Viewing free-roaming horses as wildlife rather than feral livestock may help reduce the shootings and other cruelties that have taken place in the West Country, says a horse trainer from Sundre.
But a feral horse by any other name is still a horse, and the person or people who have been shooting them won’t care what they’re called, says the MLA for Rocky Mountain House.
Horse trainer Joe Gill, inspired by efforts of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society to track down and arrest whoever has been shooting free-roaming horses, talked with MLA Ty Lund on Wednesday about ways to protect the animals from being shot and from being rounded up for slaughter.
In an interview with the Advocate later on, Gill said he feels government agencies would have more incentive to protect horses if they were acknowledged as an indigenous species rather than feral animals. There is undisputed evidence that modern horses originated in North America, he said.
“We’ve reintroduced elk. We’ve reintroduced bison in places. So why can’t we deal with the horses in such a light?”
He believes a change in wording would give the province the legislative tools it needs to protect the herds now roaming free in the West Country, understanding that there needs to be some control so they don’t come into conflict with wildlife and ranch stock.
Lund said from his Edmonton office that he does not dispute Gill’s position that horses originated in North America and that some of the horses now roaming free in various parts of Western Canada could have descended from those early herds.
The problem is, it’s impossible to tell whether a horse running in the bush is descended from a wild herd or if it came from domestic stock that either escaped or was turned loose, said Lund.
“Go out there and try to figure out which is which. The point I was trying to get across to (Gill) is that, under the Wildlife Act, a feral horse doesn’t qualify, so it’s not quite as easy as it sounds to come up with legislation and penalties that will stand up in court.”
Free-roaming horses have become a serious traffic hazard around Hinton, causing three serious collisions on Hwy 16 during the past winter, he said.
Just before talking with Gill, Lund had signed a new regulation that will allow wranglers in that area to round loose horses up and sell them at auction.
Years earlier, while he was still environment minister, Lund had helped write regulations to protect horses wandering the West Country from some of the atrocities they had suffered at the hands of horse hunters.
There had been a number of complaints about people who had set snares and corral traps, and then didn’t check on them regularly, leaving the animals they caught to suffer or starve.
The Horse Capture Program and an amendment to the Stray Animal Act were used to set up a permitting process that specifies the methods that can be used and limits the number of horses each permit holder can catch, said Lund.
But Gill believes more horses could be spared if people and the province were to think of them the way he sees them, as an indigenous species that should have the same level of protection given to other wildlife.
“I think there needs to be a little bit more public awareness. They really do belong here,” he said.