The Oregon Mesteño

Tomorrow, the husband and I will be eligible for our COVID 19 jabs. Maybe. Oregon plows ahead with eligibility, but the number of those eligible does not match the numbers of doses. Simple math, really.

(Watching “Bringing Up Baby” as I write this. Epitome of silly comedy)

I saw a cool thing in the Oregon/Idaho AAA magazine, called Via. Check out Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) flickr page to see the Kiger mesteño.

I’m assuming most people, when they think about Oregon, envision mist-covered, rugged seacoast forests and Fred Armisen in “Portlandia”. At 98,000 square miles, Oregon is the 9th largest state in the U.S. The majority of this astonishing space is desert.

It’s all about weather. The volcanic Cascade Range blocks that misty, wet Pacific atmosphere from the majority of the state. Eastern Oregon is a high-altitude plateau, crisscrossed with barren mountains, snaky river canyons and badlands; it shares this terrain with Nevada and Idaho.

In the middle of this desert, near the tiny town Diamond in South Eastern Oregon, the Kiger Mustangs live in a Herd Management Area run by BLM. The Kiger Mesteño Association, the horse’s breed registry, lovingly describes the horses’ descent from Conquistador mounts (through DNA testing) and their smart, sturdy natures. Both wild and tame, the Kigers have a devoted following.

The hero horse of the animated movie, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”, was based on a still living specimen named Spirit. These horses were found in Oregon—the only place they live—around 1977, culled from a wild mustang herd, and shipped to two HMAs in Oregon. Technically, domesticated Kigers are Kiger horses, and the wild bunch are the Kiger mustangs. They typically are dun, which can be further described as red dun, grullo (a mouse-gray coloring), and claybank (a golden tint with red and orange highlights). The majority of these equines have black points, and some even have zebra-like stripes on their upper legs.

An Oregon legislator proposed making the Kiger mustang the state horse, but it didn’t pass. Kiger is a widely used place name in Oregon, in honor of Reuben C. Kiger and his family, very early Oregon pioneers who briefly lived in Harney County where the horses were discovered, therefore the reason for this rare breed’s name.

Until I opened up Via magazine, that focused on Idaho and Oregon wildlife-related getaways, I had never heard of these horses, native only to Oregon. Visiting bald eagles, grey whales, pronghorn antelope and Roosevelt elk, we could spend the next several years close to home ticking off a sort of bucket list of wildlife sightings—but I’ve seen all of these beasts, except the horse.

There’s a dude ranch near one of the two Kiger mustang HMAs. You can join a horseback trek out to photograph the mustangs, but it’s likely, unless they provide a horse-drawn wagon, the husband and I couldn’t participate. Last time I was on horseback was fifteen or twenty years ago and for the husband, well, not since he was about three years old and his grandpa, in Junction City, Oregon, put him aboard his draft horse. The Kiger viewing package is pricey but sounds like a blast.

To see the horses—there is a BLM penned area near the dude ranch where if you are so inclined, you can pay to join the cowboys in a cattle drive—we’ll have to find an Air BnB.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Oregon Mesteño — 2 Comments

  1. Wow! I’ve lived in Oregon since 1966 and never heard of these dudes. But then, I’m not a horse person. I want to see them. Let’s hope I’m still mobile when travel restrictions ease. Though at my age, my hips won’t take horseback riding. Still, to watch them move, to stroke a long nose and look into their eyes… Add this to my ever decreasing bucket list.

  2. Thanks, Jill. What beautiful horses — they remind me of my girlhood Arab/Quarter horse, Star. Her coloring was the same (minus the tiger stripes), and her coloring was termed a “bay.” I’m curious about the “dun” designation.