Wild Horses: Glossary

Wild Horses






For more information write: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Wild Horse and Burro Program, 7450 Boston Blvd., Springfield, VA 22153, Phone: 800-370-3936,
FAX: 703-440-1656, BLM_ES_Inet_Adoption@blm.gov


The name given to Spanish bred horses, chief descendants of the Barb.


Selectively bred for spotted coat pattern by the Nez Perce. Generally larger than other Native American horses and now a recognized breed.


One of the oldest breeds, regarded as the foundation stock of thoroughbreds. Noted for speed and stamina; characterized by a fine, concave head with small muzzle and large, expressive eyes.


A temporary grouping of young stallions who have been exiled from the harem band after reaching sexual maturity. Some older, unsuccessful stallions also seek out bachelor bands.
BarbNorth African horse, a major foundation breed in Spanish horses and the Mustang. Spare and hardy, with a long, straight, or convex head.


A reddish-brown coat color with black-points mane, tail, and legs.
BreedCategory of horse sharing characteristic size, color, and conformation denoting a common ancestry. Domestic breeds are selectively bred long enough to ensure consistent production of defined stock and are registered by a governing society.


A hardy, native perennial of the semi-arid grasslands. The dominant grasses, like grama, little blue stem, and buffalo grass, are nutritious forage plants, adapted to dryness, with large root systems. In some areas, over-grazing has destroyed the native grasses

Cheatgrass (Brome)

An opportunistic and imported annual grass, usually considered inferior forage, which has replaced native grasses throughout the West.


A young male horse. from less than a year until sexual maturity.
ConformationThe size, shape, and proportions of a horse, a specific way of describing the animal.


Refers to hind legs which, like a cow's, turn in instead of forward when viewed from the rear. Frequently seen among mustangs; may serve some adaptive purpose.


A stripe of dark hair, from neck to tail, regarded as part of the primitive color pattern of the horse.


One of the descendants of heavy, northern horses, whose broad, thick proportions allow for exertion of great strength. Examples are Clydesdale, Belgian, etc.



Color pattern found frequently among mustangs, usually marked by dorsal stripe, black points, and sometimes zebra stripes on lower legs. Basic colors vary from Buckskin (yellow or tan), Grulla (bluish-gray), to red.



The system of linked animals and plants that have evolved together in a certain environment; usually, all elements of an ecosystem are mutually dependent for survival.

Eohippus'The Dawn Horse', the evolutionary ancestor of the modern horse, a small browsing animal which existed sixty million years ago in North America.


The modern horse (Equus caballus) evolved in recognizable form one million years ago. Migrated from North America to all the world's grasslands and developed into many different breeds and types.



A young female horse, from less than a year until sexual maturity.

Flehman Response

Part of an olfactory or smelling response. Involves stretching the neck, raising the head, and rolling the lips back toward the nostrils. Displayed by stallions during breeding season.



A young horse, from birth to usually one year of age.


Perennial herb with broader leaves than grasses. Drought resistant, these include sunflowers, goldenrod, loco weed, and clover.



The natural pace or speed and pattern of movement. The four gaits of a horse are walk, trot, canter, and gallop.


A castrated male horse, surgery usually done before sexual maturity as a method of population control or to gentle a colt.


Refers to the genetic heritage of a group or individual; the governing code of life, mapping the basic structure of an organism.



One of the social behaviors of the mustangs. Members of a band stand, and using their teeth, clean and rub one another. Also used as courtship display by stallions and as part of bonding ritual between mare and new born foal.


A primitive or dun color, dark or light blue-gray with black points. The mustang bands, like those in the Pryor Mountains, which have many grulla horses, are thought to be closer to the original Spanish horses. Grulla coloring usually includes black points, dorsal stripe, and zebra markings on legs.

HabitatThe place or community where a plant or animal lives and grows.
Mustang family group, consisting of a dominant stallion, mares, and juveniles. The natural and basic social unit of the mustang.


Medieval unit of measurement based on the width of a man's hand; equals four inches. Horse height is measured from withers (the highest point of the back) to the ground. Mustangs can vary in size, but average 14 hands high.
HerdA large group of grazing animals who occupy the same habitat. Mustangs occasionally form herds, usually when under pressure because of weather or when forced to by crowded conditions. Mustangs are not territorial, but nomadic, and are generally found in family units known as bands. Migratory animals, such as elk, form large herds only when moving from mountains to valleys in the fall.


Refers to the brief period of American history from the 1500s to 1900 when the horse was the preferred method of transport. In the west especially, a group of historic people (Native Americans, cowboys, soldiers, and settlers) live in the popular imagination.


Mustang life-spans vary, but rarely exceed 20 years. The average life-span of domestic horses is 25 years.


A fully mature female horse, capable of reproduction, about age four and over. The Spanish word for stray or ownerless beasts, mestena, became mustang, the small hardy horse of the plains, foundation of the Horse Culture.


The soft mouth and nose of a horse. The size and shape of the muzzle can suggest ancestry.

Paint or

A two-colored horse, white and black or brown. Among the Plains Tribes of the 19th century, the paint was prized for color and hardiness. This is a color description and not a horse breed, although Pinto and Paint associations maintain a registry. Thought to be one of the original colors of the 16th century Spanish horses.


A gold-colored horse with a white mane and tail, a coloring found in many American breeds, particularly Quarter Horses. The American Palomino probably derives from the original 16th century Spanish imports.
First bred in 17th century Virginia, the oldest recognized American breed. Very versatile, prized for their ability to sprint over short distances. This compact, chunky horse has enormous muscled hind quarters and a short neat head with a small muzzle. It was originally bred from the English running horse and descendants of Spanish horses The Quarter Horse Registry has more than 3 million entries.


Head having a distinct convex curve; characteristic of the Barb and various heavy horses.
Stud or StallionA sexually mature male horse, usually three years or older. Mustangs may reach full sexual maturity later than domesticated horses.


No one absolutely knows the function of these deposits of stallion manure, sometimes huge heaps of dung added to by various stallions. The stud pile doesn't mark a territory, but may serve notice of a stallion's presence, like a bulletin board. Also, because horse manure contains partially digested food, young or vulnerable mustangs feed on the stud piles.


Horses have twelve molars and six incisors. Males have an additional tooth located behind the incisors. Permanent teeth are formed by six years of age. The high crowned teeth are the mark of a grazing animal and continue to grow throughout the lifetime of a horse. The age of a horse can be determined by the condition and number of teeth.


Developed in England as a race horse. Carefully documented and selective breeding resulted in a breed having reliable size, courage, speed, and intelligence. The head is particularly refined, with no fleshiness, blending into a long, graceful neck. All modem thoroughbreds descend from three founding stallions: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian, bred with an English base stock.


Horses of no fixed character of pedigree, having mixed ancestry.




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