PRYOR MOUNTAINS HERD MANAGEMENT AREA
The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range was established after a two-year grassroots effort by citizens
concerned about the long-term welfare of the Pryor Mountain horses. In 1968, interested individuals and groups convinced Interior Secretary Stewart Udall to set aside 31,000 acres in the Pryor Mountains as a public range for the wild horses. This was the first of its kind in the nation.
For more than a century, the Pryor Mountains have been home to free-roaming bands of wild horses. This herd of horses is a genetically unique population. Blood typing by the Genetics Department of the University of Kentucky has indicated that these horses are closely related to the old type European Spanish horse. Many of these horses exhibit unusual colors such as dun, grulla, blue roan, and sabino. Other features are a dorsal stripe down their back, wither stripes, and zebra stripes on their legs. The origin of the herd is unclear, but a common belief is that the horses escaped from local Native American Indians and eventually found a safe haven in the Pryors.
Like many wild horse populations, the Pryor horses live in family groups. Over 25 family bands and assorted "bachelor" stallions roam the area. Most families (or harems) average 5-6 animals, with a dominant stallion, a lead mare, and a variety of other mares and young animals. Horses love to follow a good leader and the Pryor horses are no different. The Pryor stallions seem to make the daily decisions for the rest of the family group, but in other populations the decision makers are often the lead mares.
Scientific studies have shown that the genetic diversity of the horses is high and the current level of inbreeding within the population is low. In some populations, inbreeding can be a problem if the numbers of horses in the herd are too low. The Pryor population has been historically managed at a successful size of between 120 and 160 horses. The population appears to be confined to this range by both natural and manmade barriers. BLM gathers excess animals for adoption every 2-3 years in order to maintain a desired number of horses.
The Pryor Mountains are unique in many ways. Some of the more notable aspects are the rain/snowfall zones and related vegetation from the southern foothill regions to the highest points in the mountain range. Annual rainfall varies from less than five inches in the foothills to twenty inches in the high country. Most of the southern portion of the Wild Horse Range is cold desert country. Differences in rain/snowfall contribute to the most diverse plant community in Montana. Sparse vegetation in the southern desert portion changes to lush sub-alpine growth higher up in the Pryor Mountains. In between these zones is a graduation of plant species. In addition, the bladderpod and Shoshonea are two examples of rare and sensitive plants that are found in the Pryors. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, bison and elk share the range with wild horses.
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