The Pryor Mountain Mustangs

The Pryor Mountains National Wild Horse Refuge was established in 1968, three years before the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed, in response to the growing movement to protect the animals. The refuge lies in a rugged mountain range in south central Montana, almost directly south of Billings and just north of the Wyoming border.

The 31,000-acre refuge, adjacent to the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area, is home to an estimated 120 to 160 wild horses. These animals exhibit many of the conformation characte2 horsesristics and markings, such as zebra stripes on the legs and dorsal stripes down the back, that are associated with horses of Spanish descent. Genetic testing has confirmed this.

The horses share the refuge with bighorn sheep, elk and other wildlife. The horses roam from the arid lowlands to the lush alpine meadows and find water at natural springs. In the cold winters, when temperatures often drop to 20 or 30 degrees below zero, the horses eat snow for moisture. Though the protected animals have suffered very little from predators in the past, recently, mountain lions have killed a few foals. Observers say the development should have some interesting repercussions on the herd’s behavior.

Mustangs generally gather in family groups. In the Pryor Mountains, there are some 25 groups of 5 or 6 animals plus various bachelor stallions. Each harem includes a stallion and a dominant mare.

The Pryor Mountains get their name from Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that traveled through the area in 1806.