Horse wranglers rounding up strays around Sunchild Road

One day last November, a logging truck on the Sunchild Road slammed into a group of stray horses.

One day last November, a logging truck on the Sunchild Road slammed into a group of stray horses.

The carnage left four horses dead on the road northwest of Rocky Mountain House.

Further tragedy was narrowly avoided when a second truck nearly slammed into the stopped rig ahead of it, missing it by inches.

Those are the kinds of scenarios RCMP livestock investigator Cpl. Dave Heaslip wants to avoid.

To that end, a roundup program was launched last month that has captured 32 stray horses in baited corrals.

The horses were then sold in a pair of auctions.

“We’re doing it for the protection of the general public, that’s one thing,” said Heaslip on Thursday. “But we’re also doing it for the protection of the horses too.

“They’re out there and we’ve had them clobbered.”

There have been instances where horses have been injured and hobbled into the bush for kilometres on a broken leg before they succumb.

“It’s a long and cruel death.”

The program is working and he expects others will be rounded up by the time the program is expected to wrap up at the end of March.

“We’ve got a lot of, shall I say, the main offenders. It won’t take too long for the others to make their way out.

“These are all domestic horses that were simply let go.”

RCMP check each horse for brands to try to track down the owners. None caught so far had identifying brands.

Hazards for wildlife and drivers have worsened since the Sunchild Road, which links Hwys 11 and 16 and serves Sunchild and O’Chiese Reserves, was paved in 2011, leading to more traffic and higher speeds, says a report to Clearwater County council.

The roundup program is a joint effort with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Development, Brazeau County and industry players such as Weyerhaeuser.

Horse wranglers are given a $500 bounty for each animal captured and then are free to sell them at auction. Some end up in slaughterhouses but the better animals are taken for farms.

Clearwater County was asked to match $10,000 in funding provided by Brazeau County, Weyerhaeuser and oil and gas company TAQA North. Council turned down the request, saying it was in federal and provincial jurisdiction. The county intends to raise the issue with the local MP.

The Sunchild horse capture is a different program than the province’s wild horse effort, which aims to round up about 200 feral horses in the West Country to ease overpopulation.

The Wild Horses Association of Alberta Society (WHOAS) has often spoken out against that roundup, which it says is unnecessary and amounts to a cull because most of those captured end up in slaughterhouses.

A society spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the Sunchild roundup on Thursday.

Well-known Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden has added her voice to the debate, condemning the roundup recently on Twitter. Arden plans to take to the air to count the horses along with a veterinarian on Sunday.

In Red Deer, a rally to raise the plight of wild horses has been organized for Feb. 22. It starts at 1 p.m. at 4914 48th Ave.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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