Origin of the Kigers

European historical writings describe two primary equine types: the great, athletic Andalusian, and the incredibly tough, wild, mountain Sorraia that bore the color and markings we see today in the Kiger Mustang. Along with the Andalusians and Sorraias, a special cavalry-adapted Arabian was developed in early Spanish history. The Spanish Arabian was stouter with greater frame to carry heavier weight over distance. The Barb horses of North Africa, also of eastern descent, were notable cavalry horses in their own right, and they too entered the mix. The Lusitano, a lighter and taller cavalry horse, developed through mixing eastern blooded horses with the Andalusian. Known for its strength and battle-ready aggression, the Lusitano was quick, enduring, graceful and intelligent.

Iberian Sorraia
Wikipedia Commons

    A mix of these Spanish horses was brought to the Americas from Spain on virtually every ship that sailed west over a several-hundred year period. Many of the Spanish ships carried pure Andalusian and Lusitano horses for the nobility as well as Spanish Barbs for the working folks. Along with the war mounts also came the Spanish colonial horse, often of Barb and Sorraia lineage. The conquistadores favored the dun and grulla warhorses that had black dorsal stripes, zebra bars on their legs, shoulders and sometimes necks, and bi and tri-colored manes and tails.

    Beginning almost as soon as they arrived, some of these Spanish horses started getting loose. They were lost, stolen, traded for, strayed after battles or were captured in raids. They frequently went missing out of forts and missions and trading outposts throughout the Spanish-occupied Americas. Eventually these horses were scattered all over the country.

    Then back in the days of the big cattle ranches, on range that includes where the two Bureau of Land Management Kiger areas are today, some very savvy ranchers caught the best mustangs they could find and hung on to them. They continued this process of rounding up the best horses and breeding them selectively. Two ranchers in particular, one a Spaniard, during the last half of the 1800s were developing the ultimate big-country ranch horse. So the Kiger breed was enhanced early on by the fine work of these good, Oregon-based rancher-horsemen.

    In 1971 congress passed the Wild Horse and Burro Act, giving the BLM to responsibility for preserving the wild horses of the west. A few years later in 1977, pilot Rick Littleton and Ron Harding, an official from the Burns District of the Bureau of Land Management, were doing an aerial survey of the wild horses in Harney County, Oregon. They discovered a small band of dun and grulla-colored mustangs in the Steens Mountain area, They had found a herd of 27 homogenous marked horses; all had similar color, known as the dun factor, conformation and distinct primitive markings, just like the ancient Spanish horses they thought had all disappeared.

Primitive markings - Photo John Minium
Courtesy Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

    Once the horses were rounded up and brought into the BLM corrals, it was decided to verify their origin with DNA testing. The testing was carried out by the University of Kentucky Equine Gentetics Department. The test verified a high level of Spanish markers directly linking the 27 horses to the Spanish explorer’s horses of the 1600s. Thus was discovered the last band of wild horses in America genetically linked and true-to-type to the original Spanish mustangs.

    Because of their rarity, it was decided that this small herd would be separated from other wild mustangs. The name Kiger was chosen because one of the areas where the The BLM placed the horses was along Kiger Creek. Two different fenced Horse Management Areas (HMAs) were allocated; Seven horses were placed in the Riddle Mountain HMA and twenty in the Kiger HMA. Two herds were established in case an unforeseen natural disaster wiped out one herd. The Kiger Mustangs began with those 27 horses.

Ron Harding - Bill Phillips - Josh Warburton
Godfathers of the Kiger Mustangs

    The Kiger Mustangs are federally protected under the Wild Horse and Burro Management Act of 1971. However, their populations are limited to what their BLM rangeland can support. Now there are precious few of these unique wild horses left. There are less than 200 in the wild in the BLM areas and maybe twice that number that are viable breeders, pure and top class, in captivity (excluding the gildings). These horses are endangered by situation if not by government classification. A private refuge for them where they can be protected and develop and grow as a breed into future generations is essential. Similar to the bald eagle and buffalo, which have been carefully recuperated and restored, the Kiger Mustang deserves a place to roam free and secure -- a homeland. Our government can't do it all, and there are lots of other wild horses that need help too.

    The word sacred should not be confined to only religion and politics. It belongs also to the natural world and everything that lives. Nature is a sacred living place, your grandchildren can see and touch. The Kiger mustang has a sacred genetic code worthy of every effort to keep alive. The wild places, with life sustaining habitat, are truly natural holy places. The Kigers are timeless yet so endangered. The true mustang, The Kiger, has traveled a long way to preserve a living legend.

With their ancient striping and barring, you can see the Kiger's connection to the Southern European wild horses. The depth of value of these few left is discovered the minute you look at them. They possess, within themselves, all that they need to survive in the wild and at the same time the potential to become a trusted companion.
      Steven Polinger — Founder and President of Kiger Mustang Refuge, Inc

© Kiger Mustang Refuge, Inc — a non-profit organization