For more than a century, the Pryor Mountains, one-quarter of which is within the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, has been home to free roaming bands of wild horses. Descended from Spanish, Arabian, and English stock, many horses escape into this wild country, or were released along Bighorn Canyon by Native Americans, ranchers, and homesteaders. Unusual features, such as a dorsal stripe down the back, wither stripes, and zebra stripes on the legs, are typical characteristics of Spanish horses.
Citizens concerned about the long term welfare of the wild horses established the range after a two-year grassroots effort. In 1968, interested individuals and groups convinced the Secretary of the Interior, 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.
The horses are protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which requires management to achieve and maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance” on public lands used by the horses. The population is considered a unique genetic resource since horses of this type are no longer present in Spain. The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Refuge is managed by an interagency group led by the Bureau of Land Management.