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Facts on Wild Horses in Canada and the United States

Learn more about the Wild Horses, and Mustangs, in the United States and Canada. Learn about the BLM and how it controls wild horse populations. How to adopt a wild horse. Information on wild horse herds in the United States. Information on wild horse herds in Canada. Are there still wild mustangs in North America?

Many people are amazed to learn that indeed there are still some wild horses in the United States and Canada, although sadly they may not be quite what people envision.

Wild Horses in the United States

In the United States many wild horses are descendants of horses that were released, or escaped, from early Spanish conquers. Since those early days other introductions have changed the make up of these herds. Some intentional releases were made to introduce new blood into the wild herds. As well other escaped horses have added to the herds, and in recent times people have released unwanted horses (this is illegal), and these horse are not truly wild, but are “Feral”.

Know best know as Mustangs, the wild horses of the United States are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (the BLM), who are responsible for maintaining a reasonable number of horses for the grazing land available. This has raised controversy as over the years thousands have been rounded up and sent to slaughter (to be used in pet food). Many round ups were held because cattle ranchers did not like the fact that the horses competed with their cattle for grazing.

In 1900 populations of wild horses in the United States were reported around 2 million. Today the BLM considers 27,000 a manageable number, and regular round ups (including sending some horses and burros to adoption facilities) occur to control the numbers. Sadly more wild horses exist than there are adoptive homes for, and roughly 30,000 surplus animals are housed as a debate rages whether or not to euthanize these animals (animals over 10 years old or offered for adoption more than 3 times without being taken). The good news is that since 1971 the BLM has managed to find adoptive homes for over 225,000 horses and burros.

Adoption fees for single horses are as low as $125.  (see the link below)

Prior to the anti-cruelty act, Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 (passed in 1971), the wild horse (and burro) populations were controlled without abandon. Horses were shot on sight, chased by airplane, poisoned, and so forth. Even now the round ups have been criticized as being cruel, horses have been chased by helicopter and stressed to the point where they are exhausted (unable to eat) and there have been reports of many deaths.

wild horses in Nevada

By Rick Cooper (originally posted to Flickr as The Wild Horse Herd) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Most of Americas wild horses are in Nevada, with some in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon.

Wild Horses in Canada

Wild horse populations in Canada are quite different than those in the states, with more horses being truly “Feral” rather than wild. Meaning that most of these horses are ones released intentionally or escaped. These horses roam in the Rocky Mountains and foothills of southern British Columbia and more so in Alberta. The herds are typically smaller than those in the States, and the horses are not protected to the same extent as those in the States.  Many horses are shot (see the link below to read more and find out how you can help).

formerly wild horse

By Anna from British Columbia, Canada (modified fromBlonde girl, blue-eyed horse) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  - this horse was wild in Alberta for the first 3 years of his life.

These wild horses are viewed as pests by local ranchers who graze their cattle in the foothills of Alberta, but their numbers are not nearly as problematic as in the states as there are far fewer horses loose in this area.

Other Wild/Feral Horses

In both the United States and Canada, there are also populations of horses without owners that are often called feral or wild. Examples of these horses are the Sable Island Pony of Nova Scotia, Canada, the Banker Horse of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and the Chincoteague Pony from Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia and Maryland.  Groups of released horses range other areas of the United States, abandoned due to the recession, and lack of slaughter facilities.

Other Links

How to Adopt a Mustang

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Horse or Pony

How to Convince your Parents to get you a Horse

Albertas Wild Horses

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Comments (4)

Interesting breed of wild horses. Mustangs are excellent breed I suppose. Interesting topic, Brenda.

The very idea of slaughtering these gorgeous animals is just beyond my scope of reasoning. It is unthinkable.

Horses are such majestic animals. I love them!

I've seen horses in the wild out west. They're both glorious and quite sad to see.

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