Kiger Mustang Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Kiger Mustang stems from an isolated herd on southeastern Oregon’s Beatys Butte, where it escaped the mustangers and hardly mixed with other wild herds due to the remoteness of the range.
The Kiger mustang herd is the most uniform wild herd in the West. These mustangs are usually either dun or grulla, with a few red duns sometimes cropping out. The original 27 horses that were the nucleus of today’s Kiger mustangs were of Spanish type, many of primitive Spanish type, and resembling the Sorraia horse.
MANAGEMENT OF THE WILD HERD
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Burns, Oregon, recognized the uniqueness of the horses captured there, and gave them their own Herd Management Area (HMA) near Kiger Gorge. As the Kiger HMA is fenced in, interbreeding with other feral herds is avoided.
Management of the Kiger herd was directed toward animals that were easy to adopt out, and the demand for Kiger mustangs always far exceeded the supply. Kiger mustangs were the first mustangs that were adopted out by competitive bidding. In spite of those efforts, many retained primitive characteristics, and after decades of management, even today one can find Kigers that look like the Sorraia horse, the most primitive horse in Iberia, and an ancestor of the Lusitano and the Andalusian.
A second HMA was dedicated to the Kiger mustang on Riddle Mountain, as a safety measure, so that a natural catastrophe would not wipe out the whole population.
The Kiger Mustang typically exhibits Spanish mustang conformation, and the grulla individuals often the coloring of the ancient Tarpan. The convex head, typical for the original Iberian horse, can still be found, although many nowadays have a straight and some even a dished profile.
Kiger mustangs are 14 hands and more, and when raised under domestic conditions can mature to 15 hands. The neck is arched like the typical Iberian, with a throatlatch that allows them to easily bridle up and tuck in their chins.
The withers are pronounced and long; the croup is sloped. The chest is narrow but deep with the typical sloped shoulder. The Kiger mustang’s legs and feet are sound and durable. The cannon bones are usually on the long side, and the movements are that of the Iberian horse, with considerable knee action.
The Kiger mustang HMA is hilly and rocky, and demands a sure-footed horse, with tough hooves. The Kiger’s hoof walls are extremely thick. It is incredible how they can fly over rocky ground at a full gallop that domestic horses could hardly negotiate at a trot!
Among Kiger mustangs are horses with the same DNA type as the primitive Sorraia horse - this is the only wild herd in the West with individuals like that. With the rest of the Kiger mustangs, the same Iberian genotype is found as in other wild herds of Iberian descent.*
In 1988 the Kiger Mesteo Association was formed, to establish a registry and to help preserve this rare and happy instance of the mustang. Private breeders have since tried to alter the type of their horses, and seem to go for a “designer-type” Kiger with a dished face and more muscling and criteria irrespective of the true Iberian or Spanish type. Only few among them are actually striving to preserve the true, Iberian-type Kiger mustang.
Many people have wondered if a few pockets of the pure descendants of the horses of the conquistadors might still exist in remote, isolated places, and a few such bunches have been located. The Kiger mustangs are one such group, the Sulphur Springs mustang of western Utah -- which are very similar to Kiger mustangs - are another. With the close ties that traditionally existed between Oregon and California, it stands to reason that Kigers are very much the horse the old-time vaqueros rode.
The discovery of the Kiger Mustang was stupendous for those in the BLM and for all who value the heritage of the Spanish horses and the American Mustangs, and whose efforts to protect and preserve continue to this day. The Kigers are natural at working cattle, a strong characteristic of the horses of Iberia, and of course are wonderful on the trail as well. They prove competitive in many events in the equine world.