Strictly speaking, there are no more wild horses in the world anymore. The last truly wild horses vanished from North America about 12,000 years ago, towards the end of the last ice age. But American mustangs, Australian brumbies and other feral horse populations are so untamed by nature that they’re as good as wild. Their spirit of independence was so strong that they escaped from the chains of domestication to roam free in some of the wildest landscapes on Earth. These wild horses appeal to the part of our imagination that also yearns to be wild and live free. It’s the same part that responds, “Hell yeah!” when a rank outsider beats the odds in online sports betting. Read on for more about the world’s most extreme equines. They’re a million miles from the ones that compete in horse-racing tournaments, as you’ll discover.
The world’s most iconic wild horses have to be the mustangs of the American West. Their ancestors arrived more than five centuries ago with the Spanish conquistadors. Today they roam free in North Dakota, Montana and North Carolina, protected by law as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” Mustangs are incredibly hardy and have been known to gallop at speeds of up to 54mph. The Extreme Mustang Race is a horse racing tournament in which cowboys and their mustangs have to maneuver through a series of obstacles against the clock. There’s nothing quite like it.
Another North American feral equine population is the Chincoteague ponies of the East Coast. They live on Assateague Island, which is divided in two by the border of Maryland and Virginia. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge hosts the Virginia ponies, while the Assateague Island National Seashore hosts the Maryland ponies.
For the most adorable feral ponies, visit Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park. The US Forest Service introduced ponies several decades ago to prevent vegetation from growing over logging trails, and now their friendly faces are a common sight along the state’s hiking trails.
Australia has the world’s largest population of wild horses. At least one million “brumbies,” as the horses are known, roam free throughout the continent. The most famous herds are the Kosciuszko brumbies, as featured in the classic 1982 film, The Man from Snowy River.
Between 4,000 and 8,000 of them inhabit the icy mountains of Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales. They’re descended from horses that escaped or were lost by early European settlers, as well as thoroughbreds brought in for horse racing from 1810 onwards. Today, brumbies are considered an invasive species that poses serious threats to native plants and wildlife. At the same time, they’re an iconic symbol of Australia.
The Konik horse is a semi-feral horse breed with dun coloring and dorsal stripes, like the horses seen in ancient cave paintings. Short and stocky with a small head and thick mane, the Konik looks a lot like the extinct Tarpan, the indigenous wild horse of the Eurasian Steppe. Also known as Polish primitive horses, Koniks were kept as hardy workhorses for centuries. Today, many of them live in nature reserves such as Popielno, in the north, and Roztocze National Park, in the southeast of Poland.
A different population of feral horses inhabits the Danube Delta region of Romania. Small herds have lived in the delta’s wetlands and forests for centuries, but their numbers have mushroomed since the 1990s, when many people closed their farms and released their horses into the wild. Today the population numbers approximately 4,000, posing a risk to indigenous animal and plant life.
Some of the most historic wild horse populations can be found in England and Wales. The vast moorland of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, southwest England, is where the famous ponies live. Short, stocky and exceptionally hardy, Dartmoor ponies have the stamina and strength to endure the extreme weather conditions that prevail on the moors. Unfortunately, human population expansion has caused their numbers to decline from tens of thousands to just a few hundred. The Dartmoor Pony Club hosts a number of horse racing tournaments for riders 10-15 years old, on ponies 4ft 6in and under.
Welsh mountain ponies have been around since before the Roman Empire. Part of the Welsh pony and cob group of closely related equines, Welsh mountain ponies are probably descended from a prehistoric Celtic breed. Today, a herd of around 200 of these tough characters roams the Carneddau hills of Snowdonia in North Wales.
To see the rarest and wildest of all feral horses, you’ll have to travel to Namibia. The Namib Desert Horse roams the barren Garub Plains of the Namib Desert. They look like handsome thoroughbreds and seem to thrive in the harsh desert conditions, where they live completely independently of humans. Nobody knows exactly how they first arrived on the African continent. One theory has it that their ancestors originally served in the German cavalry during the First World War, when Namibia was the colony of German South West Africa. Another possibility is that they swam ashore from a shipwrecked cargo ship carrying thoroughbreds to Australia for horse racing. If that’s true, then they’re distant relatives of the brumbies – talk about horse racing odds! Today the Namib Desert Horse population is a strong tourist draw, and the local government has incorporated their territory into Namib-Naukluft Park and Tsau/Khaeb National Park to protect them.
For a long time, scientists considered Przewalski’s horse – native to northern parts of Asia – to be the only true wild horse to survive until modern times. That theory was overturned when DNA analysis revealed that Przewalski’s horse is probably descended from domesticated horses kept by the prehistoric north Asian Botai people. Whatever the case, Przewalski’s horse became extinct in the wild during the 20th century, with the last wild mare captured in 1957 to give the captive population’s genome a boost.
Thanks to a successful breeding program, conservationists reintroduced Przewalski’s horse to three nature reserves in Mongolia: Khustain Nuruu National Park, Great Gobi “B” Strictly Protected Area and Khomiin Tal. Today, there are more than 400 in these reserves. Przewalski’s horses have also been reintroduced to the Kalamaili Nature Reserve in China’s Xinjiang Province, as well as the Orenburg Nature Reserve in Russia’s southern Ural Mountains. Another area where Przewalski’s horse is alive and well is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. Presumably, the population swelled amid the absence of humans following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Channel the spirit of the wild horse
It’s a long way for most US horse lovers to travel to North Dakota or Montana, let alone to farther-flung destinations such as Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe and the UK. Most would agree that it’s definitely worth the trip to connect with the timeless spirit of wild horses roaming free, but it’s a big commitment. A different way to connect with that untamed energy is to learn how to bet on horse-racing tournaments. Just like their wild cousins, true thoroughbred champions never say die! From the NYRA circuit to the Triple Crown, these thrilling events bring you thoroughbred horse racing at its peak, with so many types of horse racing bets available that you’ll always have something to think about. Best of all, with online horse racing, there’s no need to travel – you can view races and place bets in the comfort of home or even on the go, with your mobile device.
Get on track with champion betting at BetMGM
For the whole gamut of online horse racing opportunities, simply sign up at BetMGM. Get great horse racing odds on NYRA bets and other fun racing wagers, including multimillion-dollar fixtures such as the Dubai Cup. But our remit doesn’t stop there – we also have a regular A-Z of other sporting events for your enjoyment: NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS and more. Curious about online slots and casino games too? You’re always welcome at our online casino. So for all-round premium entertainment, count on BetMGM!