Kiger Mustangs and the "Found Horse" Issue, By Hardy Oelke

The issue of the so-called "found horses", or "found blood", should actually be a non-issue, at least to any serious horseman and horse breeder. Mustangs are per se free-roaming horses that interbreed at will, and have been interbreeding for centuries. More specifically, mustangs of southeastern Oregon were free to roam and interbreed, and while evidently there remained a nucleus of similar horses on Beaty's Butte for reasons we don't have to discuss here, it appears evident that mustangs of that type have spread from there to other regions in southeastern Oregon, and one can also not exclude the possibility of mustangs from other areas to have wandered into the Beaty's Butte population.

    The population that became known as "Kiger Mustangs" was artificially planted in the Kiger HMA and Riddle HMA, and from the word "go" was willfully put together of horses from various different herds in Oregon – no less than 12 different areas. And even after the original creation of the herd that came to be know as the "Kiger herd", a number of horses from other HMAs were purposefully planted in the Kiger HMA.

    So we are looking at wild horses as a source for the Kiger herd that had lived and bred uncontrolled for centuries, then at a herd assembled at will from a number of herds of the same uncertain background, and then of further additions to that herd from other herds of equally unknown ancestry. Plus, as Ron Harding told me, the Riddle Mountain HMA was never completely cleared of other (atypical) mustangs.

    All this makes it clear to any horseman, or knowledgable breeder, that it is ridiculous to raise any kind of discussion over bloodlines when it comes to any mustang population, Kiger or otherwise. It is also evident that from a horseman's and breeder's point of view, any mustang brought into the gene pool privately, as was done by KMA breeders in the early years of the registry, has no different status than horses from elsewhere that were planted in the Kiger herds by the BLM. All these horses were planted in these herds based on phenotypical characteristics only, and the same holds true with those included by private breeders. Whether their inclusions were good or bad hinges entirely on how qualified the evaluations of those horses were.

    To top this off: Neither the Kiger HMA, nor the Riddle HMA, is secure regarding interbreeding with outside horses. The Riddle HMA isn't even fenced in, the Kiger HMA is, but I have seen horses there outside of the fence, so interbreeding is possible even there, and anyone who has a mind to could pull a horse trailer into the HMA and release there whatever horse he/she wants to have an influence on the herd. Looking at some of the horses coming out of the Kiger HMA, I have reason to believe that this has actually taken place.

    So for all practical reasons, the "found horse" controversy is ridiculous from a genetical point of view, and a genetical point of view is all any serious breeder is concerned about.

    Some Kiger advocates however approach this issue differently, and in an abstract way. They argue that the soil on which a horse is born makes it a Kiger or a non-Kiger. In other words, a mongrel born in the Kiger or Riddle HMA is a Kiger, while one of good type, but born elsewhere with a parent (or great-great-grandparent) from a different HMA would be a non-Kiger!

    As ridiculous as this is, if we follow this logic, then automatically every horse born outside the HMAs would be a non-Kiger, and breeding of Kigers outside of the HMAs would be impossible. One cannot have it both ways. If the "sacred grounds" of the Kiger and Riddle HMAs make those horses Kigers, then all those born outside are non-Kigers. They would have to be named differently then. And if the BLM freeze brand makes them Kigers, then again, all those without that brand are non-Kigers.

    In their argument they say that the BLM always has defined a Kiger as a mustang born in the Kiger and Riddle HMA. They also argue that it were up to the BLM to decide what a Kiger is and what not, because the BLM is the management authority.

    This is an error. The only authority the BLM got from the U.S. Congress is to manage the wild herds. The BLM is not into marketing, is not into horse breeding, has no authority to label horses in order to market a product. All the BLM did is name Herd Management Areas in order to be able to differentiate between them and to be able to work in an organized way. It is the public that applies names to certain mustang populations. Granted, the public usually follows the HMA's name, but it wouldn't have to. The BLM in no way "owns" any name the public is using for whatever mustangs. It is entirely up to the public what name it applies to certain mustangs, and what the public thinks they ought to embody. And the freeze brand the BLM puts on horses is not used to label them as a product, but simply for management reasons.

    The BLM only created the herd management areas, and in some instances collected horses into geographic locations, not only in the case of the Kigers, but at least in Oregon also in other HMAs. It was never the BLM's job to manage any wild herd closely enough that it could be called breeding, and it would be out of the bounds of the BLM authority to create a breed.

    The BLM's concept of the Kiger, however, was that of a type—not that of a horse born on the Kiger HMA regardless of type. This is born out by the fact that the BLM introduced a Sheepshead mare (Teacup) at demos as a Kiger Mustang, a perfect example that the BLM considered the Kiger a type, not something born on the HMA regardless of type. It shows that to the BLM type was the overriding criteria, not birth on the HMA.

    Also, it is an erroneous statement that the BLM had the authority to decide what horses are Kigers. All wild horses in America belong to the public; the public is the authority. The BLM was entrusted with the management of the public lands and the wild herds—and what a terrible job they have done with the wild horses, I may add!

    Any group of mustang breeders can certainly apply whatever standards they want to enforce, and if they chose to make birth on whatever soil a condition, so be it. But they ought to know that it puts them in a funny light for any competent horseman and breeder. And it surely doesn't make them superior in any way over others who have a different set of standards, particularly if that set of standards is based on genetics and acknowledged breeding principles.

    Needless to say that the concept of making birth on a certain plot the deciding criteria is absurd to European registries. If the Kiger is to gain a foothold internationally as a breed, it must be said that European registries—like any serious breed registry in the world—have no appreciation for such a concept. To meet their approval and acceptance as a breed, the Kiger will solely be looked at from a genetic point of view, irrespective of some romantic idea of birth on certain willfully designated soil. Again, from a genetic point of view, and given the history of mustangs, and the Kiger mustang in particular, exclusion of horses of proper type is untenable. It is the prerogative of any breed registry to close the studbook once they feel they have a sound enough base and closing the studbook would be beneficial. In that case, even captured Kigers from the HMA should not be allowed in, or at least only after passing inspection and DNA-verifying. It was not the BLM but the KMA that started the Kiger breed; it's up to the KMA to determine the rules and regulations by which they want their breeders to operate. From the same source—the Kiger and Riddle HMAs—another registry may create a different breed under a different set of rules, there is no way to stop them. However, a registry established after the KMA has been in continuous operation for decades has no basis to tell KMA what to do, or to proclaim themselves a better Kiger registry. To any real horseman, the answer to that can only be given by the quality of horses that are being bred.

    Hardy Oelke, Sept 2015

Hardy Oelke has been a pioneer of western riding and western horses in Europe and a respected authority on the American Mustang. He is the author of Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction which is recommended reading for anyone interested in th

Used by permission and © Hardy Oelke