The University of New Mexico



Media contact: Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821; e-mail:

March 29, 2010

University of New Mexico Horse Project Delves Into History, Conservation
April conference designed to help raise awareness

Paul Polechla is no stranger to the saddle. The jovial, cowboy hat wearing associate research professor in the biology department at the University of New Mexico has spent the past nine years helping to preserve Spanish horses in the American West. With a $75,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Polechla plans to bring that knowledge to the public through a PBS documentary, traveling museum exhibit, interactive Web site and book on the origins, evolution, migration and impact of Spanish horses in the American West, stretching from 58 million years ago to the present.

Collaborators on the project, “Natural History of the Horses of the American West,” include the New Mexican Horse Project, UNM Institute for Social Research, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, PBS, Smithsonian Institute, Texas A&M University, Cambridge University and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

The goal “is to implement an educational package involving STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as it relates to the whole natural history of horses in the American West,” Polechla said.

He’s planning a conference to be held at UNM’s field station at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, Saturday, April 17-Sunday, April 18. Attendees will fill out questionnaires before and after watching a movie on wild horses to see if their attitudes and knowledge change.

After the initial conference, Polechla will develop a series of 10 focus group discussions over the course of a year targeting elementary and middle school teachers, Hispanic and American Indian families and horse enthusiasts.

“We need greater awareness and our job is to try and educate the public to help conserve these horses,” Polechla said.
The New Mexican Horse Project started in 1999 to find out if any of the original horses from the Spanish Colonial period still existed. Many claimed to have these horses but when asked for scientific and historical proof, little was offered to validate their claims, said Carlos LoPopolo, New Mexican Horse Project director. Today, the organization dedicates more than 30,000 acres to the preservation and protection of wild horses.

“The conference will bring a lot of people together from all over the world who have been a part of the New Mexican Horse Project the past 10 years,” LoPopolo said. “It will be beneficial to get everyone in the same room and to develop a public understanding of what happened to these Spanish mustangs.”

“The foundation of this country was built on the backs of this horse. We need to prove to the government that there’s a need to conserve this rare breed, that it needs a home and it needs to be here in the Rio Grande Valley where it originated.”

To attend the conference, contact Polechla at (505) 277-8170 or and indicate a preference for either Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

For more information on the New Mexico Horse Project visit;


The University of New Mexico is the state's largest university, serving more than 32,000 students. UNM is home to the state's only schools of law, medicine, pharmacy and architecture and operates New Mexico's only academic health center. UNM is noted for comprehensive undergraduate programs and research that benefits the state and the nation.