Top 25 things vanishing from America: #8 -- Wild horses

This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

Although free roaming horses, or as some people call them, wild Mustangs, are still fairly easy to find in America, the true "wild horse" may have long become a thing of the past. Today's free roaming horse herds are well-bred groups of animals managed by default. That is what they have been for quite some time. Free-ranging horse herds can still be found in California, Eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. These herds exist in relative security under the watchful eye of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with additional supervision from a handful of private organizations. They thrive so well in fact, that the BLM has had to liquidate them by auction on a regular basis.

Equine historians believe that the horse species originated in North America, and then they were then brought to extinction here between 8,000 to 13,000 years ago. This means that today's free roaming horses are most likely the descendants of domesticated transplants. It is hotly debated as to whether these horses are to be considered genetically indigenous or not. Thousands of horses from perhaps thousands of sources were released by either plan or chance into the wilds of America's vast frontiers. In virtually all instances of release, the horses were originally brought to their new locations for human purposes. Upon release, whether planned or accidental, they were indeed free range animals, however, they may never have been true native wild horses.

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Spanish explorers are credited with reintroducing horses to their North American homeland. Then, in the late 1600's, the Native American tribes of the Pueblo, Apache, and Comanche recognized horses as valuable for use in hunting, warfare, and trade. They, and other Native American tribes, are to be credited with reestablishing and dispersing the horse throughout western North America. Apparently, it wasn't until the mid 1700's that the European influx began to introduce a large variety of horse breeds to mix with the earlier, Spanish-introduced stock.

It is estimated that 100 years ago, as many as two million horses were roaming free within the United States. In 2001, National Geographic News estimated that the wild horse population had decreased to about 50,000 head. Currently, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory board states that there are 32,000 free roaming horses in ten Western states, with half of them residing in Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management is seeking to reduce the total number of free range horses to 27,000, possibly by selective euthanasia, stating that the department estimates it will cost up to $77 million annually to effectively administrate free roaming horse management programs by 2012.
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