“The history of the West was written by the horse. Wherever a settler left his footprint there was a hoofprint beside it. Men came further and further west to stake their claim on the great American wilderness. But they encountered a strength that couldn’t be tamed – wild horses. Mustangs. The settlers called them parasites that would strip the land and starve their own herds.”
This excerpt from the movie, Flicka, is only partly true. Wild horses have been apart of the American west vision since the very beginning. Every cowboy movie emphasized the presence of horses in white and Native American lives. However, they weren’t always a part of the rustic wild west lifestyle. This, “strength that couldn’t be tamed” is just as new to North America as the settlers crossing over. It is believed that horses roamed the Americas about 2-3 million years ago, during the same time period as wooly mammoths. From then the breed equus (meaning horses, donkeys, etc.) is believed to have traveled from what is now North America to current day Russia through the use of the Bering Land Bridge. This migration, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, is thought to be the reason why horses didn’t suffer extinction. Sadly, that much can’t be said about wooly mammoths.
Horses were not introduced back to America until the 1500s, when the Spanish came to seek out the city of gold or cebola. The presence of the Spanish and the impact they had on the Native Americans change the way we see the American west today. As the Spanish continued to
make their mark on southwestern America a part of their culture was taken by the west, horses. Tamed horses began to escape the Spanish herds and take to the surrounding land.2 Native Americans began using either stolen or gifted horses for their everyday lives. Only now was the current day idea of wild horses beginning to take form.
Now the myth in question, wild horses have always been apart of the American west, is a tricky one to disprove. Archeologists tell us that the species equus lived on the land that is now North America billions of years ago. However, many of those original horses traveled away from the Americas during the Ice Age or were killed off along with wooly mammoths.2 Now the wild horses found roaming the American plains today are not native genetically to this country. The American mustangs ancestors are indeed from Spain. However, these American mustangs are native in another way that can’t be scientifically proven. The wild horses that roam freely through North America are protected by The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971. This act provides horses and burros protection from being captured, branded, harassed or killed. The fact that the Bureau of Land Management recognizes wild horses and protects them and makes the American land they live on their home thus making them native in terms of belonging.
The American West was shaped by many things, Native Americans, the Spanish, Columbus, white settlers, the list can go on and on. One of the greatest aspects of the American west is the presence of horses. However impactful horses were to the colonization of the west they were not always apart of America. To conclude, wild mustangs are not indigenous to North America.