Since our inception in 2001 WHOAS has advocated that the wild horses roaming in the Alberta foothills be given their own distinct identity and legislation to protect and save them. Since 2013 WHOAS has been part of the FHAC (Feral Horse Advisory Committee) of the Alberta government. In the beginning we were the only ones working for the horses, in a group that was extremely biased and prejudiced against the horses. During this time we had always demanded that arguments and opinions presented by other stakeholders against the horses be backed up by sound scientific evidence. This was never done by the government and every point against them we were able to challenge successfully. In 2013 WHOAS entered into a MOU to implement some Alberta Mountain Horse population strategies. We showed that there were better methods to manage the wild horse numbers than culling them and sending them to slaughter.
In 2014 when the government announced there would be another cull, the public was outraged and social media took over. Even though approximately 50 head of horses were removed, WHOAS and others were able to step in and eventually gentled and rehomed almost all of them.
Also at this time another group Help Alberta Wildies (HAWS) was formed and became another very strong voice advocating against trapping and slaughter and keeping them wild. HAWS has become extremely successful through social media in educating both the public and the government.
Then two years ago reacting to public pressure and the actions of WHOAS and HAWS, the FHAC was reconvened. The new committee was comprised of a variety of stakeholders including this time professional scientists and researchers. Even though some of the stakeholders were still extremely biased against the horses, science became a part of making decisions concerning the horses. The whole purpose of this new committee was to come up with a long term management strategy. This plan is now in the final stages and awaiting final review and approval.
Even with this new plan the reference to the wild horses remains as defining them as feral animals which is totally unacceptable to both WHOAS and HAWS and the general public. They are not feral nor strays. One of points that I was disappointed in during the meetings was that the chief scientist from the Alberta government stated that he considered the horses as “feral”. What happened to a professional person like this not having an open mind and being acceptable to other professionals in his field who stated these horses are indeed “reintroduced wildlife“? Remember that all equines originated in early North America, so when early explorers brought them back they were basically coming home.
Generation after generation the horses have lived and reproduced, alongside all the other wildlife. Therefore they are not domestic, they are truly “wild” and definitely deserve to be given their own distinct identity.
In this light extensive DNA studies were done on a very large number of the horses over several years by the U of C and the U of Texas. During the FHAC meetings it was presented that the results of the DNA studies by both geneticists showed that the horses are indeed distinct and unique to the Alberta foothills. They have evolved into their own breed. Considering the facts that they are reintroduced wildlife and have their own unique DNA, they deserve to have their own identity and recognition. They are indeed the “Alberta Mountain Horse“.
As the plan to manage the horses moves to its final stages, WHOAS still strongly believes that no adequate and humane method of managing the horses can take place when they are still given the derogatory identity as “feral”. One of the reasons that this term is still being used by the government is the opposition presented against them by others on the committee who have their own monetary interests at stake. In fact in one meeting one of these stakeholders stated “there is no _____ way that they would approve or that they would allow the ____ horses being glorified at all”. Very professional! ??
This management plan for the horses is necessary. One of the points is that the government recognizes that the horses are part of the landscape and will be allowed to remain as part of the ecosystem of the Alberta foothills. This is a big step forward from just a few years back when the idea was to totally eradicate the horses. Unfortunately there are those still out there who still have this opinion and blame the horses and the wolves for all that is wrong.
The drought of last summer and the overgrazing by cattle on some of the leases led to an extremally hard winter for all the animals. Spring has been late arriving, even by the second week of June there was little new grass and some of the trees had yet to leaf out. This has led to another problem in that the predators (bears, cougars and wolves) have stayed down in the valleys looking for food and the horses have become a major prey for them this spring. HAWS has several trail cameras which have documented both black and grizzly bears going after the horses. So this spring has been very hard for the beautiful horses.
It was only a few years ago when AEP officials were on national TV stating that the horses had no natural predators and that is why they had to cull the numbers. WRONG!
Considering all these factors the Alberta Mountain Horse population is in serious decline. In 2019 the total count in the six equine zones was 1,679 and this year 2022 the government’s count for all zones was 1,178. This is an alarming decrease, it could be even lower taking into account the hard spring and predation. If something is not done, there is the chance that the numbers might get to such a level that a viable, sustainable population is doubtful. Therefore all the wild horse advocates are continuing to work hard to help the horses and get them properly protected.
If you believe that the wild horses should be redesignated as the Alberta Mountain Horse and offered proper protection, let the Minister of Environment, Jason Nixon, know your thoughts.