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Sulphur Springs Mustang- Horse Breed & Info

Characteristics of the Sulphur Springs Mustang

Sulphur Springs Mustang Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

Western Utah's Mountain Home Range is home to one of the most interesting and most attractive herds of mustangs in America. This wild horse became known as the "Sulphur Springs Mustang", as around the Sulphur Springs in that BLM Herd Management Area is where these horses can be found. In every-day speech, they are often referred to just as "Sulphurs". Theirs is a harsh, mountainous environment with pinion and pine forests, steep hillsides, rough country, and although grazing has been improved over the last decade or so, it still takes a very tough horse to survive in those mountains.

The Sulphur Springs mustang is usually of dun or grulla color, and many show some Iberian conformation traits, a few are of very good Iberian type. Genetically, they have been proven to be of Iberian descent* - which in America usually means Spanish descent. And they are most uniform in genotype.

The severe living conditions around the Sulphur Springs do not usually allow for these horses to mature to their full potential. Often around 14 hands and sometimes smaller in the wild, they may reach 14.3 hands and sometimes more when fed well under domestic conditions, or when captured at a young age and raised with good care. The Sulphur Springs mustang is typically not coarse, has good movements, good riding points, and makes a versatile mounts with great stamina. Needless to mention that their legs and feet are hard and sound like that of all mustangs.

The Sulphur mustangs probably represent the mustang population with the strongest dun markings. It is unclear why this is, but it is a fact that no other herd has produced individuals with dun markings (stripes) as strong as some Sulphur mustangs. There are some Kiger mustangs and some Pryor Mountain mustangs with excellent stripes, but the strongest-striped Sulphur Spring Mustang tops everything else in that respect.

A phenomenon seen in some Sulphurs is a "triple dorsal stripe". This is an illusion created by short stripes which start an inch or so apart from the actual dorsal stripe on each side, but run at a right angle to the dorsal stripe, then fade into the back. From a distance, it makes the Sulphur Springs mustang look like it had three dorsal stripes. In other populations, leg stripes are often expressed strongly only on the front legs and are rather weak on the hind legs, but most of the Sulphur Spring mustang population have strong leg stripes even on their hind legs, and they may reach well up above the hocks.

The typical Iberian head - convex or subconvex in profile - is not found as often in the Sulphur Springs herd as, for instance, in the Kiger herd. Also, "hooked ears" (ear tips that curve to the inside) are often seen, which is an Arabian characteristic. However, some truly Iberian, or Spanish, types can be found among the Sulphurs, and it would be desirable for the BLM to manage this herd for Iberian type, and for private breeders to do the same. The genes are present in the Sulphur Springs Mustang, they can be bred out or they can be reinforced.

Although some hype has been created regarding Sulphur mustang's history, in a well-meant effort to promote these horses, their history is basically the same as that of all mustangs: At one time, mustangs were all descendants of Spanish horses, then later, they were "contaminated" with outside blood. In some remote areas, such as some mountains in southeastern Oregon, or the Mountain Home Range in western Utah, populations found enough isolation to largely maintain their integrity. The environment of the Sulphur Springs mustang or other mustang populations was also harsh enough to make it unlikely for any intruders, especially turned-out Government Remount stallions and the likes, to survive. The relative proximity of the Santa Fe trail, which ran between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, often stressed in this context, is of little importance - there are mountains closer to the Trail that did not harbor horses of this kind, but would have been just as difficult to access and provide just as much isolation, and there are others of equal proximity that did not, either. Also, it works both ways: If horses were taken along the trail from California towards Santa Fe - and no one wants to doubt that - then also horses from Santa Fe will have been taken westward, which would be likely candidates for contamination.

Fact is, that for reasons unknown the Sulphur Springs mustang, a small population (around 300) has survived in those mountains in western Utah which certainly represent one of the two most interesting and important feral herds in the United States.

As is the case with other mustangs too, several breed associations have been founded for the Sulphur mustang, which is a pity. It would be highly desirable for all Sulphur enthusiasts to get together and combine and coordinate their efforts to promote this special horse.

*) Jansen, Forster, Levine, Oelke, Hurles, Weber, Olek, "Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse", 2002, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Article © Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos ©Oelke or Oelke Archive, if not otherwise stated. For information regarding the Sorraia horse, the Vale de Zebro Wild Horse Refuge, and the Sorraia Mustang - visit

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Sulphur Springs Mustang mare Wild stallions Sulphur Springs Mustang stallion Primitive markings Grullo foal
Photos from left to right - A young Sulphur Springs mare of typical Sorraia conformation and color; two stallions; and two Sulphur Springs foals with extreme primitive coat pattern and strong zebra stripes.

Wild mustangs Sulphur Springs horses 
Sulphur Springs mustangs in the wild, with the photo on the left showing a Sulphur mustang of real Sorraia/Tarpan color in the wild.

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Other Breeds or types of the Spanish Horse, the Iberian Horse, the Mustang; and Wild Horses and subspecies, other than the Sulphur Springs Mustang:

Alter Real - breed
Andalusian - breed
Argentine Criollo - breed
Azteca - breed
Criollo horse - breed
Dulmen Pony - Duelmener horse - feral
Exmoor Pony - wild horse
Kiger Mustang - feral
Lusitano - breed
Mangalarga Marchador - breed
Peruvian Paso - breed
Paso Fino - breed
Polish Konik - feral
Pryor Mountain Mustang - feral
Przewalski's horse - wild, extinct, reintroduced
Sorraia - wild
Spanish Mustang - feral
Tarpan - wild, extinct

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