In Search of a Breed Believed Extinct



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


While conducting research for my newest work in progress, I discovered a herd of horses unique to Oregon known as the Kiger Mustangs, a breed whose origins go back as far as the Spanish conquistadors.

 The horses are linked to Native American history, having been reintroduced to the Americas by Spaniards in the 1600s.  Believed to be extinct, they were considered the horse who helped settle the West. Rediscovered in 1977 during a wild horse gathering, the herd fell into protection by the Bureau of Land Management.  In an effort to keep the breed pure and to insure the animals didn’t succumb to natural disaster, two herds were established, one in the Kiger district and the second in Riddle, both located in eastern Oregon on Steens Mountain.

Slightly smaller than most breeds, the Kiger herd can trace its lineage back to one stallion, Mesteno, which means Mustang in Spanish. Testing by the University of Kentucky revealed Spanish markers in their blood and the animals carry 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 marked by a dorsal stripe, zebra 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.

The Kiger Mustang is distinctive in conformation, having a wide and deep chest and a short, broad, and well-muscled back. The neck is well-crested. The bone is dense and the hooves are delicate and compact. The Spanish liked the animals because they were able to cover long distances. It is believed the horses descended from those used by Roman legions carrying soldiers miles across Europe.

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, eachof its own kind’; and it was so.” I can only imagine God’s creativity as He fashioned the Kiger Mustang.

Kiger Herd Bureau of Land Management Photo used by permission

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