The Ways of the Mustang

Photo by Carol Walker, Living Images
February 28, 2011

After a while, he admits defeat. He heads back to his camp where he and his wife get their campfire going. Suddenly, de Steiguer hears something on the bluff above them. He looks up and there is a stallion, brood mare and foal staring down at them. Horses and humans freeze, and de Steiguer’s heart races. Then the stallion snorts and stamps his hoof, and the mustangs charge away into the mountains.

“I think most people don’t realize that there are still wild horses that live in the Western part of the United States. But once they do find out about these wild horses, people find it very romantic and exciting. That’s how it was for me,” says de Steiguer.

His curiosity about a law governing the management of wild horses led the professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment to spend six years researching and writing Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America’s Mustangs, which will be published this month by the UA Press.

Today’s wild herds are descended from the horse brought by the Spanish, English and Northern Europeans. De Steiguer writes about how the presence of horses helped settle the West and changed Native American culture and society.

But the controversial part of Wild Horses of the West deals with the attempts by the federal government to manage the wild mustangs. Periodically, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removes wild horses off its 200 wild horse management areas in the Western plains. It is important to achieve an appropriate management level, says de Steiguer. But when the BLM uses helicopters to herd the animals into holding pens, horses sometimes get killed in the process. And some mustangs taken out of the wild are kept in long-term holding facilities under grim conditions, which has horse protection groups protesting.

“I was guided and motivated in the writing of my book by my concern for the humane treatment of the mustangs,” says de Steiguer. “I’ve never written a trade book before, but I felt it was important to bring the story of the wild horses of the west to lay people. There’s a certain magic and romanticism about wild horses that attracts us all.”

View YouTube- "Ways of the Mustang"

De Steiguer presented the book at the Tucson Festival of Books, a world-class event that draws authors and readers from around the world to the campus of the University of Arizona. He was one of three authors on a panel entitled "Writers' Roundup: Exploring the Plight of America's Free-Roaming Horses."