A Horse from History

Kiger Herd Bureau of Land Management Photo used by permission
Dominant Kiger stallion Bureau of Land Management Photo, HMA used by permission

No horse rescue ranch would be worth a story if not for a horse. When I chose to place the setting of my novel in Harney County in eastern Oregon, I was motivated by knowledge of a protected herd of horses, who ranged on Steens Mountain near Kiger Ridge.

The herd is believed to be the last of its kind—horses brought by Coronado in the 1600s to the Americas. Bred for their endurance, these horses originally descended from those used by Roman legions and could cover great distances. They are distinctive in conformation, having a wide, deep chest and a short, broad and well-muscled back. The neck is well-crested, the bone dense, the hooves delicate and compact.

Slightly smaller than most breeds, the Kiger herd can trace its lineage back to one stallion, Mesteno, which means Mustang in Spanish. During a wild horse gathering in 1977 a number of these horses showed up together. Even though the Spanish horses were believed to be extinct, a man named Harding was suspicious about the origins of this herd and acquired a DNA sample which was sent to the University of Kentucky. Testing revealed Spanish markers in their blood— an amazing discovery after missing for decades.

The animals also carried the dominant genes which produce the primitive dun factor and gruella coloration and markings. The dun factor covers a range of color from gray to cinnamon, but the unique markings set them apart. The animal is often identified by a dorsal line, zebra-like stripes on the legs, arm bars, bicolor mane and tail, a facial mask and cob webbing. The ears, finely pointed and hooked at the tip, are outlined in dark colors with a fawn-colored interior. Wide prominent eyes mark their broad, flat forehead which tapers into a fine muzzle.

To keep the breed pure the horses fell under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management. The herd was split in two so that if a natural disaster occurred the animals wouldn’t be wiped out. One herd roams Kiger Ridge and a second herd occupies an area near Riddle.

The uniqueness of these horses reminds me of the verse in Genesis 1:24 (NKJV) “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each of its own kind’; and it was so.” I can only imagine God’s creativity as He fashioned the Kiger Mustang.

Love Calls Her Home is now available for pre-order on Kindle for $2.99 and releases March 1. https://www.amazon.com/Love…/dp/B078KDDL5H/ref=sr_1_2…

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