Keeping Mustangs Wild

Mustangs seem to fill people with awe, but not everyone seems to understand that they are wild. I think it’s especially apparent this time of year when the horses look their worst. If someone posts a photo without context, there’s usually comments about giving feed to the horses, removing horses to be adopted, or even trying to touch the horse. I’ve written about it before, but I thought I’d take a different approach in showing why it’s important to keep the horses wild.

Since Lariat broke her leg as a foal it could be argued that life in the wild is not for her. However, it's since healed, and she's matured into a beautiful mare.

Since Lariat broke her leg as a foal it could be argued that life in the wild is not for her. However, it’s since healed, and she’s matured into a beautiful mare.

Often the confusion seems to be the difference between domestic and wild horses. People seem to think that since domestic horses need supplemental feed, wild horses do too. However, horses’ digestive systems are not set up to handle abrupt changes in feed. Even with the best intentions in the world, there would be the possibility of causing more harm than good. Keep in mind that the horses have been living in their ranges for generations. They know where to go to get food, and if they don’t get enough, that’s where natural selection comes in.

Some people could argue that since she lost her ear tips Navajo is susceptible to frost bite, but I think she should have an opportunity to pass down her strong genes once she's older.

Some people could argue that since she lost her ear tips Navajo is susceptible to frost bite, but I think she should have an opportunity to pass down her strong genes once she’s older.

Which brings me to my next point. Natural selection exists for a reason. If horses are given feed, then only those that go to the areas with supplemental food would benefit. It’s true that the way it works in the wild is for the horses with the most food do better, but grass is a renewable resource. Not only would it be expensive to feed the horses, it would also teach them to rely on humans. If they start relying on people, then if the feeding program is ever stopped, they are at a disadvantage when they need to look for natural food again.

People seem to worry about Cloud this time of year, but he's and older guy that should live out his days in the wild.

People seem to worry about Cloud this time of year, but he’s and older guy that should live out his days in the wild.

Another factor to consider, is that if horses rely too much on humans it takes away their wildness. Part of the fun of visiting a wild horse range, and if the horses are constantly looking for handouts, it takes away from that. If horses think they can approach people, it puts both horse and human in danger. That’s why it is important to give all wildlife space, even horses.

Granted, this was taken with a telephoto lens, and his fury was directed at Cloud, not us, it did not make his behavior any less unexpected.

Granted, this was taken with a telephoto lens, and his fury was directed at Cloud, not us, but it did not make his behavior any less unexpected.

Similarly if someone tries to approach a mustang like they would a domestic horse they are putting both themselves and the horse at risk. At best, you would be causing them to spend valuable energy as they try to get away from you, at worst they may try to bite or kick if you don’t listen to their body language and respect their space. I can’t stress enough that mustangs are wild, not domestic, and if you’re looking for a posed photo or a keepsake, the best thing would be to wait for the horse to display natural behavior and take a photo. It might take a little more patience, but it’s not worth putting a horse or person in danger for a touch that may not happen.

As I mentioned before, mustangs are adapted to their environment, and removing one simply because it looks thin goes against natural selection. A photo can be taken out of context, and as long as a horse isn’t lame, there’s still a chance they can rebound from that condition. Although people may mean well, freedom and family are most important to horses. Although horses are adaptable, I don’t think the pros of removing a horse, no matter how thin out way the cons of taking them away from their home and family. If people are determined to adopt a mustang, then it would do far more good to adopt from one of the thousands in holding than to continue to remove horses with no guarantee of finding them a home.

Jackson's another older guy that should live out his life in the Pryors.

Jackson’s another older guy that should live out his life in the Pryors.

At risk of being repetitive, mustangs are wild, not domestic. Aiding or removing them, would be taking away an integral part of their wildness. Removing a horse will not make them live forever, and it is far better for them to live in freedom with their family than to be removed due to a lack of objectivity. Personally, when I hear of a mustang passing away I take comfort in the fact that they were able to live their life in freedom. The least we could do as visitors and stewards to their habitat is not take away from that.

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