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100 HORSE BREEDS ↬ 23. Kiger Mustang

Horses have been present in the American West since the 1500s, when they arrived with Spanish explorers. Many escaped, were released by the Spanish or stolen by Native Americans. Their descendents crossed with horses who escaped from or were released by other European settlers, including draft breeds brought by farmers and wagoneers and lighter riding horses brought by the United States Cavalry. Horses of French descent also moved across the border from Canada to contribute to the herds. The mixture of these breeds created the Mustang present in the western portion of the US today. By the early 1970s, it was assumed that due to crossbreeding, the original Spanish stock had been eliminated from feral herds. In 1971, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed, giving the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the authority to manage the feral horse populations in the American West.

Discovery of the Kiger Mustang was the result of a BLM Mustang roundup in the Beatys Butte area in Harney County in 1977. During the roundup, it was noticed that among the horses collected from the area, there was a group with similar color and markings. DNA testing by the University of Kentucky showed close relation to the Spanish horses brought to the Americas in the 17th century. These distinct horses were separated from the other horses and the BLM placed two groups in separate areas of Steens Mountain to preserve the breed. Seven horses were placed in the Riddle Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) and twenty in the Kiger HMA.

In 2001, the Kiger Mustang was proposed as the state horse of Oregon. State Senator Steve Harper proposed Senate Joint Resolution 10 after being encouraged to do so by the Kiger Mesteño Association. The resolution, however, failed to pass. Kiger Mustangs have been used as models for model horses and animated films. The original herd stallion Mesteño was used as the model for a series of Breyer Horses, showing the horse at several ages from foal to old age. It was the first time the company had made a series of models showing the same horse. The artist’s model for the title horse of the animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was a Kiger Mustang named Donner, also known as “Spirit”, who lives at the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Kiger Mustangs are most commonly dun in color, although the breed registry also allows bay, black and roan horses to be registered. There are numerous shades of dun, all variations on a tan base, and many shades have their own names. The Kiger Mesteño Association separates dun shades into four categories: dun, red dun, grulla, and claybank. “Dun” as used by the Kiger registry covers dun horses with black points, and adds the terms zebra dun, dusty dun, smutty dun or coyote dun, depending on the exact shade of body color. Red dun, or the variation “apricot dun”, covers horses with points that are red, brown or flaxen. Grulla covers horses with blueish, mousy or slate-colored bodies and black points, and these horses may also be called lobo duns, olive grullas, silver grullas or smutty grullas. Claybank, another variation of red dun, describes Kiger horses who have golden body coats with red or orange tints and darker red points. Dun horses may have primitive markings, which include any of the following: a dorsal stripe, lightened outer guard hairs on the manes and/or tails, zebra-like stripes on the upper legs, transverse striping over the upper shoulders, dark color around the muzzle, and ears with dark outlines and lighter interiors.

Kiger Mustangs generally stand 13.2 to 15.2 hands high. They are compact, well-muscled horses with deep chests and short backs. In general, they are agile and intelligent, with the stamina and sure-footedness seen in many feral horse breeds. They are generally bold but gentle and calm. They are used for pleasure riding as well as endurance riding, assorted performance competition under saddle, driving, and many other situations where an athletic horse is desired.