Monday, June 2, 2008

A History of the Kiger Mustang

I apologize for the lack of posting the past few days. I have been busy doing research and horse showing over the weekend. I felt I should try to give a history of how the Kiger Mustangs came to be and why they are so different than other mustangs found in the western regions of the United States. My hope in posting this is that people who are unfamiliar with the Kiger Mustang will maybe begin to understand why I am taking the much needed time to gentle Argo.

BTW, Argo has been doing great; he is becoming more comfortable with “little people”. Mikayla helped me feed him last week at her lesson. He didn’t "blow" near as loud or as often as he did the week before. He is also getting more comfortable with me pushing a wheel barrow in and around his pen. He had gotten very comfortable with the muck bucket being drug around, but it was harder on me, so I started with the wheelbarrow early last week.

Most of what is written below has been cut and paste from various sources. I have given credit references at the end. If you find credit has not been properly posted, please email me and I will correct it.

The BLM Wild Horse Program

There are over 1,000 wild horses roaming within eight Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in the Burns District in Oregon. You can find colorful bands of wild horses scattered throughout the Burns District’s eight beautiful HMAs: Palomino Buttes, Warm Springs, Kiger, Riddle Mountain, South Steens, Heath Creek/Sheepshead, Alvord-Tule Springs, and Stinkingwater.

Oregon's wild horses are feral. Feral means domestic ancestors turned wild. Wild horses and burros adapt well to captivity. The natural structure of a family of horses is the band. The dominant stallion is the boss. His role is to protect his band from danger and increase his harem of mares and foals. The band is led in its daily routine of grazing and watering by the lead mare.
Once excess wild horses in Oregon/Washington are gathered from the range, they are brought to Oregon’s Wild Horse Corral Facility for preparation for the BLM’s Adopt-A-Horse Program.

Wild horses are shy creatures and must be approached with caution. Wild horses run instinctively when in danger, but a stallion can show aggression when he fears his band is being threatened. When searching for bands of wild horses, stud piles are the first sign of horse activities. These large piles of manure are territorial markings left by rival males. Recent horse activity is determined by the freshness of these piles.

This HMA is located eleven miles east and south of Diamond, Oregon on the north side of Steens Mountain. The herd size ranges from 33 to 56 horses of varying colors such as dun, buckskin, grulla, bay and brown. Horses range from 14-15 hands high and 900-1,000 pounds and rely on native bunchgrasses within sagebrush and juniper cover for their diet. The herd area covers 28,000 acres of rugged, high desert country with extremely rocky surfaces divided by deep canyons, rim rocks and plateaus. Water sources include perennial streams, natural ponds and springs.

Kiger HMA

This HMA is located eleven miles east and south of Diamond, Oregon and contains Kiger horses of various colors including dun, buckskin, grulla, bay, brown, and red dun. The herd size ranges from 51 to 82 horses, with animal sizes ranging from 14-15 hands high and 900-1,000 pounds. The Kiger horses rely on native bunchgrasses within sagebrush and juniper cover. Their herd area covers 27,000 acres of rugged, high desert country with extremely rocky surfaces divided by deep canyons, rim rocks and plateaus. Water sources include perennial streams, natural ponds and springs.

The BLM manages two special areas in southeastern Oregon for wild horses with Spanish Mustang characteristics. The two areas are located in the Burns District and are know as the Kiger and Riddle Mountain Herd Management Areas. These two HMA’s were created so that a natural catastrophe would not wipe out the whole population.

A Brief History of the Kiger Mustang

No other horse in America is quite like the Kiger Mustang found on Steen’s Mountain in southeastern Oregon. Most wild horses are of mixed influence and characteristics while the Kiger Mustangs possess many characteristics of the original Spanish Mustang. The word mustang was derived from the word mesteno, which meant “unclaimed sheep" in the Spanish language and later came to mean "wild" or "unclaimed" horse. Mustang came about as an English language slang term for mesteno.

The Spanish Mustang was a part of early American history, having roots in Native American history, and is the horse that helped settle the west. At one time it was thought to be extinct on the range. Since the Kiger Mustangs may well be one of the best remaining examples of the Spanish Mustang, their preservation is extremely important.

The Kiger Mustang exhibits physical color characteristics know as the "dun factor" which were also common to many of the horse the Spaniards reintroduced to North America in the 1600's. Color classifications of the dun factor are: dun, red dun, grulla (mouse gray), buckskin, and variations of these colors. Markings on animals with the dun factor include dorsal stripes; zebra stripes on the knees and hocks; chest, rib and arm bars; outlined ears; the top one-third of the ear on its backside darker that the body color; fawn coloring on the inside of the ears; bi-colored mane and tail; face masks and cob-webbing on the face. The less white these horses have, the stronger the dun factor. An individual horse having the dun factor may have many but not all of these markings.

Kiger Mustangs have the physical conformation of both the tarpan and oriental hotblood horses from which the original Spanish Mustangs came. Their eyes are wide set and prominent. These animals also have distinctly hooked ear tips and fine muzzles. They are indeed a unique breed of wild horse. Management of the Kiger herd was directed toward animals that were easy to adopt out, and the demand for Kiger mustangs always far exceeded the supply. Kiger mustangs were the first mustangs that were adopted out by competitive bidding. In spite of those efforts, many retained primitive characteristics, and after decades of management, even today one can find Kigers that look like the Sorraia horse, the most primitive horse in Iberia, and an ancestor of the Lusitano and the Andalusian.

Kiger Mustangs were discovered in 1977, during a roundup by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Beatty’s Butte, located in southeastern Oregon (Harney County) in the United States. During the roundup, it was noticed that among those horses collected from the area, there was a group with similar color and markings. Testing was done at the University of Kentucky and the DNA showed close relation to the Spanish horses brought over in the 1600s. It was agreed that these horses would be separated from the other horses and the BLM placed two groups in different Horse Management Areas (HMAs) to preserve the breed. Seven horses were placed in Riddle Mountain HMA and twenty in Kiger HMA. These two HMA’s are fenced in to prevent interbreeding with other Mustangs.

The Kiger mustang herd is the most uniform wild herd in the West. They are an "established breed", that is, breeding true for generations to a certain type. Many of today's existing Kiger Mustangs can be traced back to a single stallion named "MesteƱo", whose name means "stray" or "feral" in Spanish.

The Kiger Mustang typically exhibits Spanish mustang conformation and the grulla individuals often the coloring of the ancient Tarpan. The convex head, typical for the original Iberian horse, can still be found, although many nowadays have a straight and some even a dished profile. Kiger mustangs are 14 hands and more, and when raised under domestic conditions can mature to 15 hands. The neck is arched like the typical Iberian, with a throatlatch that allows them to easily bridle up and tuck in their chins. The withers are pronounced and long; the croup is sloped. The chest is narrow but deep with the typical sloped shoulder. The Kiger mustang's legs and feet are sound and durable. The cannon bones are usually on the long side, and the movements are that of the Iberian horse, with considerable knee action.

Among Kiger mustangs are horses with the same DNA type as the primitive Sorraia horse -- this is the only wild herd in the West with individuals like that. With the rest of the Kiger mustangs, the same Iberian genotype is found as in other wild herds of Iberian descent.

The Kiger mustang HMA is hilly and rocky, and demands a sure-footed horse, with tough hooves. The Kiger's hoof walls are extremely thick. It is incredible how they can fly over rocky ground at a full gallop that domestic horses could hardly negotiate at a trot!

Kiger Mustangs, as a rule, are agile and intelligent, with the stamina and surefootedness seen in many feral horse breeds. Bold and with lots of "heart and bottom" (a term for courage and determination) but gentle as well as calm, they are ideal for pleasure riding as well as trail, performance, endurance, driving, and many other situations that an athletic horse is desired.


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