Herd of 80 wild horses roam free in Cerbat Mountains

Descendants of horses brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 16th century still roam the Cerbat Mountains just five miles north of Kingman.

With their heads held high and their manes blowing in the wind these wild mustangs gallop through the peaks, ridges and canyons where the climate is warm, dry and windy.

There are about 80 horses in the herd, but they generally run in three different bands, wild horse and burro specialist Scott Elefritz said.

Elefritz works for the Bureau of Land Management.

One of only three BLM herd management areas for wild horses in Arizona, the Cerbat Herd Management Area takes in the Cerbat Mountains east of U.S.

Highway 93 and west of Stockton Hill Road.

At an elevation of 6,983 feet, Cherum Peak is the dominate landmark within the herd management area, which varies in elevation from 3,400 feet to 6,900 feet.

Horses dine on chaparral, grass and desert shrubs.

The horses are predominately bays, although there are many roans including reds, strawberry and blue roans.

At times they can be seen just a short distance from Stockton Hill Road.

With 83,000 acres to call their home, these living symbols of the Old West do not welcome human intervention.

"There is speculation as to the origin of the herd," Elefritz said.

"One theory is that the Spanish brought the horses with them when they came through here in the 1500s.

But others say they were abandoned by livestock ranchers in the early 1800s."

To settle the debate, the BLM conducted DNA testing on the Marble Canyon band of horses in the early 1990s and then again about three years ago.

"The testing indicated that the band is descended from the Spanish mustangs," Elefritz said.

"They show some sign of Spanish descent.

Although crossbreeding has deluded the Spanish lineage, there is reason to assume all the horses in the Cerbat Management Area are descended from the Spanish mustangs, he added.

Because the horses are protected by law, the BLM promotes healthy herds, protects their habitat and counts them every three years.

The typical Cerbat horse is small, standing 14 to 16 hands and weighing 750 to 800 pounds.

Mountain lions in the herd management area keep the population from growing, Elefritz said.

However, if the herd were ever to become over-populated, or if a severe drought affected range conditions, the BLM would have to remove some horses from the management area.

When this occurs, the horse is wormed, vaccinated against equine diseases, freeze-branded and offered to the public through BLM's Adopt a Wild Horse program.

The wild horses represent the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, he said.