Wild Horses: Teacher Activities

Wild Horses





Click here to download a printable set of


.Includes 3 lesson plans for middle school with educational standards, handouts, and rubrics.

"The horse spirit is no different
from a human spirit.
You can probably hear their cries;
you can probably hear hoof beats;
you can probably hear a gunshot.
And that spirit of the horse
is probably still in these canyons."

-Wallace Coffey, Comanche horseman and historian

"I'd love to be a horse. . . .

And sometimes, I just run across the prairie
just as fast as an old body can go,
just hoping that I'll become a horse,
and not have to go back to being a human.
But old age and my human body
always catch up with me."

-Dayton Hyde, founder and operator
of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary


The developers of the teacher activities are Elaine Larson and writer Ruth Bylander. Elaine Larson is the Director of Educational Services and Outreach for South Dakota Public Television. Elaine has a BA in English Education with a minor in History and an MA in Educational Administration. She has taught English and social studies at the middle and high school level, has been a curriculum specialist at a community college, and has done a great deal of adult education. Ruth Bylander is South Dakota Public Television's public information department writer.


Mustangs represent the spirit of the Old West. Wild and free, they evoke images of vast rolling prairies, untamed hills and mountains, and hidden canyons.

Though the ancestors of horses once roamed across North America, they died out thousands of years ago. The horse returned to the Americas with the invasion of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Some of those animals escaped from or were freed by their masters, reproduced in the wild, and became the foundation for the herds of mustangs that still roam the American West today. Over the centuries, more horses have joined these wild bands.

One of the enduring romances of the Old West is the tale of the spiritual bond between mythic heroes and the wild horses they tamed. At the turn of the century, there were possibly as many as 2 million wild horses. But the Old West is no more. Roads, cities, ranches, farms, people, and progress have covered much of the mustang's range, and the remaining horses are scattered throughout publicly owned lands and on a few private preserves in the West.

The transition has been cruel and bloody. Earlier in this century, wild horses were hunted down and shipped to slaughterhouses. With the government's blessing, mustangers used means fair and foul to destroy these icons of the past.

In the 1950s, the tide began to turn. As people became more attuned to humane animal treatment, the cruelty and the waste of the mustangers gave birth to a movement to protect these wild and free creatures. On December 15, 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

Today, an estimated 39,000 mustangs still roam federally managed lands in the West. The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management keeps mustangs from overwhelming the rangeland by capturing thousands of the horses each year and making them available for adoption by citizens. Between 1973 and 2005, more than 140,000 wild horses and burros were adopted throughout the United States.


Book it Up

General Audience

Thunder of the Mustangs: Legend and Lore of the Wild Horses
      Edited by Mark Spragg, 1997; Sierra Club Books

The Wild Horse: An Adopters Manual
      Barbara Eustis-Cross and Nancy Bowker, 1992.
      LIFE Foundation, I I I I Lamb Road, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

Mustang (American Wildlife in American Spaces)"
      Sharon Curtin, 1996. Photographs by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott.
      Rufus Publishing. Includes many beautiful color photos of American mustangs.

America's Last Wild Horses
      Hope Ryden, 1991; Dutton Paperback.
      A comprehensive history of the wild horses in America.

For Ages 9 and Up

Wild Horses
      Carol Ann Moorhead, 1994; illustrated by Kay Herndon;
      designed by Gail Kohler Opsahl; photography by George McDonald.
      Roberts Rinehart Publishers 1-800-352-1985
      Denver Museum of Natural History educational and activity book.

Mustang : Wild Spirit of the West
     Marguerite Henry; illustrated by Robert Lougheed, 1992.
      Aladdin Paperbacks The story of Wild Horse Annie.

Man and Mustang
     George Ancona, 1992. Simon and Schuster
      Photo essay of mustang training by volunteer New Mexico State Penitentiary inmates.

The Mustang (Endangered in America)
      Alvin Silverstein with Laura Silverstein Nunn, Virginia Silverstein, 1997.
      Millbrook Press The history of wild horses, color photographs, and a list of organizations.



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