’s illegal to capture wild horses on public land.
It’s not legal in the United States to catch a wild horse. Under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal government has authority over the horse’s well-being.
President Nixon signed into law the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This act governs the BLM, a protection measure to provide for wild horses.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires the BLM to keep an annual population estimate of the number of wild horses and burros roaming federally managed lands in the West.
The Bureau of Land Management controls the horse population on public land.
In order to maintain healthy conditions, there is a limit on wild horses and burros that can live in balance with other public land resources and uses. Wild horses and burros that exceed this safe number must be removed from the range.
The current estimated on-range wild horse and burro population (as of March 1, 2019) is 87,885, a 7.25 percent increase over the 2018 estimate of 81,951 (which doesn’t include animals removed last year as part of management action).
That means the current West-wide on-range population exceeds AML by more than 61,000. Check this site for current information (blm.gov/programs/wild-horse). It also has a chart with a breakdown by state population of wild horses.
The BLM puts wild horses up for adoption.
So, although it is illegal to catch a wild horse, you can adopt one through the BLM. They have wild horse roundups, and they are anxious to have people adopt the horses.
There is even a training incentive program for mustangs (TIP) that pays a person to halter break a mustang and adopts it out. Click this link for current information on the wild horse adoption program.
Below is a YouTube video about the wild horses that live in Nevada.
- To read about horseshoes and why “wild horses” don’t need shoes,
- Are Horses Native to North America? The Fossils Tell a Story