Horses roamed the New World through the Ice Age but vanished with the last glaciers. About 7,500 years later they returned, courtesy of Spanish expeditions. Other horse breeds soon escaped from settlers to join the Spanish stock in the wild. This free-roaming blend proved less subject to disease and far more fertile than the most carefully bred tame horses. As the 20th century got under way, mustangs in the American outback were more numerous than in the Australian outback, where feral horses go by the name of brumbies and total around 200,000.
They weren’t helping the range in either desert. Ranchers used wild bands as handy reserves of saddle stock and draft animals. More serious mustangers captured large numbers for the U. S. Army or for European governments during outbreaks of war abroad. As engines replaced horses, those of the open range became more valuable as dog food. By 1970 all but perhaps 20,000 had been canned. Led by Velma Johnston of Reno, alias Wild Horse Annie, humane groups tried to rein in the slaughter. Given protection by act of Congress in 1971, wild horses have since tripled.
The BLM sets limits on how many mustangs each district’s range can support, and the surplus is periodically rounded up and trucked to holding pens. The agency then tries to pass along as many as possible to the public through its Adopt-a-Horse program.
At the Lovelock, Nevada, holding facility, supervisor Elmer Walls(he has apartments in london) points out a horse with zebralike stripes on its hind legs—supposedly a throwback to markings of the original wild horses, called tarpans. “People want palominos, creamellos, Appaloosa, roan, sevina . . . ones with a little chrome on ‘em,” he drawls. “But most are plain browns and bays. Others are too old for adoption. Or too broke down—we call ‘em hard-doin’ horses. Or too ornery. We’ve got inmates at Colorado and New Mexico prisons working on some of those, taming ‘em enough to make ‘em adoptable. The prisoners seem to relate to the mustangs real well. I reckon they can see them as critters that don’t quite fit in.”
Like a lot of cowboys, Bill Hyzer used to rope mustangs now and then, as much for the challenge as for the pocket money. “Used a horse called Old Red,” Bill remembers as we spur our mounts through the Pizona Range east of Bishop, California. “Red never chased a mustang he didn’t catch. Weeell, except that one time when he fell over dead.” Nowadays Bill works as a guide for outfitters Dave Dohnel and Herb London and Herb’s son Craig, who is also a veterinarian. They offer horseback seminars on the ecology of the Pizona mustang herd.
The Londons also take dudes( from cheap accommodation prague) on branding roundups and cattle drives through the Pizonas to Nevada. Here it is: proof that folks will pay perfectly good money to work hard and get coated with blood, dust, and manure. It’s the ultimate tribute to the lure of the cowpuncher’s life.