Mustangs are typically feral horses that have been living in the wild for some time. Even if a Mustang has been domesticated and there are several generations of domestication for a family line, this feral nature and the wild herd mentality never really leaves the Mustang horse temperament. These horses, which originally came from the Spanish more than 400 years ago, are used to being charge.
This independence creates a horse that tends to be quite stubborn, especially if you’re asking the horse to do something it doesn’t want to do. This temperament is especially noticeable in the horses that have been taken out of the wild, even after they have been properly trained. With the right rider, however, a Mustang can be willing and cooperative, ready to seek out an adventure. That is why Mustangs are often thought of as one of the best riding horses in the world today.
It is also why Mustangs are one of the easiest breeds to care for in the equine world. It is quite sturdy. Give the horse access to an adequate pasture and plenty of exercise and you’ll be creating the foundation of a happy horse with a friendly temperament.
Mustangs Tend to Have Individual Personalities
Although the generalized Mustang horse temperament is very close to being hotblooded, it is difficult to say that there is an “average” Mustang horse out there. Each one tends to have its own personality, whether it has been living in a feral herd or at a farm where every wish has been granted to the horse since foaling.
You can have a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Mustang that is naturally sweet, curious, and friendly. They can be great with people from their first encounter. Some will be gentle with people, but incredibly dominant with other horses because of the alpha herd mentality that Mustangs tend to have. In many ways, a feral Mustang is not that different from any other domestic breed of horse.
This herd mentality does tend to create a certain stubbornness and protectiveness that can get the horse into trouble at times. Mustangs tend to identify one person as the “herd leader” and will become protective of that person. Even in a family environment, if the horse feels like its “leader” is being threatened, it may become aggressive with another person in the family. This aggressiveness may be magnified if there are strangers around.
Mustangs also prefer to be cared for by their established “leader,” so it can be difficult to bring someone in to work with the horse. This includes a veterinarian or a farrier. If specific care does need to be provided, the Mustang tends to stay calm only if their “leader” happens to be present in some way.
Mustangs Often Aim to Please
Once a relationship has been established with a Mustang, they tend to be a very willing breed. They’ll be more willing with the “alpha” than anyone else, but there is also a general desire to please once that relationship has been formed. You’ll find that most Mustangs have a desire to earn and maintain trust within that relationship, trying extremely hard for the rider or trainer. They are eager, curious, and pretty forgiving if you have a preferred treat lying around that can be offered as an apology.
You’ll find that there are some very laidback Mustangs, even when brought out of the wild, that prefer to be lazy and would rather snuggle with someone than do any exercise or work. Then there are the Mustangs that are spirited, proud, and noble who will initially demand that you earn their respect instead of the other way around.
That is why the Mustang is a breed that is often highly sought. Adoptions are often very affordable, especially when working with the BLM, and the rewards that come with an established relationship can be fantastic.
This means that a Mustang tends to be a little less stubborn than other popular breeds, such as the Appaloosa. They also tend to have about the same energy levels as a Thoroughbred. Each can be affected by the amount of time they have spent with humans, training that they may have had, and other exposure incidents they may have had.
How to Choose a Mustang with a Compatible Personality
Many of the challenges that are seen within the Mustang breed can be directly attributed to personality conflicts that arise between horse and human. Choosing a Mustang with a personality that is compatible with your own will help you be able to work together as a team in the future. That means you’ll want to look for specific traits before agreeing to take on a horse.
If you enjoy a horse that has a lot of spirit, then a Mustang that prefers to be lazy and play with stall toys is not likely going to be a positive relationship. On the other hand, if you prefer a horse that likes to snuggle instead of a horse that tries to knock a rider on their back to have a good laugh, then the spirited horse is going to be a personality conflict between the two of you that will be difficult to resolve.
Your ability to work with a horse must also be part of the consideration process. Many people are attracted to Mustangs that have high energy levels because they offer flashy optics and nostalgic memories of times gone by. Without experience, that spirited personality is going to dominate your property and create a daily headache when it comes time to interact with the horse.
It is possible to tell from the appearance of a Mustang where its herd ranking tends to be. Dominant horses rarely have bite marks on their body. Lower-ranking herd members that are spirited will have bite marks on their shoulders, neck, and face. Lower-ranking herd members that are shy and laidback tend to have marks on their hindquarters and hips because they prefer to avoid confrontation.
The first two herd members listed will be energetic. The alpha horses will be extremely spirited and could attempt to put you into a subordinate role as well. The timid horse, on the other hand, will need to be given opportunities to gain confidence so that they want to do more than spend a sunny afternoon alone in the pasture.
There is also a noticeable difference with Mustang stallions. Stallions will have a strong desire for dominance with the herd mentality of this breed. They also tend to be focused on the dynamics of the herd, including protection and mating, which can make it difficult to interact with them on a personal level.
Mustang horse temperament can be variable, so it is up to each person to look at the specific attributes of personality the horse displays. This will help you be able to find the right relationship.