Wild Horse Habitats: Where Do Horses Live in America?

Wild Horse Habitats: Where Do Horses Live in America?

Often, when we think of horses, we might imagine calm, domesticated animals living on a ranch. On the other hand, the wild horses of America—what do they do all day? Where do they go? As professionals in wild mustang photography, we’ve gained some understanding of these majestic creatures. Allow us to teach you where horses live in America.

Environment and Terrain

You may be surprised to learn that wild horses naturally thrive in relatively severe conditions, despite how pampered some domestic horses are. Wild horses tend to do best in environments with plenty of wide-open space like arid plains, grasslands, prairies, high deserts, and mountainous regions.

The main social unit of wild horses is referred to as a harem or band and consists of one or more adult males, one or more adult females, young horses of both sexes not yet having left the band, and the foals of that foaling year. The primary social roles of a band stallion are reproduction, defending his harem from potential predators or invading stallions, recruiting more harem members, and herding or ‘snaking’ his harem away from intruders. The primary social role of a dominant harem mare is herding and defending the harem in the absence of the band stallion and taking over the ‘group’ activity, such as relocating for forage or water. As herd animals, you’ll rarely find lone horses; if you do, they are often retired band stallions.

The varied landscapes wild horses call home are in America’s ten western states, along with a pocket in North Dakota and a few herds on the outer banks of Eastern America.

Climate and Weather

Given the locations of wild horse habitats and where they live in America, it’s no surprise that wild horses can survive in climates that are hot with little rain and produce cold, harsh winters. These areas are prone to drought and see very little plant growth. Because of how little rain these habitats receive, water sources are often uncommon.

Food and Water

Wild horses are predominantly grazers. While most of a wild horse’s diet consists of grasses, the forage species consumed by wild horses varies daily, seasonally, and based on availability. Forbs and browse also play a small role in a wild horse’s diet, and it is well adapted to this type of food consumption. It has a small stomach built to handle continuous, modest amounts of food, not large meals. When grass and forbs are nonexistent, wild horses will turn to browse like twigs, leaves, bushes, or tree bark.

As for water, horses have been known to travel up to 12 hours to water from feeding grounds. Thus, the availability of water strongly influences movement patterns, especially in summer months. Additionally, it varies by sex and reproductive status. Horses will seek out springs, lakes, rivers, ponds, and pools of water. Even snow provides adequate water in the winter. During severe drought conditions, horses can locate seeps of water using their innate sense of smell.