Meet the Extraordinary Horse Who Captivated Hearts and Inspired the Beloved Movie ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’

Real Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron horse at age 24

When producers got together to create Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, they were wanting things to be more realistic than most animated movies. In order to do so, they needed a real life horse for inspiration.

After searching, they found a young Kiger Mustang that went by the name Donner, before being known as Spirit.

The lovely colt had been born to a stallion and mare that were caught by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in Oregon.

His father was the foundation stallion, Steens Kiger, who was the first horse admitted to the Steens Mountain Kiger Registry studbook. Spirit himself is listed in the Steens Mountain Kiger Registry as ‘Donner of Steens Mountain’.

Spirit’s expressive, wide-set eyes, dun coat, and stunning multi-colored mane and tail became the image of the animated horse we all know and love today. He was the perfect model for creating the fictional character of Spirit.

Before the release of the movie in 2002, animators spent hours upon hours studying and observing Spirit. They watched his muscle movement, gaits, expressions and mood changes. All of this was helpful for the animation team to create a life-like animated horse.

Spirit real horse Kiger Mustang photo with the film director

Spirit’s Life At Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary

After the movie production was finished, Spirit was moved to Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary where he spends his time in beautiful lush pastures. He posed for animators at Dreamworks for a total of almost two decades.

Dreamworks chose to make Return to Freedom Spirit’s forever home to ensure the Mustang could raise awareness for wild horses.

He lives at the facility’s headquarters in Santa Barbara County California. The beautiful facility is set across 300 acres of pastures where wild horses can freely roam.

Spirit’s Work as an Ambassador for Kiger Mustangs

Currently, Spirit is the ambassador for the Kiger Mustang breed. He helps educate the public about America’s wild horses and the protection and freedom they need.

Just like his movie character, Spirit fights to help Mustangs keep their natural habitat and run freely across the American wilderness.

Those who know the beautiful dun say he has the same spunk and heart as his animated counterpart.

Due to his fame, he attracts people to Return to Freedom who are eager to see him and learn more about Mustangs.

Real-life Horse Spirit was based

He loves to interact with people and has been inspiring people to make a difference. In 2018, he was inducted into Horse Stars Hall of Fame by the EQUUS Foundation.

Spirit recently celebrated his 25th birthday. The Mustang received heartfelt messages from screenwriter John Fusco and animation director Lorna Cook of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. He even got a birthday visit from award-winning actress Rosario Dawson.

Today, Spirit enjoys spending time out to pasture with his equine friends and receiving attention from the staff at Return to Freedom.

He continues to raise awareness and educate people all over the world about the importance of protecting and preserving America’s wild horses.

About the Kiger Mustang Horse Breed

Kiger Mustangs are native to southwest Oregon, where two herds are managed by the BLM. DNA testing proved that they are descendants of Spanish horses that were brought to America by Conquistadors.

Kiger Mustang wild horse breed

Kiger Mustangs stand between 13.3-15.2 hands and typically weigh between 700-800 pounds. The majority of Kiger Mustangs are dun, but they can also be bay, black, grullo, roan, and red dun.

They are known for their beautifully crested necks, short backs, medium clean-cut heads, and strong legs.

Thanks to their intelligence, calmness, and willingness to please, they are easy to train. Kigers have wonderful endurance, stamina and are sure-footed, which made us include them in our best trail riding horse breeds guide.

Kiger Mustangs are a true American treasure and Spirit is a great representation of this wonderful breed.

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