Wild horses have long held a special place in our imagination. For the Mongolian wild horses, it was a place that almost became extinct. At one point, there were less than 20 of these majestic creatures left on our planet and all of them were kept in zoos. In the last two decades, however, there have been efforts to reintroduce these horses back into the wild.
Mongolian wild horses are a very interesting breed of horse to get to know. Here are some additional facts that will help to inspire the imagination.
#1. Mongolian wild horses go by one of two different names.
The most common name for the Mongolian wild horse is “Prezewalski’s Horse,” named after a Russian explorer who is credited with discovering them in the 1800s. There are mentions of this wild horse in literature that date back more than 300 years, so some prefer to call this breed the Dzungarian horse. Once classified as being extinct in the wild, it has moved in recent years from being classified as critically endangered to just endangered.
#2. Just 9 horses make up the modern foundation stock of the Mongolian wild horse.
Despite the fact that so few horses are responsible for all of the current Mongolian wild horses that are living on our planet, the breed is considered to be genetically stable. There has been a concerted effort by everyone involved in this breed’s preservation to make it as genetically diverse as possible. A studbook is kept by one of the zoos which helped to keep this breed alive and it tracks the known parentage of every single horse that is alive today.
#3. Mongolian wild horses place an emphasis on family.
The social structures of the Mongolian wild horse are very similar to the structures that humans put together for themselves. This breed prefers to live with a family unit, which usually comprises a single stallion and then 1-3 mares. Any offspring that is produced by the family will stay with the group for around 2-3 years as well. The family units are permanent.
Then groups of family units will come together to form a herd. These communities will roam around together, searching for food, and providing mutually beneficial protection for each other. Each family unit maintains visual contact will all of their family members at all times and will do the same for the community herd as well.
#4. Young stallions can challenge for control of a family.
Once a youngster reaches the age of 3, they will begin to strike out on their own to find their own family unit. Males generally don’t reach maturity until age 5, so there is a period of 12-24 months where they are typically on their own.
During their search, a young stallion may come across a family unit with an older stallion who could be smaller or weaker. In the social structures of this breed, the younger stallion could challenge for control of the family. If he should win, the mares would go with him – along with any previous offspring that had been born.
Challenges within a family structure may also occur when there are only a handful of horses to form a herd, but this is a fairly rare circumstance.
#5. Mongolian wild horses could be their own species of horse.
The Mongolian wild horses are considered to be the only true “wild” horse that exists. They have never been domesticated. In fact, when comparing them to domesticated horses, there are some distinct genetic differences. One example of this is the number of chromosomes that the wild horses have compared to that of domesticated horses.
Mongolian wild horses have 66 chromosome pairs, while domesticated horses have just 64 pairs. Evidence suggests that the domesticated breeds and the wild horses are closely related and have experienced interbreeding in the past, but each is a distinct species. Their divergence may have occurred as far back as 250,000 years ago.
#6. The last truly wild horses of this breed were seen in 1969.
Up until the late 1700s, the Mongolian wild horses flourished in an area that ran from Northern China, through Mongolian, and then west to Kazakhstan and the Russian Steppes. The last truly wild encounter for these horses occurred in 1969, just north of the Gobi Desert.
For this reason, reintroduction efforts of this horse have occurred within these regions, as well as nature sanctuaries in Europe. This has allowed researchers to study the social and behavioral habits of this breed, allowing them to understand more about how horses think, feel, and make decisions. This research has helped to refine many horsemanship processes that are used with every breed of horse.
#7. Humans and Mongolian wild horses have co-existed for over 10,000 years.
The earliest records of the Mongolian wild horse come from paintings, engravings, and tool decorations that date as far back as the Magdalenian period. Cave drawings throughout Europe and Asia show horses that look remarkably like the Mongolian wild horse. This places the earliest interactions of humans with this breed at 9000 BC.
Some estimates have humans and these wild horses interacting with one another as early as 20,000 BC.
#8. A Tibetan monk is likely the first to have written about the Mongolian wild horse.
The first known written account of the Mongolian wild horse is within a text that was written by Bodowa, a monk who lived around the year 900. There are additional mentions of this horse in The Secret History of the Mongols, with an encounter dated at 1226.
In Mongolia, wild horses were considered to be a rare and prestigious gift, often offered for special occasions in the 1600s and 1700s. All of this predates the modern “discovery” of this horse, but the name Prezewalski is still most commonly associated with the breed.
#9. Mongolian wild horses are not considered to be feral, despite the fact that the current breed was kept within zoological environments.
Most wild horses today, including Mustangs and Brumbies, are considered to be feral horses instead of being wild. This is because their lineage comes from horses that were once domesticated. Instead of living in the wild, Mustangs and Brumbies adapted to the wild because of their circumstances.
For the Mongolian wild horse, they remain the only true wild horse, despite the breed being saved through captivity. This is because the social structures of this breed were never altered by captivity.
There are wild equine species, such as zebras, kiangs, and onagers, but when it comes to the actual horse, it is the Mongolian wild horse that stands alone.
#10. The offspring of Mongolian wild horses and domesticated horses is not sterile.
A Mongolian wild horse and a domesticated horse were mated once and their offspring wound up having 65 chromosome pairs. This is consistent with what happens when a domesticated horse and donkeys or zebras are mated together as well. Other equine species have 62 chromosome pairs, so their offspring with a domesticated horse would split the difference and have 63 pairs.
This makes the mule or the zorse be a sterile animal in most circumstances.
For the offspring of the wild horse and a domesticated horse, it can still reproduce despite having one less chromosome pair. This further reinforces the idea that the Mongolian wild horse is its own species in addition to being a horse breed.
#11. Mongolian wild horses have recovered very quickly.
The 9 horses that make up the current breed of Mongolian wild horses were descendants of about 15 captured horses from around the year 1900. Since 1945, when the total known population of this horse was just 13, it has risen to a number that is over 1,500 today.
This recovery is due, in part, to the adaptability of the Mongolian wild horse to different environments. One herd, for example, is thriving on its own in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, having lived there since its introduction in 1998.
#12. Mongolian wild horses are a fairly small and stocky breed.
The Mongolian wild horse is much smaller than most domesticated breeds. The average horse for this breed will stand at a maximum of 14 hands and weigh less than 700 pounds. Under regular classification groupings, this would make the Mongolian wild horse more of a pony, but it is treated as a standard horse.
Most of the horses are dun in color, often having yellow or white coloration around the belly and muzzle to compliment a fairly light brown overall coat. The legs of these horses can be striped and they typically have shorter hair and a longer dock than domesticated horses.
Mongolian wild horses are an incredibly hearty breed, requiring less food and water than the average domesticated horse. This durability has helped the breed be able to recover from near extinction and is now getting the chance to once again thrive out in the wild. They are indeed a rare gift that should be treasured whenever they happen to be seen.