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Capital Press


Kiger Mustangs  ‘You’ll Fall in Love With Them’

This feral species is friendly, alert, observant and, obviously, not camera-shy
By, Lee Juillerat   for the Capital Press,  Oct. 22 1999

BEATTY, Ore.- Bill Escalle is a married man but, yes, he horses around.

That’s OK with his wife, Lois.  She does, too.

The Escalles’ horsing around is the kind that brings them closer together.  That’s because they’re both in love with Kiger mustangs.

“You’ll fall in love with them,” Bill said of the mustangs, whose bloodlines trace back to the Spanish horses that roamed the American West 400 years ago.

As their name implies, Kiger mustangs are found on the flanks of Eastern Oregon’s Steens Mountain. An estimated 85 to 140 inhabit the Kiger Gorge and Riddle Mountain areas north of Steens Mountain.

Kigers possess the physical color characteristics called the “dun factor,” which includes dun, red dun, grulla, buckskin and other variations of those colors. Other identifying traits include dorsal stripes on their backs and zebra stripes on their knees and hocks.

While Kigers are legendary among horse lovers, they are mostly an obscure breed. Expect that to change.

Dream Works Studio has a project that should put the spotlight on Kiger mustangs. Tentatively scheduled for release in 2001 is “Spirit,” an animated film about a wild horse. A kiger mustang is being used as the model for the movie. The same teams that

produced “Lion King” and other animated classics has a team of artists studying the horse while drawing preliminary sketches.

“I know this is going to be a good one,” said Bill, who hopes the film will focus public attention on wild horse adoption programs generally and Kiger mustangs specifically.

“Spirit” will feature a horse from Kiger Mustangs Ranch, operated by Rick Littleton near Alfalfa, about 15 miles east of Bend, Oregon. Along with breeding and raising Kigers, Littleton works with the Bureau of Land Management in managing the Steens’ herds.

The DreamWorks connection stems from a video that Littleton produced about wild horses. Studio executive wanted to buy Littleton’s stallion, “Kiger,” but had to settle for Kiger’s son, “Donner.”

The Escalles developed a friendship with Littleton after learning about the Kiger mustangs several years ago. Last March they moved from Canby, Ore., to their 160-acre ranch on the Tablelands area outside Beauty to breed and raise Kigers.

“I could have had Morgan or Arabians, but I picked this breed because of the terrain,” Bill said of why he bought two Kigers and until recently, was raising six of Middletan’s Kigers. They’re ideally suited to the lava rock terrain.

“For this kind of country they’re perfect,” he said. “They need to be turned loose in rocky country.”

Kigers are a small horse favored because of their endurance and “smooth as glass” ride.

“These horses you can ride 40, to 50 miles a day. Their stamina is what makes them such a good animal. They’re very easy to work with. If somebody wants a good all-around horse, especially for children, I’d recommend a Kiger.”

One of their Kigers is a one-year-old named “Pepper,” a grandson of Kiger. Since being sold to DreamWorks, Donner has been renamed Spirit and shipped to a Southern California horse ranch. Spirit will be used on a worldwide promotional tour that will include stops in Europe and Japan in advance of the movie.

Pepper isn’t expecting that kind of pampering. Eventually, he’ll be bred to the Escalles’ Kiger mare, “Lolita.”

“They’ve got a nice disposition,” Lois said. “You have to be real gentle with them. The’re a curios horse. They like being in groups- they’re a herd animal. They can stand a lot of cold and go a couple of days without water.”

Bill, 66, grew up near Bakersfield, Calif. His father and grandfather raised and broke horses. Bill learned to ride as a child and began riding bareback broncs in rodeos as a teen-ager. He’s worked around the West, including on ranches in Nevada and horse-logging operations in the Roseburg, Ore., area.

Lois, 65, grew upon a farm in rural Illinois, where the family had no electricity and had a team of horses. She hadn’t worked with them much, though, but found that in general, people “just have to be patient with them and they’ll be patient with you.”

Bill enjoys talking about Kigers, whether praising the gentleness, endurance or social nature.

“Their stamina is what makes them such a good horse. They’re very easy to work with. I could go on and on,” Bill said with a gentle chuckle.  “I love them.”

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