||Living History and Preservation
Indigenous Heritage Project
The History of the Navajo and Spanish horse in America:
American’s wild horses are direct descendents of North America’s most historic Mustangs; Spanish horses, Indian ponies and early Cavalry mounts that once roamed the western region of the U.S. in great numbers. They are losing their once protected native homes on America’s public lands and are now under extreme threat of extinction in the wild.
Statistics show that vast numbers of wild equines are disappearing from the American West. In the 19th century, more than 2 million wild horses, but recent independent analysis of the Bureau of Land Management’s own data indicates there may now be less than 15,000 wild horses roaming freely on public lands.
America’s wild horses have been denied any type of status or protection in the US. They are instead labeled “feral” which allows them to be legally harassed, shot, rounded up and hauled off to slaughter.
Substantial paleontological evidence shows that horses evolved on the North American continent over 55,000,000 years ago and they eventually expanded into Europe by crossing the Bering land bridge. However, due to a lack in paleontological findings for an undocumented period of time said to begin approximately 8,000 years ago, some scientists have concluded that horses had become extinct in North America.
As a native species, wild horses compliment the natural environment of North America. They are in truth recognized by scientists for restoring rangelands, boosting biodiversity and helping to the return of a wide variety of plants and invertebrates to the lands where they roam. Scientists and conservationists have indeed found that the re-introduction of wild equines to open lands is a positive way to restore ecosystems and wildlife. Wild horses have been found by scientists for successfully rejuvenating vast landscapes in other countries including Britain and the Oostvaardersplassen of the Netherlands.
The Spanish Mustang has also helped to shape an important part of American’s Heritage. Indeed the close association of the Spanish Mustang with Native American culture is deeply rooted to the rich and colorful history shared between horse and man on the North American continent.
Spanish explorers brought America’s indigenous horses back to North America during their early expeditions in the 1500’s. Ironically, today’s rare Spanish Mustangs are direct descendents of these same wild horses which are now mostly or wholly extinct in Spain. These historic Spanish Mustangs are a treasure trove of genetic wealth from a time gone by and are therefore of great importance to today’s world as well as our future.
The early Spanish horses are in truth, return native species whom the Conquistadors and missionaries used to penetrate North America in their early expeditions. They are in fact descendents of North America’s wild horses. The Conquistadors used these Spanish horses to target Pueblo tribes including the Navajo and the Apache for slavery. Eventually, during the Rebellion of 1680, the Pueblo tribes drove the Spaniards out of their homelands and back to what later became Mexico and Texas. Over the years fleeing Spanish ponies established their own bands in pockets across the west. However, sadly, most of the primitive blood lines have since been destroyed and reportedly only exist in small numbers totaling approximately 500 nationwide.
Today’s Navajo Mustangs are mixed descendants of the primitive Sorrias, and the El Rito Spanish horses brought to the Americas by Juan de Onate in the 1500’s. Many have since interbred with early cavalry horses and have survived over the years in family bands on the Navajo reservation.
A look back into history around the year 1868, when the Navajo Treaty was signed with the U.S. Government, reveals that there were approximately 80,000 Navajo- Spanish horses on the Navajo reservation at that time. However, significant developments in the way life would be governed for the Navajo people took its toll on both the people and their horses. In the beginning of the 1880’s, the US government mandated an abolishment of the Native American ceremonial practices and spiritual beliefs; in essence their connection and celebration of their own heritage became illegal for them to acknowledge.
Over time valuable minerals were sought by the US Government, and US councils were created such as the BIA, to supposedly represent the Navajo people and their interests in land and livestock matters. Mirroring Bureau of Land Management (BLM) activities on public lands, grazing permits were developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1930 and it was established that the majority of the Navajo land would be held in trust by the BIA. During this same time period, U.S. Government mandated the mass-killing of horses and livestock owned by the Navajo people. U.S. Government officials were known to come onto the reservation and shoot horses and sheep, often right at their owner's homes. The carcasses were left to rot.
Despite the violent exploitation and mass killing of America’s Mustangs and the US government’s denial of their indigenous lineage in North America, the history of their uninterrupted existence over time has indeed survived through traditional Native American ceremonies. Their sacred heritage has been preserved by a small number of traditional tribal people and spiritual leaders whose ancestors were forced to flee from encampment of the US government prison camps and mass assimilation. Only in recent times after the ban of Native American religious ceremonies was lifted by the US government, has the celebration of Native American sacred ways revealed what many now believe to be the cohesive existence of North America’s historic and indigenous equines.
In current times the few remaining rare blood Spanish Mustangs, as well as the Navajo’s sacred Mustangs find themselves targeted for extinction on their quickly disappearing and threatened Native home lands. As the remaining number of Wild Horses in the U.S. nears extinction, education and appreciation through the protection of Mustangs and Burros in the wild and natural sanctuary environments becomes tantamount to their survival as a species. America’s Wild Horses cannot be reproduced once they are gone.
Wild For Life Foundation (WFLF) strives to build its Wild Horse and Burro preservation and nature program, in order to protect the lives of America's wild equines as part of the natural ecosystem and educate people about the need for the preservation of this threatened native species. A key component to WFLF's vision is in reaching the objective of "equi-biodiversity" preservation and educational programming. "Equi-biodiversity", a term coined for the purpose of restoring reverence to this deserving indigenous species. WFLF's program promotes the rejuvenation of ecosystems and wildlife through the re-introduction of wild equines in the U.S.
WFLF’s Wild Horse and Burro Program strives to provide natural habitat sanctuary programming for rescued Mustangs. Through this program, WFLF provides these rescued wild equines an opportunity to heal and thrive in peace and harmony.
Many of the rescued Navajo Mustangs under our wild horse sanctuary program were saved by WFLF during the brutal ongoing US government funded roundups in New Mexico. WFLF's special preservation program is established for their protection after they had narrowly escaped government eradication.
U.S. government funded Navajo Nation roundups began in August 2013, and at last publicized count, over two thousand of Navajo’s sacred Mustangs had since been rounded up and shipped to slaughter in Mexico. Dedicated efforts to end the roundups and the slaughter by Navajo’s own traditional and spiritual leaders have yet to succeed. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) was eventually reached through joint efforts of former Gov. Bill Richardson and others. This MOU was intended to end the roundups and the slaughter, however special interests and political powers have resulted in a total disregard for the MOU’s original intent to protect the horses and stop the killing and sadly Navajo’s sacred Mustangs continue to be rounded up and sent to slaughter to this day.
The Wild For Life Foundation promotes positive solutions and alternatives for the protection and preservation of America’s Wild Horses and Burros. Having developed solid methods of sanctuary management programming that include equine enrichment and community participation, Wild For Life Foundation’s present need is for land!
If you would like to support the Wild For Life Foundation's Wild Mustang and Burro Sanctuary Program & Indigenous Heritage Project, you may do so in a variety of ways. One can become a donor or sponsor, sanctuary partner, purchase or donate acreage, volunteer your time, talents and services, participate in WFLF's multi-media educational program, or "take action" through social media by raising awareness.
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