Attribution: Rennett Stowe from USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This section is offered as an additional educational option for the general public, students, and teachers. The content here is intended to be used in coordination with the video documentary, Wild Horses: An American Romance, or as a self contained lesson which makes use of the website information and resources presented. A glossary is also included to provide some common terms and definitions associated with the horse.

Ashfall: Life and Death at a Nebraska Waterhole Ten Million Years Ago
    About 12 million years ago, a volcano in southwest Idaho spread a blanket of ash over a very large area, including what would become the state of Nebraska. Among the animals buried here were prehistoric horses.

Assateague Island
    The wild horses on Assateague Island are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state.

Austrailian Brumby Alliance
     Formed in 2008 by a number of wild horse rescue organisations throughout Australia, the Australian Brumby Alliance (ABA) is concerned with the promotion, protection and humane management of Australian Wild Brumby horses.

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
    Operated and supported by the Institute of Range and the American Mustang.

BLM: Wild Horse & Burro Internet Adoption Program
    "Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; (and) that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people ..."

Buckaroos in Paradise
    The Buckaroos in Paradise Collection at the Library of Congress presents documentation of ranching culture in northern Nevada 1945-1982, with a focus on the family-run Ninety-Six Ranch.

Buffalo Bill Historic Center
    The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is widely regarded as America's finest western museum.

Chincoteague Pony Association
    The National Chincoteague Pony Association, is the oldest Chincoteague Pony Registry..

Eastern States' Wild Horse & Burro Adoption
    While the eastern United States don't have wild horse herds and Herd Management Areas on the scale of the western states, there are wild horse bands present, some of which are managed by private, non profit organizations.

    For people who love horses.

Fictional Horses in Wikipedia 
    Names of famous horses and their riders from literature, movies, TV, etc.

Fort Collins Science Center
    The Fort Collins Science Center develops, integrates, and provides ecological knowledge necessary to understand the causes and predict the consequences of change in order to improve the conservation and management of natural resources in interior western landscapes.

International Museum of the Horse
    Maintains an extensive history of horses in war from the dawn of humans until current times.

JournalStar: Horse Meat Shipping Ban 2/26/11
    Federal law would not allow horse meat to be shipped out of state.

JournalStar: Meat Inspection – Horse 3/30/11
    Legislature advances state meat inspection proposal, possibility of horse processing.

Kickin’ Back Ranch's World of Wild Horses
    Dedicated to wild horses, wild horse adoptions, wild horse care and training, and wild horse management.

Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area
    Wild horses are most frequently spotted in sagebrush parks scattered throughout the horse range, traveling in small bands made up of a stud and his harem of mares, or in bachelor bands of young stallions.

The Natural Horse Magazine
    This magazine covers natural and holistic care for horses, humane training, kids riding, alternative care, and complementary therapies.

Nature: Horses on PBS
    They gallop and trot, whinny and neigh, capturing our imagination – and our hearts.

Mustang Heritage Foundation
    Wild Horse and Burro issues.

Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center
    Dedicated to preserving and interpreting the Pryor Mountain mustangs, their evolution, history, habitat needs, and historical significance.

Rowell Ranch Rodeo
    Information on the Rowell Ranch Rodeo, its history, and current news.

Save the Horses
    Non-Profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for all horses.

Talk Origins Archives
    Paleontologist Kathleen Hunt outlines horse evolution on this site.

War Horse Re-enactment
    The New Riders of the Golden Age from War Horse Farm in Sarasota, Florida, have been jousting professionally since 1982 and have appeared at Renaissance Festivals, state, and county fairs, and other events all over the USA and Canada.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971
    To require the protection, management, and control of wild free- roaming horses and burros on public lands.


Adopt-A-Horse Program

For more information write: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Wild Horse and Burro Program, 7450 Boston Blvd., Springfield, VA 22153, Phone: 800-370-3936,
FAX: 703-440-1656, BLM_ES_Inet_Adoption@blm.gov


The name given to Spanish bred horses, chief descendants of the Barb.


Selectively bred for spotted coat pattern by the Nez Perce. Generally larger than other Native American horses and now a recognized breed.


One of the oldest breeds, regarded as the foundation stock of thoroughbreds. Noted for speed and stamina; characterized by a fine, concave head with small muzzle and large, expressive eyes.

Bachelor Band

A temporary grouping of young stallions who have been exiled from the harem band after reaching sexual maturity. Some older, unsuccessful stallions also seek out bachelor bands.


North African horse, a major foundation breed in Spanish horses and the Mustang. Spare and hardy, with a long, straight, or convex head.


A reddish-brown coat color with black-points mane, tail, and legs.


Category of horse sharing characteristic size, color, and conformation denoting a common ancestry. Domestic breeds are selectively bred long enough to ensure consistent production of defined stock and are registered by a governing society.


A hardy, native perennial of the semi-arid grasslands. The dominant grasses, like grama, little blue stem, and buffalo grass, are nutritious forage plants, adapted to dryness, with large root systems. In some areas, over-grazing has destroyed the native grasses

Cheatgrass (Brome)

An opportunistic and imported annual grass, usually considered inferior forage, which has replaced native grasses throughout the West.


A young male horse. from less than a year until sexual maturity.


The size, shape, and proportions of a horse, a specific way of describing the animal.

Cow Hocked

Refers to hind legs which, like a cow's, turn in instead of forward when viewed from the rear. Frequently seen among mustangs; may serve some adaptive purpose.

Dorsal Stripe

A stripe of dark hair, from neck to tail, regarded as part of the primitive color pattern of the horse.

Draft Horse

One of the descendants of heavy, northern horses, whose broad, thick proportions allow for exertion of great strength. Examples are Clydesdale, Belgian, etc.


Color pattern found frequently among mustangs, usually marked by dorsal stripe, black points, and sometimes zebra stripes on lower legs. Basic colors vary from Buckskin (yellow or tan), Grulla (bluish-gray), to red.


The system of linked animals and plants that have evolved together in a certain environment; usually, all elements of an ecosystem are mutually dependent for survival.


'The Dawn Horse', the evolutionary ancestor of the modern horse, a small browsing animal which existed sixty million years ago in North America.


The modern horse (Equus caballus) evolved in recognizable form one million years ago. Migrated from North America to all the world's grasslands and developed into many different breeds and types.


A young female horse, from less than a year until sexual maturity.

Flehman Response

Part of an olfactory or smelling response. Involves stretching the neck, raising the head, and rolling the lips back toward the nostrils. Displayed by stallions during breeding season.


A young horse, from birth to usually one year of age.


Perennial herb with broader leaves than grasses. Drought resistant, these include sunflowers, goldenrod, loco weed, and clover.


The natural pace or speed and pattern of movement. The four gaits of a horse are walk, trot, canter, and gallop.


A castrated male horse, surgery usually done before sexual maturity as a method of population control or to gentle a colt.

Gene Pool

Refers to the genetic heritage of a group or individual; the governing code of life, mapping the basic structure of an organism.


One of the social behaviors of the mustangs. Members of a band stand, and using their teeth, clean and rub one another. Also used as courtship display by stallions and as part of bonding ritual between mare and new born foal.


A primitive or dun color, dark or light blue-gray with black points. The mustang bands, like those in the Pryor Mountains, which have many grulla horses, are thought to be closer to the original Spanish horses. Grulla coloring usually includes black points, dorsal stripe, and zebra markings on legs.


The place or community where a plant or animal lives and grows.

Harem Band

Mustang family group, consisting of a dominant stallion, mares, and juveniles. The natural and basic social unit of the mustang.

Height (Hands)

Medieval unit of measurement based on the width of a man's hand; equals four inches. Horse height is measured from withers (the highest point of the back) to the ground. Mustangs can vary in size, but average 14 hands high.


A large group of grazing animals who occupy the same habitat. Mustangs occasionally form herds, usually when under pressure because of weather or when forced to by crowded conditions. Mustangs are not territorial, but nomadic, and are generally found in family units known as bands. Migratory animals, such as elk, form large herds only when moving from mountains to valleys in the fall.

Horse Culture

Refers to the brief period of American history from the 1500s to 1900 when the horse was the preferred method of transport. In the west especially, a group of historic people (Native Americans, cowboys, soldiers, and settlers) live in the popular imagination.


Mustang life-spans vary, but rarely exceed 20 years. The average life-span of domestic horses is 25 years.


A fully mature female horse, capable of reproduction, about age four and over. The Spanish word for stray or ownerless beasts, mestena, became mustang, the small hardy horse of the plains, foundation of the Horse Culture.


The soft mouth and nose of a horse. The size and shape of the muzzle can suggest ancestry.

Paint or Pinto

A two-colored horse, white and black or brown. Among the Plains Tribes of the 19th century, the paint was prized for color and hardiness. This is a color description and not a horse breed, although Pinto and Paint associations maintain a registry. Thought to be one of the original colors of the 16th century Spanish horses.


A gold-colored horse with a white mane and tail, a coloring found in many American breeds, particularly Quarter Horses. The American Palomino probably derives from the original 16th century Spanish imports.

Quarter Horse

First bred in 17th century Virginia, the oldest recognized American breed. Very versatile, prized for their ability to sprint over short distances. This compact, chunky horse has enormous muscled hind quarters and a short neat head with a small muzzle. It was originally bred from the English running horse and descendants of Spanish horses The Quarter Horse Registry has more than 3 million entries.

Roman Nose

Head having a distinct convex curve; characteristic of the Barb and various heavy horses.

Stud or Stallion

A sexually mature male horse, usually three years or older. Mustangs may reach full sexual maturity later than domesticated horses.

Stud Piles

No one absolutely knows the function of these deposits of stallion manure, sometimes huge heaps of dung added to by various stallions. The stud pile doesn't mark a territory, but may serve notice of a stallion's presence, like a bulletin board. Also, because horse manure contains partially digested food, young or vulnerable mustangs feed on the stud piles.


Horses have twelve molars and six incisors. Males have an additional tooth located behind the incisors. Permanent teeth are formed by six years of age. The high crowned teeth are the mark of a grazing animal and continue to grow throughout the lifetime of a horse. The age of a horse can be determined by the condition and number of teeth.


Developed in England as a race horse. Carefully documented and selective breeding resulted in a breed having reliable size, courage, speed, and intelligence. The head is particularly refined, with no fleshiness, blending into a long, graceful neck. All modem thoroughbreds descend from three founding stallions: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian, bred with an English base stock.


Horses of no fixed character of pedigree, having mixed ancestry.

Teacher Activities

Wild Horses Lesson Plans


The developers of the teacher activities are Elaine Larson and writer Ruth Bylander. Elaine Larson is the Director of Educational Services and Outreach for South Dakota Public Television. Elaine has a BA in English Education with a minor in History and an MA in Educational Administration. She has taught English and social studies at the middle and high school level, has been a curriculum specialist at a community college, and has done a great deal of adult education. Ruth Bylander is South Dakota Public Television's public information department writer.


Mustangs represent the spirit of the Old West. Wild and free, they evoke images of vast rolling prairies, untamed hills and mountains, and hidden canyons.

Though the ancestors of horses once roamed across North America, they died out thousands of years ago. The horse returned to the Americas with the invasion of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Some of those animals escaped from or were freed by their masters, reproduced in the wild, and became the foundation for the herds of mustangs that still roam the American West today. Over the centuries, more horses have joined these wild bands.

One of the enduring romances of the Old West is the tale of the spiritual bond between mythic heroes and the wild horses they tamed. At the turn of the century, there were possibly as many as 2 million wild horses. But the Old West is no more. Roads, cities, ranches, farms, people, and progress have covered much of the mustang's range, and the remaining horses are scattered throughout publicly owned lands and on a few private preserves in the West.

The transition has been cruel and bloody. Earlier in this century, wild horses were hunted down and shipped to slaughterhouses. With the government's blessing, mustangers used means fair and foul to destroy these icons of the past.

In the 1950s, the tide began to turn. As people became more attuned to humane animal treatment, the cruelty and the waste of the mustangers gave birth to a movement to protect these wild and free creatures. On December 15, 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

Today, an estimated 39,000 mustangs still roam federally managed lands in the West. The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management keeps mustangs from overwhelming the rangeland by capturing thousands of the horses each year and making them available for adoption by citizens. Between 1973 and 2005, more than 140,000 wild horses and burros were adopted throughout the United States.

Further Reading


  • National Geographic(January, 1981)
  • Nebraskaland (June, 1990)
  • Science  (vol. 206, pp. 331-333)
  • National Geographic Research Reports (vol. 19, pp. 671-688).

Ancient mammals

  • Mammal Evolution, an Illustrated Guide, R.J.G. Savage & M.R. Long, Crown Publications, 1986.


General Audience

Thunder of the Mustangs: Legend and Lore of the Wild Horses
      Edited by Mark Spragg, 1997; Sierra Club Books

The Wild Horse: An Adopters Manual
      Barbara Eustis-Cross and Nancy Bowker, 1992.
      LIFE Foundation, I I I I Lamb Road, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

Mustang (American Wildlife in American Spaces)"
      Sharon Curtin, 1996. Photographs by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott.
      Rufus Publishing. Includes many beautiful color photos of American mustangs.

America's Last Wild Horses
      Hope Ryden, 1991; Dutton Paperback.
      A comprehensive history of the wild horses in America.

For Ages 9 and Up

Wild Horses
      Carol Ann Moorhead, 1994; illustrated by Kay Herndon;
      designed by Gail Kohler Opsahl; photography by George McDonald.
      Roberts Rinehart Publishers 1-800-352-1985
      Denver Museum of Natural History educational and activity book.

Mustang : Wild Spirit of the West
     Marguerite Henry; illustrated by Robert Lougheed, 1992.
      Aladdin Paperbacks The story of Wild Horse Annie.

Man and Mustang
     George Ancona, 1992. Simon and Schuster
      Photo essay of mustang training by volunteer New Mexico State Penitentiary inmates.

The Mustang (Endangered in America)
      Alvin Silverstein with Laura Silverstein Nunn, Virginia Silverstein, 1997.
      Millbrook Press The history of wild horses, color photographs, and a list of organizations.