Rare Breed Feature - The Kiger Mustang
 By mosquito   •   1st Jan 2010   •   9,947 views   •   7 comments
There are hundreds of breeds of horses. Thanks to centuries of selective breeding, man has managed to create beautiful horses fit for almost any purpose. We tend to think of them according to what they are bred for – like Standardbreds for harness racing – or the country they come from – like the Camargue horses of France or Arabians from the deserts of the Near East. But sometimes a horse comes along – wild and untamed for decades, and thousands of miles from its ancestors and closest relatives, and untouched by human intervention. The Kiger mustang of the American Northwest is just one of these breeds.

The Kiger were first discovered in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Oregon Roundup in the 1970’s, in a scrubby, desert area riddled with canyons called Beatty’s Butte. These beautiful horses were thickset, with strong arched necks and a high head carriage. Their long, thick manes and tails separated them from the wild mustangs of the plains States, and they looked much more like the Andalusian and Lusitano horses we know of Spain and Portugal. Genetic testing was done on some of the horses, and sure enough, they were very closely related to their Iberian counterparts. The only conclusion could be that these were an isolated group of mustangs descended from the first horses ever brought to that area, by the Spanish in the 1700s.

But how did they get there, and how did they manage to keep the traits of their ancient ancestors, even down to the tiger striped leg markings and dorsal stripes of the original Spanish imports? In many ways, these wild horses, without the interference of man, were closer to their Spanish ancestors than the Andalusian horses in Spain. This is why the predominant colors of the Kigers are dun and grullo much like the original Spanish horses on the 1600s. Indeed, because of their isolation in the canyons of Oregon, the Kiger may be the closest remaining example of the original Spanish horses of the Conquistadors.

The Spanish Conquistadors first arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the mid 18th century. It could only be that some of their horses escaped or were left behind when the Spaniards decided the area was to rough, infertile, and hostile to settle. The horses seem to have become trapped among the canyons of the Oregon deserts, were they remained undetected for centuries – it had been assumed until the Roundup that any descendants of the Spanish explorers had long since died out. Other wild and domesticated herds thrived nearby the Nez Perce and Palouse tribes were not far away, where the Appaloosa breed was born. It is a testament to the rugged and isolated terrain that the Kiger mustangs never crossed paths with either the horses of these tribes, or those of the increasing number of settlers arriving from the east along the Oregon Trail!

One thing the BLM knew for sure was that these were very special horses indeed. They selected some fine examples from the roundup, and placed them to start new herds in two other wild horse management areas, Steen and Kiger. These herds still exist, and the Kiger mustang is growing and thriving under BLM protection and management.

The Kigers are today still very similar to their Spanish ancestors. They are slightly smaller than most horses, averaging around 14-15 hands, and the predominant color is dun. This is a trait they share with other descendants of those early Spanish arrivals to North America, such as the Criollo, which is a ‘primitive’ trait called the ‘dun factor’. They have the delicate, pointed ears of Arabians, but other than that their overall ‘look’ is similar to the Andalusian chesty, with a high arched neck, and a short, well muscled back.

Ever since that first round up and the investigations by the BLM into the origins of these horses, the Kiger has been managed as an established breed. Some horses were selected early on for their extraordinary beauty and presence, and these horses formed the foundation of the Kigers we have today. One such horse, called Steen’s Kiger, was selected in 1978 to start the breeding program of the first Kiger stud farm in Bend Oregon, KM Ranch. Many of the Kiger horses in captivity today can trace their ancestry to Steen’s Kiger – and many of you will know Steen’s Kiger’s son Donner as the source for the Dreamwork’s animated film 'Spirit – Stallion of the Cimarron'.

Another famous Kiger is one of the stallions form the original Beatty’s Butte roundup. Named ‘Mesteno’, which means ‘untamed’ in Spanish, this handsome stallion was one of the ones released back into the wild at Steen’s Mountain to found a new herd. His extraordinary importance and great beauty meant he was the first horse Breyer used to make a series of models documenting his life, called ‘Mesteno’. Mesteno was last seen at the age of 27 in 1996, no longer able to keep a band of mares himself, but there are many legends of recent sighting of him in the eerie light and shadows of the Steen’s Mountain canyons.

Kigers are rare, but they make excellent riding horses. Like most mustangs, they excel in endurance and packing, and make sure footed and courageous trail horses. Many others have gone on to show in English and Western events, and there is a regular Kiger show, the ‘Kigerfest’, where owners and breeders bring their horses to compete in a variety of events. Kigers are intelligent and well mannered horses and they are intelligent enough to adapt to many kinds of events and activities.

Ever since 1971 the BLM has had the responsibility to protect, manage, and control wild horse populations. Because the Kiger herds are confined by their geography, controlling their numbers is critical to ensure their health, and the longevity of the breed. The BLM does conduct occasional roundups of Kigers from the various Wild Horse Management Areas, and these horses are made available for adoption at rare intervals. Adopting any wild horse, even a Kiger, is a big responsibility only for experienced horse people with the right facilities. However, if you really want to own a Kiger, there are many breeders now who raise Kigers in captivity and offer horses for sale.

If you want to see the Kigers in the wild, you’re in luck. The herds are well tracked, and their territories are small. A visit to western Oregon can easily include a ride out to see the horses, and there are many ranches that will take you on a tour. The horses and the herds are well-known, and you can usually find someone who can tell you about many of the horses in any herd. There’s also a Kiger in residence at the Kentucky Horse Park. Cougar was adopted in 1990, and in the 1990s made his mark in reining and as a working cow horse, competing at the highest levels before retiring to be the selected example of the Kiger at the Park.

Want to know more? Visit the BLM Oregon website at, the Kiger Mesteno Association,, and the Steen’s Mountain Kiger Registry,

What do you think about the Kigers? Have you ever seen any wild horses? Have you ever adopted one? Tell us about your experience with mustangs!
Horse News More In This Category:  General      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
DejaVu  MOD 
I've never seen a Kiger but what I've read about them they sound like great horses. In the future if and when I look for another horse, I'd be interested in owning a Kiger mustang.
  Jan 1, 2010  •  5,255 views
I live in Oregon so I see a lot of Mustangs and a lot of Kigers. In fact I almost bought a Kiger, but Mustangs have a tendency to be short and I need tall horses. They're gorgeous horses and extremely smart.
  Jan 1, 2010  •  5,213 views
I did a report on Kigers in school.
  Jan 1, 2010  •  5,693 views
Dead Moon  
My dad and me have adopted alot of Kingers and Mustangs in our past. We've kept some and had to sell or give some to other barns. I can't ride them becuase they are to small and stocky for me. I have to hhave tall horses. I' ve worked with them and they are very cleaver so be careful.
  Jan 1, 2010  •  5,305 views
Kiger Mustangs are AMAZING horses! They are very rare in this area, my friend owns quite a few. They are so kind and forgiving. I have ridden/shown them with her family! Real great horses, they can do any dicipline, or would be great even just as a pasture pet!
  Jan 1, 2010  •  5,199 views
Little Bitty Farm  
Great article!
  May 9, 2011  •  5,226 views
a person that used to be my horseback riding instructor has a kiger gelding.
He tries to avoid most people, but once he knows he can trust you, He's the sweetest thing ever.
  Dec 30, 2011  •  5,474 views
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