Have you ever watched a group of horses running free in a large field? Their grace and beauty is a sight to behold.
Hundreds of years ago, horses roamed wild and free in many areas of the United States. Over time, though, many of these horses were caught and tamed, which means their natural avoidance of humans was overcome and they were taught to accept the presence of humans.
Over successive generations, tame horses could be bred so that they passed along a genetic predisposition toward humans. When this occurred, they were considered domesticated. In this way, wild horses were first tamed and, over time, domesticated, so that they could be used for transportation and to do all sorts of different types of work.
So are there any wild horses left? Sort of! The answer is not a simple one. The wild horse is a specific species called Equus ferus. Within this species, there are a few subspecies, including the modern domesticated horse (Equus ferus caballus) and the undomesticated Tarpan and Przewalski's Horse.
Unfortunately, the Tarpan became extinct in the 1800s. Przewalski's Horse almost became extinct, but it was saved and reintroduced into the wild. Today, Przewalski's Horse is a rare endangered species that can only be found in limited numbers in Mongolia and China.
What most people think of as “wild" horses are actually feral horses, such as the Mustang. These feral horses are actually untamed descendants of the subspecies of domesticated horses. Therefore, they're not truly “wild" horses, but merely domesticated horses that haven't been tamed.
To be truly “wild," these feral horses would need to have biological ancestors that were never domesticated. However, they are “wild" in the sense that they are untamed and live on their own in the wild unlike modern domesticated horses.
Herds of feral horses can be found in several places around the world. For example, the Brumby is similar to the American Mustang and can be found throughout Australia. Other feral herds can be found in Portugal, Scotland, and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to the outer banks of North Carolina.
Some of the most popular feral herds can be found on Assateague Island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. The horses are split into two main herds. The United States National Park Service manages the Maryland herd, while the Virginia herd is managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
These feral herds remain untamed and have grown accustomed to the tough living conditions on the island, which include hot weather, huge mosquito populations, severe storms, and poor food supplies. Many children first learn about the Assateague horses from Marguerite Henry's famous book, Misty of Chincoteague.