My American Mustang: Owning a Piece of the American West

The modern horse can be traced to its ancestor, eohippus, that lived 55-58 million years ago. The horse's lineage can be traced all over the world, including the crossing of the land bridge into North America. From having three toes, the horse has evolved into the single-toed animal we know today. It is one of the few animals that is both domesticated and wild.

Many events and circumstances have contributed to the development of the horse. For example, pioneers and farmers would release their horses during the winter to avoid the need for feeding. In the wild West, horses would sometimes escape after a stagecoach robbery, contributing to the population of the American Mustang.

The Mustang varies in appearance and behavior depending on the region and area, as is expected with any species of animal. As for myself, I have always had a love for horses since I was a young girl. My passion for horses blossomed when my aunt leased out her back pasture to someone with horses.

Living in the suburbs of Denver, where space and resources were limited, my mother signed me up for a youth nonprofit horseback riding organization called Westernaires. Through this group, I was introduced to the American Mustang as they had adopted a couple of them. These Mustangs were truly beautiful and great horses.

Guardian at the Canyon City Prison BLM Facility
Gaurdian, an American Mustang.

I started praying for a horse of my own and began saving my money to buy the necessary equipment. I had the opportunity to ride some Mustangs owned by an amazing family who were also involved in Westernaires. I rode their mustangs in shows, practices, parades, and for fun at their house. The desire to have a horse of my own grew stronger.

A couple of years later, my prayers were answered. On the same day my first niece was born, I went to a Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Event at the Bureau of Land Management’s holding facility at the Colorado Department of Corrections in Canon City, which had a Wild Horse and Inmate Program (WHIP). WHIP is a rehabilitation program that gives an opportunity for inmates to be taught horse training methods to tame and saddle-train wild mustang horses that were gathered on government lands. That day, I saw a horse that caught my eye. He was a bay paint, with a unique and beautiful coloring. I knew I had to have him.

My family friends bought the 2-year-old horse for me, with the condition that my parents would agree to let me have him. Luckily, my dad was elated from having his first grandchild born and agreed. The inmate who had trained and broke the horse, named him Guardian, since his facial markings resembled a cross.

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Jill Herold's high school sweetheart 
riding Guardian.

Guardian quickly became my companion and partner. Within three months of taking him home, we were already participating in shows with lights, flags, and costumes. Although he was initially nervous, he trusted me. My high school sweetheart also rode Guardian in Westernaires, in his teams, in Cavalry with epic battle reenactments, and in Varsity Big Red while carrying a huge American flag in “the ride of the colors”. Owning a Mustang taught me the importance of trust. Building a bond with a Mustang is a lifelong connection.

Training Guardian was not always easy, and I had my fair share of falls and being bucked off. Mustangs are different from domesticated horses, as they are more "street smart" and aware of their surroundings. Their feet are tougher, and they possess unique qualities that make them special, like being sure footed, strong boned, and rugged horses. They are easy to read and will let you know when something is wrong.

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Jill Herold riding Guardian during
a Westernaires Event.

Guardian and I shared a deep understanding. I had trained him to respond to voice commands. In Westernaires, one of the teams I rode in was called Liberty, where we rode bareback and bridle-less, using only a wire around our horse’s neck for guidance, going over jumps as we did different maneuvers.

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Guardian, an American Mustang.

For one summer, I took Guardian to a dude ranch in the mountains of Colorado. I recall a memorable night when a group of us wranglers rode up to meet a friend for a campfire dinner. After the meal, we faced the challenge of riding back to the ranch in complete darkness. This is where trust came into play once again. I entrusted Guardian to lead us safely home by dropping the reins and letting him guide us safely back to camp.

Guardian remained by my side as I went to college and embarked on my first job in southern Colorado. We even had the opportunity to participate in cattle drives. He was my best friend, and I took him everywhere I went.

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Jill Herold's nieces riding

As my niece, who was born on the same day Guardian came into my life, grew up, she too developed a love for horses and joined Westernaires. Naturally, I allowed her to ride Guardian.

We had many adventures, and he was the best horse I could have ever asked for as my first horse. He blessed me with 16 incredible years. He was 18 when he coliced. It's ironic to think that when I began praying for a horse, Guardian was being born out on the range. He carried me on his back throughout his life, and now I carry his memory on my back with a tattoo of his face markings and angel wings.

If you're considering adopting a wild horse, know you are bringing home a piece of the American west, and one of the best friends you will ever have. I encourage you to be brave, steadfast, loving, and kind. Mustangs will test you more than domesticated horses, but the bond and trust you develop with them are unparalleled and will endure the test of time.

If you are interested in adopting a wild horse or burro, the BLM is hosting an adoption event at MetraPark in Billings, June 8-9. For more information visit

Jill Herold's high school senior picture with Guardian, her American mustang.
Jill Herold's high school senior picture with Guardian.



Jill Herold

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