Four men, 18 Mustangs, six months and 3,000 miles: From Mexico to Canada, the deepest backcountry in the American West. Here are their stories.
“Why are you using Mustangs for the trip?”
When I tell people about this pack trip, I’m often asked this question. I’ve heard every reason not to use them: too stupid, too small, untrustworthy, or too difficult to train.
My response is usually “Have you ever seen a mustang go lame?” I’ve yet to get a yes response to that question! Mustangs are tough, incredibly tough. When you look at the history of mustangs it becomes apparent why these animals seem to never have feet problems, go lame, or lose weight.
Fossil records show that horses originated in North America. They went extinct on this continent about 10,000 years ago, but luckily the horses first crossed the Bering Strait to what is now Russia before their demise. The Mongols, the first cowboys, were the first people to domesticate the horse, and under the leadership of Genghis Khan they created one of the largest empires in history, due solely to the horse. The Mongol’s enemies must have caught on and horse use spread throughout Asia, Europe and Africa.
Horses reappeared in North America in the 1400s and 1500s during Spanish Exploration. The first horses had a mix of Andalusian, Arabian and Barb ancestry. Their first test was a grueling two-month ride across the stormy Atlantic Ocean while confined in a box and immobilized by a sling. The conditions were horrible and only the strongest survived. Their second test was to transport the Spanish thousands of miles across North and South America. The weak perished.
Inevitably, some of the Spanish horses were stolen, got loose, or were left behind to breed and be used later. These horses, the precursor to the modern American Mustang, quickly began populating North America. It wasn’t long before the Native American Indians saw the power these animals possessed and the Great Plains horse tribes such as the Comanche were established.
In the wild, the strongest, most-fit stallion breeds the mares. This doesn’t always mean he is the most beautiful, big, or has the gentlest disposition. The horses that couldn’t make it through brutal winters, blaring summers, snowstorms, and predators let those who did survive continue the breed. As the West was settled, horses possessing draft blood, cavalry stock and cow ponies were added to the bloodlines. Today, depending on the herd’s origin, American Mustangs have very different gene pools. Some herds are very true to the original Spanish horses, others have very little Spanish blood. One trait is constant—all mustangs are tough.
We decided to use mustangs because their bodies are perfect for long distance trail rides. Their feet are predominately black and touch, large in size and hold a shoe well. Their bodies are compact and have a thick coat for low temperatures, which is helpful because we’re not packing pajamas for our horses. Mustangs are sure footed and have an uncanny sense of self-preservation in dangerous situations. They can eat anything, go a hard day without water and don’t lose weight. They’re the perfect horse for a 3,000-mile journey through the same landscape they were naturally selected for.
And that is why we are riding Mustangs.
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