The Salt River Wild Horses (The word Mustang or Wild Horse is used interchangeably) are a historic population of unbranded, unclaimed, wild and free-roaming horses, that were born in the wild. As per historical records, the horses have been living on the Salt River reservation (Arizona) before the National Forest was created in the early 1900s. Back in 1890 Salt River wild horses were referred to as “native stock ” and “native animals”. For people back then to classify the free roaming horses as “native”, there would have to have been a minimum of 5 or 6 generations who knew about their existence (equal to 100 years), proving they existed here since at least 1790.
Mustangs are descendants of Spanish, or Iberian, horses that were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The name was derived from the Spanish word ‘mustengo’, which means ‘ownerless beast’. Once escaped, these horses evolved without the influence of man and through survival of the fittest, evolved into the incredibly durable and tough breed we know today.
After all these years the wild horses remain. They are protected by state legislation, signed by AZ Governor Doug Ducey in 2017, that protects them in their historic habitat in the Tonto National Forest and makes it illegal to harass, slaughter or kill a Salt River horse. In addition, that year, the U.S. Congress passed a law protecting mustangs, which stated, “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”
Today nationwide, about 30,000 mustangs remain on public land.