Part One of Three

Few people experience the rare opportunity to watch mustangs running wild.

Some believe the surviving wild horses are feral and should not be labeled “mustangs”.
Bureau of Land Management employees and mustang owners disagree.

Spanish conquistadors brought their horses to what is now the American southwest in1540. Mesteños, Spanish for unclaimed sheep, evolved into the anglicized “mustang” for stray horses that escaped or were turned loose by soldiers, miners, farmers and ranchers. These unclaimed horses formed herds and multiplied with stray Spanish horses to become the wild horses, or mustangs, of today.

The best remaining example of the unique breed of Spanish horse that helped explorers, Native Americans, pioneers and vaqueros settle the West, and the most sought after mustang, is the Kiger, named in 1987 after the gorge where they were found in the 1800s. Kiger is the name of the German emigrant who settled in the gorge in southeastern Oregon’s Steens Mountain. Original Spanish horse characteristics, found in the Kiger’s blood during genetic testing by the University of Kentucky in 1977, confirmed this belief.


A Kiger’s dominant genes result in the dun color factor of buckskin, red dun, and grulla (a mouse gray) with bi-color mane and tail. Markings include zebra stripes on knees and hocks, dorsal stripes (see photo), fawn coloring on inside of ears, and cobwebbing on the face. Kigers have small bones and feet, fine muzzles, hooked ear tips, and prominent, wide-set eyes. Their physical conformation resembles the tarpan, a wild horse of central Asia, from which the Spanish horses evolved. Kigers also resemble today’s Spanish Sorraias.

Under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages and controls the animals on public lands. Included in the 19 Oregon Herd Management Areas (HMAs), the BLM manages two areas in southeastern Oregon, both located in the Burns District, for wild horses with Spanish mustang characteristics: the Kiger HMA (37,000 acres for a population of 51 to 82 horses) and Riddle Mountain HMA (28,000 acres for 33 to 56 horses).

Herds double every four years. The BLM gathers excess wild horses and burros where vegetation and water are scarce. An expensive birth control vaccine lasts only a year or two. Adoption is the primary method of thinning herds. Kiger adoptions, held every three to four years in November, draw horse lovers from as far away as Rhode Island, Georgia and Michigan.

A self-guided viewing road, recommended for high clearance vehicles during dry weather only, runs through the Kiger wild horse area southeast from Diamond, Oregon, for you to observe these legends of the West.

For more information, visit


About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
This entry was posted in Human Interest. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. SoyBend says:

    I have been lucky enough to have seen wild horses in southeast Oregon and northeast Wyoming. Nice article!

    Liked by 1 person

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