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Where is YOUR Mustang or Burro from?

Learning about the specific Herd Management Area (HMA) or Wild Horse Territory (WHT)

where one's own horse or burro is from can enrich your appreciation for your adopted animal.

It is in that spirit that these pages are offered.

Please note that not all wild horses are managed by BLM or USFS.

Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro HMAs:

HMA Map.jpg

US Forest Service Wild Horse Territories:

USFS WIld Horse Territories.png

Bureau of Land Management Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas

What's an HMA or WHT?

When the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act of 1971 was enacted, BLM and US Forest Service were first tasked with identifying where wild horses and burros lived on public lands. In many cases, these studies were done quickly and without research into the life patterns of the horses and burros on the areas. These areas are called Herd Areas (HA). However, over time it became clear that many of these boundaries had been drawn to exclude adequate water or forage, or that they were interspersed with private land, making them unmanageable.


And so a second type of area was created: The Herd Management Area, or HMA. Only those HAs which proved to be adequate to support and manage healthy herds were became HMAs - or Wild Horse Territories if the land was under US Forest Service management.

Are all wild horses and burros protected under the 1971 Act?

Note that only horses and burros living within these HMA boundaries, and similarly-set US Forest Service Wild Horse Territories, are covered under the Act. Not protected by the 1971 Act are wild horses and burros anywhere East of the Rockies, or in any National Parks or Monuments, State Parks, USFWS reserves, nor are wild horses and burros living within the private and County lands around Reno and Carson City, Nevada. Indian reservations often have large herds of free-roaming horses. These, too, are not protected by the Act. Wild horses and burros anywhere who are not living in designated HMAs and WHTs are not protected. Horses and burros on HAs are protected from harassment, being used as target practice, or rounded up for slaughter. But these areas are not managed with a goal of preserving viable herds. Rather, permanent removal ("zeroing" the population) is the only legal option.

Is an HMA (or WHT) the same as a breed?

While it is true that each HMA or WHT has its own unique history, and may be exhibit distinct herd characteristics, HMAs (Herd Management Areas) are not breeds. A horse or burro from one HMA has far more in common with horses or burros from all other HMAs than it has differences. Although some herds are managed more intensively than others for identifiable traits (like color, size, temperament, etc), currently no HMA is consistent enough to be treated as a brand name or breed.


The closest to a "brand name" or breed would be the Kiger.  Kiger HMA in Oregon has been intensively managed from its creation as an HMA, for dun-colored animals of Old Spanish type and conformation. And there is a domestic breed called the Kiger Mustang, which is being developed by domestically breeding descendants of wild adopted horses from Kiger HMA. But, like all HMAs, the Kiger is genetically diverse, and is variable in temperament, size, and conformation.  Even the dun coloring gene is not yet 100% homozygous. Bay, black, red, and gray Kigers are still not uncommon. Genetically, the Kiger closely resembles neighboring HMAs.


Which HMA or WHT produces the size, color, or temperament that I want?

Many people have a certain size in mind when they adopt. Certain herds are known for having a higher than average incidence of certain size parameters (examples: Pine Nut Mtns and Swasey for smaller pony-type and Twin Peaks and Owyhee for larger-than-average horses) but even these herds are not standardized enough to be a dependable benchmark for choosing a horse. Large and small horses can occur in any HMA. Likewise, certain herds, like South Steens, are known for certain types of coloring (In South Steens, it's pinto patterns. For Kiger, it's dun, etc.) Yet even in South Steens and Kiger, there are many bays, reds, and solid blacks, roans, and an occasional gray.

Temperament, too, is highly individual, although some herds have a preponderance of one type or another. Twin Peaks horses, for instance, are widely considered to be relatively easy to gentle and train, although there is the occasional "stinker." Seaman HMA horses have a reputation for being the opposite, although some do quite well.

So when adopting, choose an INDIVIDUAL, not just the "brand name" of HMA.

If you wish to know more about your horse or burro's ancestry, please also read the HISTORY section.


Where are HMAs and WHTs found?

The Bureau of Land Management manages wild horses (mustangs) and burros (wild donkeys) in 10 Western States, with the largest share being in Nevada. There are also noteworthy wild herds in other areas, or managed by other governmental bodies.

The US Forest Service (USFS) manages wild horses and burros in Wild Horse Territories (WHT) throughout the same western states, in a program that is similar - and sometimes in cooperation with  - BLM.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)'s Sheldon Pronghorn Reserve has wild horses and burros living on it, although the USFWS General Plan for the preserve is to eliminate them.

Management Issues that contribute to HMA differences:

BLM's number one management issue, as mandated by law, is maintaining a healthy eco-system within a multiple use format. This includes determining how many animals of each species can be supported by a section of land, given the resources and other demands on the land. That is a huge subject, which a person who wants to understand wild horse issues should delve into, AND it is too big a subject to cover here in a paragraph or two.

Selection practices in management

When herds become too large, who gets removed and who stays? Is it "gate cut" or is some other criteria applied? (An example of gate cut would be  - if 40 horses need to be removed, the first 40 who come into the trap would be the ones removed.) Or should the herd be carefully managed for desirable characteristics (perhaps size, color, conformation, historically accurate regional characteristics, temperament and trainability, or other qualities)?

What about age and gender balance? We know that young animals have the best chance in adoption, but we also know that when a high percentage of youngsters are removed, the herd reproduces even more rapidly in order to compensate. We also know that the younger horses need the older ones to teach and guide them for health and survival. Aberrant behaviors like breeding young fillies, or inbreeding, happen manly in herds with a preponderance of young horses who haven't had access to healthy herd dynamics.


If the old, non-productive animals are removed, their chances of adoption are almost zero, and the younger population starts behaving in ways they would not have, if they had access to older, wiser mentors.


So it's a complicated subject. Different districts handle it different ways, and philosophies have changed over time. Most BLM districts have a specially trained Wild Horse (or burro) Specialist to lead in these decisions.

As an example of different management philosophies, Oregon has always been at the forefront of intense human management of their 19 herds for unique characteristics and adoptability. With only 19 HMAs they are in a position to do this, and they believe strongly in the concept. They have several "showpiece" herds with recognizably distinct characteristics (examples: Kiger for Spanish-type duns, South Steen's for pintos, Warm Springs for Appaloosas).

However, just as avidly, there are other districts in other states who believe that wild horses are meant to be managed as wildlife, and, as such, should have as little human interference as possible. They believe strongly that Mother Nature is the best breeder, and it should not be up to us to judge or influence the quality of a wild animal or herd of wild animals. 


Many BLM managers feel that the adoption program is there to support range management, and that range management should not be driven by the adoption program's needs. Many mustang advocates agree that "Mother Nature breeds the best horse." Indeed, many genetic studies of modern and ancient horses  prove that intensive human selection for specific traits has resulted in a significant loss of genetic heath to modern domestic horses. So this point of view has merits! 

Each viewpoint has passionate supporters and good reasons, and who is to say that one is wrong? The majority of districts do not openly fall into either category.

Newly-Captured wild horses from Carter Reservoir HMA.JPG
Midori Morgand and Mustang Penny from High Rock HMA
Heather Edginton riding her mustang Madison from Twin Peaks HMA.jpg
5-04-03-Nancy & Sparky3.jpg
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