Nine things to know about The Mustangs of Las Colinas
Nothing says freedom like wild horses joyfully galloping through a stream of cool water surrounded by endless pastures. The Mustangs at Los Colinas sculpture freezes that playful moment in time as nine bronze mustangs gallop endlessly through a stream in Williams Square Plaza.
They run into history on O’Connor Blvd. in Las Colinas, Irving’s massive planned community.
An old Texas maxim says, “A man is no better than his horse, and a man on foot is no man at all.” The horses pay homage to Texas virtues: Freedom, dedication, initiative, and loyalty. With nine such horses, Las Colinas demonstrates its determination to excel.
Visit Irving hosted me, but all opinions are my own.
The Mustangs are the world’s largest equestrian sculpture. Its setting received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1985.
Two 358-foot buildings and one 217-foot building surround the 300-square-foot plaza. While the horses are massive, the plaza’s size prevents them from becoming overwhelming.
The development connects the Toyota Music Factory, Irving’s premier entertainment destination, with Water Street’s shopping and dining.
Sculptor Robert Glen desired to recreate an authentic herd that would fit The Mustangs of Las Colinas’ history. To do that, he went to southern Spain to study the original Andalusian horse that the conquistadors rode. In this article, we’ll explore the sculpture “The Mustangs of Las Colinas” history, how the feral horses came to Texas, and what happened to them.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: The DART Orange Line’s Las Colinas Urban Center Station serves the area. If you drive, street parking is free.
Roxie’s reliable report: Carpenter named Williams Square (PDF) after his sister, Carolyn Carpenter Williams, and her husband, Dan Call Williams. The adjacent Lake Carolyn also bears her name.
1. Visiting The Mustangs of Las Colinas
The bronze horses stand 1.5 times lifesize. I entered the plaza from the southwest and descended from the pink Texas granite surface to the sculpture’s watercourse. It’s a streambed covered with round stones.
The stream ends in a short waterfall, and the pedestrian bridge is just above the fall.
The steps grew shallower as I walked northeast toward the horses. They seem to have galloped from the trees between Williams Square’s north and east towers.
Six horses thunder through a pool while one is entering it. Small fountains beneath their hooves simulate the river’s splashing water. A horse and a colt are on the pavement to the northeast. The running colt balances on a single hoof.
The pair of stallions, five mares and two colts are impressive from a distance. But, up close, they are stunning.
2. Experiencing The Mustangs of Las Colinas
Each horse has a distinct personality, and the muscles ripple under each bronze coat. The leader strides forward confidently toward the river bank. The next horse seems a little tired with its head down.
The next one’s head is angled upward with its nostrils flared, enjoying the gallop.
The horse leaning toward the water has carefully placed his back left hoof into the perfect dimple. The playful colt’s ears prick up, ready to dance. Its fur is woolier than adult horses. Another horse is prancing on its back legs.
Seeing the horses gave me such joy. I felt as if I, too, could run and dance.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: For excellent photos, visit The Mustangs at dusk when the plaza lights the stream. Set a long exposure time for a soft lighting effect.
3. Sculpting The Mustangs of Las Colinas
When Carpenter contacted sculptor Robert Glen, Williams Square was only an idea. Glen and Carpenter discussed the equestrian sculpture.
Then Carpenter ordered the architect to design the square around The Mustangs. Glen needed eight years to craft the horses, including a year for installation.
Glen created the first models in his Kenyan home after he studied their background. He discovered that the current American horses differed from their original Spanish ancestors.
Therefore, Glen studied the Spanish breeds the conquistadors had brought to Texas centuries before. Then he cast dissected animals’ anatomies before he began sculpting. The first modeling stage required 47 different models.
The final model, less than one-eighth size, became the next stage’s outline. The final model helped the architect design Williams Square. The sculptor crafted the next stage from pliable plasticine, one-third the final size.
Glen cast those into fiberglass maquettes and shipped them from Nairobi to his British foundry. Before shipment, Glen cleaned and checked each maquette detail. Glen then spent several months at the foundry during each one’s final process.
Each horse weighed about two tons, and each tail weighed about 700 pounds. Together, the herd weighed 17 tons.
4. Landscaping The Mustangs of Las Colinas
While Glen was sculpting the horses, landscape architect James Reeves designed the 400-foot stream. He left the plaza barren to emulate the plains’ landscapes. As a result, live oaks are the sole vegetation.
Each horse stands on an 8,000-pound plinth. Reeves engineered an intricate pumping system to replicate water around each horse’s hooves.
Glen supervised the horses’ installation in Irving. After the nine were in place, workers completed the piping and covered the stream bed with rocks. Finally, on September 25, 1984, the workers finished the massive sculpture.
Schaefer Art Bronze Casting of Arlington restored the horses in 2021 and 2022.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: After admiring The Mustangs, honor the developer who envisioned them. It stands on Carpenter’s former family ranch, El Ranchito de las Colinas. That means The Little Ranch in the Hills.
After Carpenter died, his family asked Glen to sculpt him in Founder’s Park.
Related: President Lyndon Johnson loved his Texas ranch.
5. Understanding The Mustangs of Las Colinas‘ history
The Mustangs of Las Colinas Museum is in Williams Square’s East Tower. Reading about Glen’s meticulous process is one thing. Seeing the stages of The Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture is another.
Exhibits include preliminary sculptures from each part of Glen’s process. See photographs and artifacts of the creation and installation process. Admission is free.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: The museum validates parking in the East and West Garages.
Related: The Ruth Paine House Museum is well worth visiting. JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald spent his last free night there.
Related: Trace the JFK assassination trail from Irving to Arlington National Cemetery.
6. How the mustang horse came to Texas
The Spanish conquistadors brought their horses to conquer indigenous civilizations. The mounted soldiers seemed like centaurs to the natives. The fearsome sight gave them a psychological advantage.
In addition, the horses enabled the Spanish conquerors to move faster and carry more gear. The Spanish horses give The Mustangs of Las Colinas their history.
The first Spanish horses in Texas came in 1542’s Moscoso Expedition. Luis de Moscoso Alvarado assumed command when Hernando de Soto died in Arkansas. The expedition turned west, hoping to find New Spain by land.
After much wandering, they reached the Trinity River before returning to the Mississippi in Arkansas. Unfortunately, half of the expedition had died before they sailed down the river. Their horses provided large herds to the East Texas Caddo tribe by 1689.
By the 1830s, vast herds ran freely through Texas. “During the summer, hundreds were … darting over the plains,” the Little Rock Arkansas Gazette wrote in 1839. They dared others to chase them.
South of Corpus Christi in 1845, Ulysses S. Grant saw the herds on the Nueces River in the “Wild Horse Desert.” The future President was famous for his horsemanship. He said that all of Delaware could not contain the vast herds he saw.
The area would become the vast King Ranch eight years later.
In your mind’s eye, picture a nearly infinite number of the Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture herds running through Texas.
7. How the mustang got its name
“Mustang” derives from the Spanish words mesteño or monsteco, which mean “wild” or “stray.” The herds are not technically wild since they originated from domestic horses. Instead, they are considered feral horses.
8. What happened to the Texas mustangs
Settlement pushed the eastern herds toward the west, and the eastern horses crossbred with the western ones. By 1900, two million horses freely roamed the western United States. However, the mustangs lost their habitat when the settlers enclosed their property.
By 1926, only a million ran free. Now about 30,000 roam the western states. The massive crossbreeding had diluted the mustangs’ original Spanish bloodlines. But in 1977, horse lovers found a herd in Oregon, the Kiger mustang, that looked like the original horses.
Unfortunately, the wild herds have left Texas. The nine Mustangs remind Texans of their wild history.
9. Could bronze mustangs herd marble cattle?
When tamed, mustangs often make superb cattle horses. If the mustangs stop running through Williams Square, perhaps they’ll find a second existence herding the Marble Cows.
Unlike the dynamic mustangs, the cattle are calm. They graze atop Bluebonnet Hill behind Carpenter’s monument. Sculptor Harold Clayton carved each one during a year in Pietrasanta, Italy. He had sketched natural cattle on a Greenville, Texas, farm.
Roxie’s reliable report: The cattle have names, Lucy, Margaret, Ruth, Elsa, and Annette.
Kids love the park because they can climb onto or crawl under the cattle and tumble down the green, grassy hill. Adults love the park’s serenity.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Your map app may not recognize “Marble Cows.” Instead, search for the Ben Carpenter Statue.
Related: Bluebonnet Hill’s name comes from the Texas state flower, which blooms profusely each spring.
Where to eat and stay in Las Colinas
After you visit The Mustangs, eat at The Pacific Table beside Lake Carolyn. Chef Felipe Armenta crafts Pacific Northwest cuisine with classical techniques.
I recommend the broiled shishito peppers and the Pacific roll. Accompany them with half a dozen cold-water oysters. The restaurant flies them in fresh each day.
Wash down your food with a cucumber tonic and finish your meal with house-made ice cream sandwiches. But beware, the confection will ruin you for convenience store varieties.
I made the Texican Court Hotel my headquarters and loved their quirky, throwback vibe. Hanging out in the courtyard is a perfect way to complete the day.
Drinking an adult beverage from the on-site bar, Two Mules Cantina, with your feet dangling in the pool: Ah, freedom!