Are wild horses a native species? The answers and opinions vary

Wild horses are viewed as iconic symbols of the West by some people and burden­some holdovers from a bygone time by others.

The bond between horses and humans is both reality and the stuff of legend, as described in classic children’s books by Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry and Mary O’Hara.

But do horses belong on public lands? That’s a source of disagreement.

“Of the many myths of the American West, one of the most enduring is that of wild mustangs rich with Spanish and An­dalusian blood living undisturbed on sage­brush plains,” wrote Andrew Gulliford, a history professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, in an opinion piece in the Duran­go Herald in October.

“The Spanish brought horses north from Mexico in 1540,” he wrote. “Centuries lat­er, thousands of horses and burros were abandoned during westward migration. . . .

“Wild horses are really just feral ani­mals,” he said.

But in an opinion piece in the New York Tiimes in May, David Philipps, a journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, doesn’t draw a distinction between the wild horses of the past and present.

“Wild horses once roamed North Amer­ica in the millions,” he wrote, “but as the open range disappeared in the early 20th century, they were nearly all hunted down and turned into fertilizer and dog food.”

Horses originated with the small animal called eohippus, which evolved in North America, then grew into a larger animal, equus, and crossed into Asia and Africa. Those animals disappeared from North America along with a number of other mega-fauna but returned with the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s.

“Ancient horses lived in North Ameri­ca from about 50 million to 11,000 years ago, when they went extinct at the end of the last ice age,” said an article on extinct mega-fauna at

“One of the great peculiarities of this extinction is that they died out in North America, yet managed to survive in Eurasia and Africa, which is why we still have hors­es and their relatives — donkeys and asses — today,” the article quotes a researcher as saying.

From November 2021.