Before the western United States was settled, the mustang roamed free in greater numbers than any other wild horse on earth, banding together in herds to protect itself from wolves, coyotes, and other predators. The mustang is descending from horses first brought to North America by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The horses eventually broke free to run wild and breed on the open prairies.
Mustangs form small herds that provide companionship and
defense against predators. A herd consists of one stallion and his harem
of two to eight mares, their foals, and various young mustangs. A herd
will wander and graze in a specific territory. It will tolerate the
presence of other herds on the outskirts of its range, and will sometimes join
them in warding off attacks from predators. When the herd is confronted by
an attacker, an older female, called a lead mare, will lead the herd away from
danger while the stallion remains to challenge the aggressor. it will
snort wildly while pawing the ground with his front hoofs to raise a cloud of
The mating season is from April to July. The foals are born the following spring. When it is time to give birth, the mares leave the herd and bear their foals alone in well-hidden locations. Although adult mustangs have a wide variety of coat colors, newborn foals have coats that blend in with the dusty ground of their habitat.
The foals are able to stand within several hours of birth. After 2-3 days, mother and foal join the herd and remain with it for a year or more. When the male colts reach about 3 years of age, they are driven from the herd by the stallion. The colts are too young to attract female, so they form a herd of their own with which they roam for several years. They occasionally challenge the leader of other herds, until they are successful in establishing a herd of their own.
FOOD AND FEEDING
Like all horses, the mustang is an herbivore, eating nothing but vegetation. But, because of the scarcity and low nutritional value of the coarse grass, sagebrush, and juniper which it eats, it has adapted to survive on a diet that would not sustain domesticated horses. Centuries of living in such harsh conditions have enabled the mustang to go without food or water for several days if necessary. The mustang has also learned how to break open frozen springs and to clear sediment-clogged water holes by splashing and digging to dislodge the debris. It will even chew prickly pear cactus to obtain moisture from the plant's juices.
MUSTANG AND MAN
By the late eighteenth century, mustangs were well established in nine western states and numbered between two and five million. Then, as settlers moved west and began to cultivate the land, the mustangs were driven off and killed by the thousands. The greatest destruction of the mustangs has occurred in this century; huge numbers were captured and used in both the Boer War and World War I. Others were caught and used as cow ponies, and many more were shot to be used as pet food and fertilizer. By the mid-1960's, their numbers were estimated at between 18,000 and 34,000, and by the early 1970s, there were less than 10,000.
Number of Young:
The mustang is related to every other breed of horse.
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