Breaking A Wild Mustang: History of Wild Mustangs


We’ve gentled our mustang, now what?

Saddle up

So, we got a saddle on our mustang, but let’s go back a bit. We need to take a look at the mustangs’ history so we can relate to where he came from and kind of understand what makes a mustang a mustang.

Mustangs are a sturdy, surefooted animal that usually stands about 14 -15 hands high; they have thick, strong legs making him ideal for ranch work or transporting people and goods over rough terrain.

Breaking a Wild Mustang: History of the Mustang

Mustangs are not really wild, technically they are considered feral because they are descendants of the Spanish or Iberian horses that were domesticated and brought back to North America in the 16th century. Some mustangs escaped, or were released, reverting to the wild; roaming free mostly in the south and the west.

They were called mustangs from the Spanish word “mustengo” which means stray horse or stray beast.  For years ranchers hunted and killed mustangs’ because they got into the cattle’s pastures, leaving the cattle short. The more people moved west, the smaller the mustang’s range became. Soon they were labeled as pests and nuisances, and basically the ranchers and settlers declared open season on them, hunting them for sport and for pet food.

Indians and the Mustang

Native Americans made better use of them; food, breaking the mustangs’ to ride, moving their villages, and to use as currency in trade. and for war on their enemies. They had their own methods of “breaking” a mustang; which differed from the cowboys who would get into the saddle and hold on, if he got bucked off, he would just keep getting back on until the horse was exhausted or the rider got hurt.

One method the Indians used was putting the horse in water deep enough that the horse can’t just run out and he could buck until he got tired.  Another way is to let the horse get his scent by softly blowing into the horse‘s nostrils, I consider these methods gentling rather than breaking.

This is the method I prefer, although it takes longer and requires a lot of patience, it is easier on the body, both yours and the horses’. The Indians soon became the horsemen of the plains, especially the Comanche and the Apache, frightening off settlers and going to war against their enemies, moving their villages quickly when necessary. Mustangs were perfect for riding through the mountainous areas the Apaches lived in.

Indians, Mustangs and the Buffalo Soldiers

The Indians called the all black cavalry soldiers (the 9th and 10th cavalry) “Buffalo Soldiers” out of respect because they reminded them of the buffalo; tenacious, courageous, their wooly hair; and they treated the Indians with respect. Some of the soldiers were even taken into the tribe and taught the Indian method of training mustangs’. The buffalo soldiers became the best at handling the “green broke” horses the cavalry got from the nearby ranchers. The soldiers of the ninth and tenth cavalry usually had the worst equipment and animals, so it was imperative that they be good at training their animals and repairing their gear. The Army even paid some of them to break the new horses for the rest of the troops.

The Buffalo Soldiers soon made a name for themselves, not just for their expertise with horses, but because they were awesome fighters and good soldiers, with the lowest desertion rate in the Army. They fought in the Indian Wars, the Spanish war; they rode with Teddy Roosevelt in the Battle of San Juan Hill. They protected the Pony Express, the Butterfield stagecoach lines, Wells Fargo, and the pioneers. Many of them earned the Medal of Honor, although most were awarded posthumously. (You can visit the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Ft. Huachuca, AZ, Tacoma, WA, or Houston, TX).

Mustangs Today

The mustang has gone from being hunted by ranchers for grazing on their land to being hunted for food (dog, cat and human), and sport to being protected, largely due to the efforts of Velda Johnston, AKA “Wild Horse Annie” and thousands of other people who advocated for humane treatment of the wild horses. The BLM started the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971; a program that allows the round-up of mustangs’ from over populated herd areas for adoption. Another group called the Mustang Heritage Foundation was established in 2001 to help with mustang adoption. They have assisted with about 10,000 adoptions of BLM held mustangs’. Since then there have been initiatives by the Department of the Interior to care for wild horses.


Most people consider any wild or feral horse a mustang, and so do I, but technically only horses descended from the original Spanish or Iberian horses are mustangs’, but over the centuries, they have bred with many other breeds, including thoroughbreds, quarter horses, draft horses and others. The major traits of the mustang are: 14 or 15 hands tall, about 800 – 900 pounds, sturdy legs, stocky, built for stamina and speed. Mustangs can be any color, bay, black, roan (strawberry, blue, bay) sorrel, paint and any combination.

Although the mustang has suffered through the years since it has been re-introduced to America, almost to the brink of extinction again, it has endured and is still going strong. You can adopt one through the BLM or other organizations. They make for a good riding animal and a good ranch stock, so if you have a ranch or are looking for a riding horse, think about adopting a mustang.

This is a very brief history of the mustang, Buffalo Soldiers, and Native Americans. I can’t say that I am an expert on either, but I was raised in the era of the cowboys and Indians. After falling “in love” with the old west with The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and those guys; with Silver, Trigger, Scout and others, I discovered that Hollywood left out a lot of  information so I went to my go to place, the library and did a lot of research on what was then my favorite subject: the wild west. Later, I had some hands-on experience with mustangs’ as I gentled my mustang and rode some others. I learned more about the Buffalo Soldiers from some Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors and the quests we went on in Arizona, DC, and other places, and about Native Americans from a Crow Medicine Man.

Thank you for joining me on my journey into the past and I look forward to another trip soon.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *