Monday, December 8, 2014

TOA Blog Hop: History of the Horse

From The Owls Approve: Before you met, where was your horse? Who bred him/her? What do you know about his sire and his dam? What do you know where he came from? Tell me about the time before he had a trainer.

So, where did Tristan come from? This is actually a complicated story, and the part of it that I think is most interesting to blog about is the very beginning.

Let's hit the rewind button quickly. Before he came to me, Tristan was at a rescue in southern Maine. Before that, he was in the custody of the state of New York after being seized as part of an animal cruelty investigation. Before that, he was on a farm in upstate New York alongside a few dozen other horses, some of them alive, and some of them dead. Most of them dead. Before that, he was in various places across the United States, various large and small holding pens as the gears of the government system ground on.

Before that?

Tristan was born in central Nevada in 1995, in a remote desert area at the foothills of the Toiyabe mountain range. It's a decent guess that he was born in spring, and stayed with his dam for a few months - maybe up to a year, even. In the wild, horses travel in a variety of different kinship groups. Foals are born into family bands, groups of mares and sometimes adolescent stallions, owned or guarded over by one, sometimes two, stallions.

Bachelor herd.

By the time he was a long yearling, Tristan had probably moved on to a bachelor herd. Maybe he left on his own; maybe he was chased off by his dam, ready to drop another foal; maybe he was chased off by his sire, or by another stallion who had taken over his family band. It's nearly impossible to know.

Gather in the Callaghan HMA, 2010

Tristan ranged with that bachelor herd for nearly three years, until one day in February 1999, when he was rounded up and gathered by the Bureau of Land Management, or by a contractor working for the BLM. He was herded into pens with other members of his bachelor herd, gelded, freezebranded, and given basic vaccines and a Coggins test. (His first proof of vaccine lists an entire page of mustangs, the freezebrand numbers before and after his own; cousins? brothers? friends? or some mixup of horses from different herds that all ended up in the same pen at the same time? who knows?) Then he was shipped east, and the story I relayed above began.

I've done a lot of research over the years to find out what Tristan's life was like growing up. Thanks to his gather paperwork, we know he was part of a 1999 gather from the Callaghan Herd Management Area. The BLM divides the public lands where mustangs range into these herd management areas, which are then grouped together in district offices. Callaghan is part of the Battle Mountain District Office. It is close to the Ravenswood, Bald Mountain, New Pass, and Rocky Hills Herd Management Areas. Together, these HMAs consist of 640,148 acres around Austin, Nevada.

Austin is marked here; dead center in Nevada, and on the edges of the Toiyabe National Forest.

Here's what the BLM says about Callaghan (source): 
The Callaghan HMA is located northeast of the town of Austin, Nevada and encompasses over 156,230 acres of public land. The HMA is approximately 27 miles long and 16 miles wide. The entire Callaghan HMA lies in Lander County at the north end of the Toiyabe Mountain Range.
The Toiyabe Mountain Range in Lander County, NV
Topography/vegetation: The proposed gather area is located within Central Nevada within the Great Basin. Much of the rangeland at lower elevations consists of salt desert shrub and Wyoming big sagebrush communities. Pinyon and Juniper are prevalent in the mid and upper elevations. Precipitation averages 6-10 inches per year in the valleys and up to 16+ inches in the mountains. Drought conditions may occur 1 out of every 3-4 years. These HMAs are comprised of north/south trending mountain ranges surrounded by wide valley bottoms. Perennial streams are infrequent, and most waters consist of small springs, ponds and wells or springs developed to include pipelines and troughs. 
Another view of the Toiyabe Mountain Range, from the valley floor.
Wildlife: Within the proposed project area, numerous species of wildlife occur. Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats are the main game and fur bearing species present. Chukar, California quail, morning doves, and cottontail rabbits constitute the major upland game species. In addition, a variety of non-game mammals, birds, and reptiles occur in the project area. Very common shrub nesting species include the sage thrasher, sage sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, horned lark and meadow lark. The loggerhead shrike, common nighthawk, various wrens, warblers, larks and swallows are all common. . Species that nest in aspen communities include the northern goshawk, broad-tailed hummingbird, northern flicker, house wren, American robin, warbling vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, junco, western wood pewee, lazuli bunting, and western tanager. Common reptilian wildlife in the Complex includes collared lizard, Great Basin fence lizard, northern sagebrush lizard, horned lizard, Great Basin whiptail, Great Basin gopher snake, and Great Basin rattlesnake.

Horse Colors: These HMAs support wild horses that exhibit the full spectrum of colors of wild horses including the most common colors of bay, brown, sorrel and black, but also include the more brilliant colors of palomino, grulla, pinto, roan and Appaloosa.

Size of Horses: Wild horses within these HMAs average 14-15 hands in height and weigh 900-1,100 pounds as adults.

History: Wild horses in these areas are traced back to domestic ranch horses used for ranching, transportation and mining when the areas were settled. Genetic analysis indicates that these horses are similar to domestic breeds with indications of Light Racing and Riding Breeds, North American Gaited Breeds, Morgan, Old Spanish, Old World Iberian and Oriental Breeds. The genetic variability of all of these herds is high and no signs of inbreeding are present in the genetics analysis.
This page has a great selection of horses from the different HMAs in the Battle Mountain District, and suggests that Callaghan horses tend to be colorful and leggier, due to Thoroughbred influence on the breeding stock, which fits with the BLM's genetic analysis. Tristan is 15 hands, 15.1 in shoes, and is actually on the tall side for a mustang - many of them hover around 14 hands. There are clear Spanish influences in his head and neck, and his aptitude for cross-country and jumping (though sadly not his overall athletic ability) is much higher than the average mustang, which may also point to TB. On a fun note, the Pony Express went through Austin, NV, which was a lonely mining outpost. Maybe Tristan has some ancestors who were stringer horses for the Pony Express? It's possible!


  1. So fun! I think the different genetic make ups of mustang groups is so interesting! You can definitely see some Spanish in Tristan's face!

  2. very cool - it's amazing to think of all his various experiences before you found him

  3. Reading your blog always makes me want a mustang for myself :)

  4. Wow he lived in such a beautiful place!


Thanks for commenting! It's great to hear from you.