The fastest gallop of a Mustang horse was recorded at 88 kilometers per hour, or roughly 54 miles per hour. Averaging about 14-15 hands in size, the speed of Mustangs is actually comparable to other mid-sized horse breeds.
The History of the Mustang Horse
The modern Mustang is a descendant of the Iberian or Spanish horses that were initially brought to North and Central America in the 1500s. The name of this breed comes from the Spanish word “mustengo.” It literally translates as “ownerless beast.”
In other words, a Mustang is called a stray horse. For this reason, it is only natural to believe that the wild horses which still wander our continents are all just Mustangs of different sizes, shapes, and colors. The modern breed of Mustang, however, is a combination of older domesticated horses that escaped, quarter horses, and draft horses.
In the United States, because the these ownerless beasts are the descendants of previous horses that were domesticated, they are officially classified as being “feral” horses instead of being “wild” horses. This designation gives the government certain rights over the horses, allowing them to be gathered, re-domesticated, and sold to new owners – or for less ethical reasons, like food products or consumable goods.
Mustang advocates believe that these horses are similar to the Tarpan and Przewalski breeds and should be classified as wild. Without intervention, it is believed that the Mustang population could double every 4 years since they have no natural predators. This is why their populations are controlled.
How Do Horses Get Their Speed?
On a normal gallop, the average horse can maintain a speed of 25-30 mph for some time. What makes the horse so fast is in the structure of their foot or leg. Alan Wilson, who is associated with the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom, compares the leg of a horse to a pogo stick. The energy stored is within the tendons and muscles of the leg so that the horse is propelled both forwards and upwards.
Horses that are particularly fast can bring their legs forward quickly so that the next stride can take place. This is why smaller and mid-size horses tend to be faster than large horses or those which have long legs.
What is unique about the modern horse is that many of them are bred from horses which are known to have great speed. For Thoroughbreds, nearly 4 out of every 5 horses born today has the 18th century champion Eclipse in their pedigree. We know that when horses are bred from fast horses, you've got a chance to have fast offspring.
What we don't really know is what makes some horses faster than others in the first place.
Could It Be That Average Is What Is Better?
What makes the Mustang horse so fast is what could unlock the secrets of speed for all other breeds. From reporting by LiveScience, Wilson and his team set out to determine what could make a horse become faster than other horses. They focused on Eclipse in particular because of how extensive his pedigree happens to be. They even created computer models of Eclipse based on what has been recorded about his size, shape, and structure.
Then Wilson compared the results of that computer modeling to the size, shape, and structure of the modern horse. What they found was that Eclipse fit into “normal” categories with almost absolute perfection. In essence, because Eclipse was the epitome of the “average” horse, he was able to produce more speed than any other horse.
This means breeding racehorses that have powerful pogo sticks for legs may not be the right solution when trying to develop speed. For the Mustang, it means focusing on what makes the breed be average.
What does the average Mustang look like? Outside of their size, they typically weigh about 800 pounds when fully mature, but may weigh as much as 1,100 pounds. Height and weight should always be in proportion with this breed. Mustangs come in a wide variety of colors, but the usual color you will see is either sorrel or bay, which is chestnut or bay. Patches, stripes, and spots on Mustangs are also common with their colorization.
Mustangs also tend to have smooth muscles with a short back, a low tail set, and a rounded rump. Coupling should be smooth, which gives this breed a balanced appearance. The average Mustang will also have laid-back shoulders and withers that are fairly pronounced. Mustangs that are above 15 hands in size are, in fact, faulted when evaluated for breed standards. The forehead tapers to a fine muzzle which is never coarse or large.
The mouth of a Mustang should be shallow, without an underbite or a parrot mouth. Mustangs with lips that are coarse, thick, or floppy will generally be faulted. Nostrils are set low on the nose and the eyes may be of any color.
Mustangs can actually thrive in environments where there is very little food. In times of plenty, an adult Mustang might eat 5-6 pounds of grass, brush, or small animals that they come across in the grasslands of the central and western United States.
Not All Horses Get Their Speed From Galloping
For most Mustangs, they get their speed from being at a full gallop. Short bursts of galloping tend to produce the highest levels of speed. Sustainable galloping for the Mustang will usually produce speeds that are about 50% of what their top burst speed happens to be.
But not every Mustang will actually gallop. Because there is mixed lineage within this breed, there are some horses that tend to follow the personality of the standardbred and prefer a fast trot instead of a fast gallop. The Mustangs that tend to prefer trotting to galloping tend to have lines that are long and low.
Or as Wilson might say, trotters tend to take advantage of a smaller pogo stick.
Just because a horse is a trotter instead of preferring a gallop doesn't mean that the horse is actually slower. Many trotters can produce the same average speeds for their breed as the horses which prefer to gallop.
How a horse is cared for while it is growing up will also affect its speed. Horses raised in controlled conditions may actually be a little slower than horses raised in the wild because of a lesser fight-or-flight mechanism. The food availability for a horse will also affect its speed, as will whatever training it may have received.
Is the Mustang an Endangered Horse?
According to the Humane Society, there are an estimated 25,000 Mustangs that continue to live in the wild within the borders of the United States. About a century ago, it was believed that there were up to 2 million Mustangs that were living as ownerless beasts. Because of this, advocates for the breed are petitioning to have them classified as an endangered species, although that classification so far has not yet been approved.
Other Interesting Facts About the Mustang Horse
Mustangs typically live in large herds. The typical herd consists of one stallion, about 6-8 female horses, and all of their offspring. Although the herds will typically remain independent of one another, they have been known to blend or merge when they believe that danger is near.
The only exception to this structure is if there isn't a stallion for the herd that is about 6 years of age or older. In that situation, the oldest mare will typically be in charge of the heard. In dangerous situations, the head mare will also take the herd away from danger while the stallion stays behind to fight as a way to protect the rest of the horses.
Mustangs also like to wrestle. Many people who are unfamiliar with this breed tend to think the horses are fighting each other when they see this happen, but it's simply a game. This wrestling activity may even help to develop the top speed of the horse. If they are living in the wild, Mustangs are known to live for up to 40 years. Even if a horse becomes injured or disabled, the rest of the herd will rally to protect that horse, which allows them to live remarkably long lives compared to other animals.
What does this all mean? That for the Mustang, their own unique preferences can affect their speed. Different footfalls are common with this breed. Some prefer a fast gait and others prefer a slow gait. Yet, when the conditions are just right, the Mustang can also be explosively fast. These horses are intelligent, have an innate sense of self, and will not take anything they believe to be abuse.
For this reason, if you want to get the most speed possible out of a Mustang, then just give it love and let it find its feet. In doing so, you'll tap into the might power of that horse's pogo stick legs.