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There will come a day when the fact that I own a mustang will find its way into my conversation with someone who is unfamiliar with me. I’ll say it casually at first without bothering with specifics, “I own a mustang.”

“Really?” this someone will say. “What year?”

And, just to be a little fickle, I’ll play along with his immediate assumption, “Twenty ten.”

“A newer one then,” he’ll reply. “I’ve always preferred the more classic styling myself.”

“Oh, my mustang’s got classic styling,” I’ll assure him. “He’s got a compact build reminiscent of the horses bred on the Iberian Peninsula that the Spaniards brought over when they first explored the Americas. His head is refined, his eye large and soft, heralding back to the hot-blooded horses bred in Arabia. His legs and his hooves are sturdy, tempered by generations roaming unhindered in the high prairie deserts of the American West. His styling predates Ford.”

It seems strange that the word 'mustang' has become so disconnected from the feral horse it was originally meant to describe. In order to avoid confusion when I'm speaking to someone unfamiliar with horses, I usually have to say something like, "I own a mustang horse". To my English major sensibilities, this is painfully redundant. It feels like saying something along the lines of, "I own a car automobile".

Perhaps this grammatical inconsistency is not quite so garish if I rephrase to say, "I own a mustang; he's a horse". By this point it has become cumbersome to wield in casual conversation. Even people who actually own the car known as the Mustang have it easier. To say, "I own a Ford Mustang" is concise and natural. Certainly nothing like the mouthful of words I need to specify that my mustang is one of the equine variety.

Clearly the word 'mustang' inspires different thoughts for each individual. For many the powerful car will come to mind, rumbling deep as it darts along winding red canyon roads. For others, the horse may come to mind... but only as something mangy and impure, grown unappealing with the neglect of the human race.

I see something different. I see the horses of every shape and shade, moving together so attuned to one another as to appear in unison. Among the rich reds and deep browns, there are flashes of white, glimpses of gold, shadows of black or grey. I see the feral horses who have a deeper insight into what it means to be a horse than any other domestic horse is likely to have, and it is this wisdom which often makes them incredible partners once reclaimed by the people who relinquished them to the vast West so long ago.

Mustangs have thought, felt, and lived for themselves. In this way perhaps they remind us of the American ideal, shaped by their freedom to become something greater than they once were. This is no doubt a part of what inspired the Ford design team to call their new car model the Mustang decades ago. Is it possible to truly appreciate the name of the car without understanding the horse first known as the mustang? I can only hope that more of those who hear the word ‘mustang’ are reminded first of long untouched manes tossed in the prairie breezes, quiet gazes observing, ears pricked forward attentively. Maybe then the car will come to mind.
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