The wild horses of Echo Bluff State Park are born black but gradually turn gray, then stark white, due to an ancient gene that is thought to have originated in Europe.

Facebook/Kelly Cosby

From the ponies of Assateague Island, to the untamed beauties of Cumberland Island, Georgia, and all the Outer Banks herds in between, we always assumed that wild horses of the South were contained to the coastline.

Boy, were we wrong!

A recent article in The Washington Post profiled a group of wild horses we never knew existed—the unique equines who call the rugged terrain of Missouri's Ozark Mountains home.

The horses that roam freely among the hikers and campers in Echo Bluff State Park are the descendants of farm horses that were abandoned during the Great Depression when families moved away to look for jobs. Left to their own devices, the horses turned feral, and banded together in herds as their numbers grew. But that's not what makes them unique.

The wild horses of Echo Bluff State Park are born black but gradually turned gray, then stark white, due to an ancient gene that is thought to have originated in Europe. Some of the horses brought to North America from Spain in the 1500s, like the famous Lippizaner stallions, for example, had this trait.

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Today, the wild horses in Missouri live in eight herds administered and protected by the National Park Service throughout the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Legislation passed in 1992 allows the horses to stay as long as their numbers don't exceed 50. Several young horses are put up for adoption each year to maintain that number. The family who adopted one such colt told The Post he's the "gentlest animal you've ever seen."

So, the next time you make your way to in Echo Bluff State Park, keep an eye out for these wild beauties. And if you're lucky, you just might find youngster who hasn't yet turned white.

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