Wild Horses And Cattle: The Popular Livestock


Wild Horses and cattle, the two most popular livestock in America’s western rangelands, may not seem to have much in common. In fact, they are vastly different in appearance, but one major similarity they share is their relationship with human development. In the case of wild horses, this is their continued survival.

The history of wild horses can be traced back to prehistoric times, with stories of their great strength and ability to race down the game. But the introduction of cattle by the Spanish made it necessary for farmers to find new methods to keep livestock in better condition. An early alternative was the use of horses for plowing. This practice became more widespread as cattle became more abundant in the American West.

Some Facts About Wild Horses And Cattle

Cattle were introduced to the West as a way to increase rangeland ecology, improve the land, and make it more productive. Although some ranchers did attempt to keep horses on the range, most preferred using cattle instead.

Wild Horses And Cattle: The Popular Livestock
Wild Horses And Cattle: The Popular Livestock

However, cattle also meant more competition for horses. Cattle owners, fearing that wild horses would compete for the same grazing resources as cattle, fought to keep horses off the range as much as possible. But this wasn’t enough to discourage wild horses from competing with cattle.

As more horses were imported from Mexico, Arizona, and Texas to graze in ranch lands, the cattle and rangeland ecosystems faced a new challenge. As more horses arrived in the West, their numbers grew out of control, and less of the population had close proximity to cattle.

Some Problems Faced

As a result, there was an imbalance between the number of horses and the number of cattle on the range, which in turn caused problems for the ecosystem. Each herd that moved into an area caused the rangeland to become more crowded and even disorganized. Eventually, this created a situation where the herd would not move on to a new location without causing some kind of disturbance, which then caused the environment to shift and create new ecological problems.

Because of the ecological problems caused by horse population growth, no rancher wanted to have any horses on the range, except for those who needed to be managed for health and energy. They also wanted to keep the horses in safe locations to prevent them from running down livestock.

Wild Horses And Cattle: The Popular Livestock
Wild Horses And Cattle: The Popular Livestock

Because of the lack of space available in rangeland areas, many ranchers found that they had to use fencing to help regulate the horse population. At the same time, they used more traps and other types of preventative measures to keep the population from getting out of control. The idea was to create a safe environment for horses and cattle.

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With more cattle around, horse numbers also declined. In addition, because cattle were migrating into the West, horses were now on the move as well. And as more horses were left on the range, ranchers had to fight to keep them in safe locations and away from potential conflicts with cattle.

Today, ranchers’ efforts to control the horse population are often unsuccessful. Not only do horses continue to migrate into the West from Mexico, but also, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has begun a program to euthanize some horses that are not healthy. This issue is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Cattle producers who want to use horses to graze on their land have some options. They can either keep a riding stable with horses and tote dogs or they can train horses to graze on their land for them.

Bottom Line

Wild horses and cattle will continue to coexist, but their relationship is at risk of being disrupted by cattle ranches and other livestock producers. However, with the ability of modern technology to help, ranch operations are finding creative ways to keep the horses and cattle together. As long as management practices remain flexible, cattle and horses may exist side-by-side on the American West’s rangelands.