Spring Welcomes New Life

Spring is trying to come but the warmth to bring on the new grass really hasn’t arrived yet. For the wild horses, the arrival of this year’s foals cannot wait for the green grass. Some of the mares have given birth and these beautiful young babies are wonderful to see. The ones we’ve been able to see so far are looking strong and healthy and the mares are in relatively good condition.

Even on the open hillsides that get the warmth of the sun all day, the new grass is slow to come. The herds are moving around a lot in order to find enough feed. This herd has no foals yet but there are three pregnant mares in the group.

This cutie with his spiked mane is last year’s foal. He has come through the winter in good condition thanks to his mare allowing him to nurse. He is taking advantage of the warm sunshine.

This young stallion has come through the winter so well with his shiny, glossy coat. He has been rolling quite a bit to groom out his winter coat. This show us the hardiness and beauty of our Alberta wild horses.

With the spring weather comes the shedding of winter coats and the need for the wild horses to also deal with the winter itch. This young boy takes the opportunity to scratch his chin and neck on a tree stump.

This gorgeous mare and her foal take advantage of new green grass along an open spring. These are the areas that become green first and the horses and other wildlife definitely know this. Both foals in this band are fawn coloured which is the most prevalent colour for newborn foals. If they laid down in the brown grass they would be well camouflaged and that may be the reason for their colouring. This is the usually the case no matter what the colouring of the mare or stallion.

This little guy is an exception with his mare a light sorrel and the stallion is a dark bay. It is amazing that only being about a week old, how quickly they mimic the adult horses by picking at the grass. So far all these early foals are doing very well and have a good chance to grow up. Despite the weather changing almost daily, all they need is Mom’s milk to remain healthy and strong.

Mom was unconcerned as this little one tested out his footing on a frozen pond. He seemed to take great pleasure in listening to the sound his hooves made on the ice. Luckily he remained on his feet and joined his herd again as they wandered off.

This black beauty is the sire to the two fawn coloured babies. He stood off to the side as the mares fed and his one little guy practiced his skating lessons! Other stallions were in the area, and he was constantly on the alert to protect his harem. You can tell he is in prime condition for this time of year. His strong genes will be carried by the foals he sired and assure his strong characteristics will be preserved.

We were happy to see another one of our favorite stallions looking absolutely magnificent as he fed along a hillside and kept watch over his mares. We had not seen him for a long period of time so this was a treat in our travels that day.

This is wonderful time of the year to visit the wild horses as the babies are arriving even though most will come in May or June. One thing we have noted in some locations, the herds will start to gather in order to protect the new foals. There is protection and strength in numbers.

Come On Spring!!

Although winter has been extremely kind to our wild horses, we are all hoping for an early spring. March can be tough on the horses as the snow gets crusty and the food sources become a bit harder for them to find. This little yearling has done well but still relies on its mom’s milk to keep it growing and thriving.

Floating on air!

This stallion did not like us being too close to his band who were pawing through the snow just beside us. He is seemingly floating above the roadway through the new fallen snow. Once he let us know he was not happy, he joined his herd and we left him in peace. The tranquility of winter scenes with the wild horses is always inspiring.

Soaking up the rays

In certain parts of the horse range the hillsides are exposed allowing the herds to move about a little easier. These two take advantage of the winter sunshine and they have very good body condition for early March.

Here you can tell that the sunshine along with the chinook winds have opened up the terrain. The wild horses take full advantage of these locations.

Whiskers

This youngster may need a shave! We just thought he was so cute with his long facial hair.

March is also the time of year when the bachelor studs start honing their fighting skills. They will need to use these techniques that they learn in these mock battles when it comes time for them to challenge a band stallion for his harem. If you are looking for action photos, this is definitely the time of year you can find them. When we did our aerial count with HAWS we found this same bachelor group and they were still at it!

Can you find the two grey coloured mares? These bands were taking full advantage of the diminished snow on this high hillside.

WHOAS along with HAWS and financially supported by Zoocheck, decided to work together to conduct our own aerial census of the Sundre Equine Zone. This is a controversial area and although the AEP will be conducting their own government survey, in our own minds we just wanted to ensure that the number of horses in this zone are reflected properly by both surveys.

In our ground travels throughout the winter we were finding a lot fewer horses in their typical wintering areas. Why was this? So one of the other factors that we wanted to determine was where had the horses dispersed to and maybe determine why. This type of information is crucial in our ongoing meetings with the government in determining a long term management strategy for the wild horses. Where they are inhabiting is important in what effect they may be having on forage availability for the cattle leases and other wildlife.

What we found out was that a large number of the horses have moved into more remote areas away from roadways and people. In fact in our flights we were seeing horses in areas a long ways back in the forest where we would never have been able to see them before. Another factor we found interesting is that when we approached horses that were used to human interaction, they would mostly stand and watch us fly by as we counted their numbers. However those horses that were in the more remote areas were truly wild! When we approached with the helicopter they would immediately start to run off. So in these instances it was a quick tally and then leave them be.

Typical terrain in the Sundre Equine Zone

There were 3 bands of horses in this meadow, and as you can see with the new snow and the bright sunshine they were easy to spot from a distance. We would them move in circling above to do a count on the total number of horses and also determine in each band how many subadults (1-2 years old) were with them.

During the 2 days we conducted our survey we flew in tight grid patterns in a south to north direction, half a mile apart, along the same grids used by the AEP in their 2019 count. We adhered precisely to these patterns to ensure that our count numbers were accurate. We used GPS coordinates to map the exact locations of every horse that we spotted, band or single.

This photograph gives you an idea of the grid pattern that we flew on day one and the marked waypoint locations.

One of the most frustrating situations that is occurring in the Sundre Equine Zone is the ongoing criminal theft of a very large number of trail cameras set up by HAWS in the Williams Creek area. HAWS was using data collected from the cameras in order to identify horses and also track their movements. Information such as this is again important in determining what sort of action may be necessary in the AEPs long term population management strategy for our beautiful Alberta wild horses. In total HAWS has lost 83 cameras in a short period of time. Along with the cameras are the SD cards containing all the data that they were counting on to help them in their research. However, not only has HAWS lost cameras out there, the University of Saskatchewan over the 3 years they had been conducting their research have had 39 cameras stolen.

On wonders why these criminals would be doing this. But one of the things that come to our minds is that they do not want the truth about what little impact the horses are having on the environment. They would prefer the biased and misinformation they put forth about the horses be what the government uses. Who would want this?

One of the arguments used against the horses is that they are destroying the environment. Take a look at the photograph above which is above the Red Deer River Ranger station. This damage was done just this past fall by atv users. Now I have been using this back country since the early 1960s and this hillside has always been untouched and undamaged until now. Cattle, horses, deer, elk and bears have used this same hillside without causing any damage whatsoever for millennium. The grass was always there for the animals no matter what species. Come spring when the rains come, these tracks will be washed out and a permanent scar will remain. These tracks will likely encourage those who have no respect for the environment to continue to degrade this lovely hillside. What is the government going to do about this as I did report it to them?

In the past, opponents of the horses, including the government, have claimed the wild horses are overrunning the countryside and their population is ballooning out of control. All this with no sound scientific basis. Others claim that the horses are the reason that there are no wildlife left in the foothills. Again with no proof. It is so much easier for many to blame the horses and the wolves for what is wrong in these ecosystems. This is so far from the truth.

We were just sent an article from the “Family Herald”, dated August, 1966. The article starts off with people being concerned about recent attempts to round up bands of wild horses. This used to be called the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve where wild horse wranglers who had seen the horses estimated there to be two-three thousand head. The Alberta Forest Service (currently AEP), used the same arguments then that the horses are taking the grass away from the cattle and the wildlife. Some things never change! The article briefly outlines efforts to remove the horses and their failed attempts to do so. Quite an informative article!

In the 60s, even the Alberta Cattlemen’s Association stated there were three thousand horses roaming at will throughout the foothills. Newspaper articles state that in 1991 the Alberta Fish and Wildlife department indicated there were 300 wild horses in Kananaskis country. In the AEP aerial count in 2021 found only 81 horses here, so the numbers are not ballooning out of control in fact they are diminishing. Our point in all of this is that the number of horses now roaming in all the equine zones are not at a level that requires any intervention. In fact even in the 2021 census the total number of horses in all the equine zones has gone down. Why is this? The research from the universities and from HAWS could have helped determine why the numbers are going down.

Some do not want to know this and even the AEP in the past have refused to acknowledge even their own past records on the number of wild horses living in the equine zones. This has enabled them to blame the horses for all that is wrong today.

Those that claim that there are no elk to hunt any more because of the horses, fail to realize that when the horses were as numerous as they were, elk were in abundance in these areas. As a matter of fact back in 1977 the Alberta bull elk record was taken in the Panther River area. I myself back in the 60s and 70s, on the same hillside mentioned, have seen up to 500 head of elk grazing in midwinter. Further back in the YaHa Tinda it was not unusual in the winter months to see vast numbers of elk. Where did they go? It is definitely not because of the horses that the wildlife numbers have diminished so much.

WHOAS is grateful that the current FHAC committee formed by the AEP has recognized the importance of the Indigenous knowledge and history in providing answers to all these questions and help determine a fair and sound management plan. This knowledge goes way back well before the arrival of white settlers onto their land.

In our opinion it is not the wild horses that should be of concern in determining the environmental action to protect the ecosystems and landscape of our Alberta foothills that is necesssary. Factors such as global warming, drought, deforestation, industrial exploration and increased recreational use do play a significant role.

WHOAS continues to be involved with the government in coming up with a fair and humane management strategy to protect the wild horses. One of the biggest obstacles we are coming up against is their refusal to redesignate the horses as a distinct species and removal from the Stray Animal Act where they are deemed a ‘feral’ animal. This is completely wrong, they are not stray animals. We will do whatever is necessary to assist in coming up with a viable solution to allow the horses to remain forever free.

A New Year

A new year is upon us and the winter so far has been fairly kind to the wild horses. In our travels we are finding the horses to be in excellent condition. This beautiful boy was in an open muskeg meadow where the horses are able to find exposed grass under the bushes. So far there is very little snow throughout the foothills area and the horses are able to move around readily in order to find suitable forage. We certainly hope more snow is yet to come in order to diminish the lingering effects of last year’s drought and help prevent another one this summer.

Along with the lack of snow there has been plenty of warm temperatures and sunshine which also helps keep the horses in good condition. These two mares are soaking up the afternoon sunshine on an open hillside.

Blue skies, warm temperatures and an open hillside to feed upon. So beautiful and tranquil.

This beauty blends into her surroundings and being in foal we hope that the rest of the winter months are kind to the her and the other horses, enabling the pregnant mares to have strong foals come spring.

WHOAS and HAWS along with other horse advocacy groups are working hard to ensure that the needless persecution of the horses by those that oppose them being on the landscape stops. Both WHOAS and HAWS are part of the Feral Horse Advisory Committee (FHAC) which is an Alberta government led committee composed of those who are deemed to be stakeholders and tasked with the purpose of coming up with a population management strategy. Meetings continue to discuss what this plan should entail and to try to come to a consensus on the future of the wild horses. One of the biggest roadblocks is coming to an agreement on the number of horses that will be allowed in each of the equine zones.

Some of the cattle lease holders are unwilling to compromise stating their old and unsubstantiated argument that the horses are taking grazing away from their cattle. WHOAS has carried out our own observations throughout the years showing that there is plenty of grass available to the cattle, to the horses and to the other wildlife until the cattle have been out on these leases for a period of time. One of our big observations is that you can go into other areas of the province where there are no wild horses and by the end of summer the cattle have eaten the grass down to the ground. So we say quit blaming the horses for being the culprits in the equine zones where the wild horse management plan is proposed.

WHOAS does agree that a sound, unbiased management plan is needed.

We wish to see the heavily pregnant mare pictured above being able to roam free and wild with her foal. Here she has her beautiful stallion standing guard but pushing her along to keep up with the rest of the herd.

The point that WHOAS is trying to get across is that the horses cannot be blamed for destruction of the ecosystem where they live. There are too many other contributing factors including climate change, drought, industrial use, logging, a substantial increase in recreational use and the cattle. We believe we must all share in the responsibility of taking care of this precious environment. There needs to be more thorough research into what effect if any the horses are having on the environment. Alternately there also has be research into what other activities, including cattle grazing are also having on the ecosystem. Its not good enough to keep doing the same things over and over again, based on old biased information.

One of the most important issues WHOAS has been advocating for in the 20 years since our inception is that the wild horses of Alberta be given a distinct designation and governing legislation. We have always agreed that the population must be humanely and properly managed. The term “feral” which is currently used to describe them by the government is derogatory and hinders the process of having them properly managed and protected. Several stakeholders have agreed and put forth the point that they are in fact “naturalized wildlife.” This means that they have lived and reproduced in the wild for several decades untouched by humans. Currently they are managed under the Stray Animal Act which is totally inappropriate since they are not strays and belong to no one. By considering them as naturalized wildlife they could be given a distinct identity such as the Alberta Mountain Horse. This would enable them to be given their own distinct legislation in order to manage them responsibly and protect them. They have a right to live there too.

The other point is that no one can blame one species, including humans, for the degradation that is taking place in the ecosystems of our Alberta foothills. In fact, the six equine zones represent such a very small part of the total public lands here in Alberta.

This young colt needs your help in order to remain free and wild.

WHOAS is committed to assuring that wild horses like this mare and her little filly will always be given the chance to stay free and wild. We will do all that is in our power along with groups like HAWS to make sure this happens. We will not waiver!

Merry Christmas!

On behalf of WHOAS Board of Directors, but especially from the wild horses, we want to wish Merry Christmas to all our supporters. We wish you a happy and safe holiday season and look forward to your support in furthering our efforts as we work with the government to get these beautiful horses better protection. Thank you so much and stay safe.

Winter Is Here

The fall weather was long lasting and kind to our Alberta wild horses, but winter has now arrived. The snow has started to accumulate throughout the wild horse range but snow depth varies greatly depending on where you are. Going into this time of year, all the horses we have been following are in very good condition. Even the snow is here, it is easy to paw through to find forage.

Underneath the pine trees the grasses are still exposed. This young mare obviously has been under the trees in search of something to eat. Just look at my lovely white scarf! One thing about horses, whether wild or domestic, the cold does not bother them that much as long as they are healthy. With snow, it also doesn’t affect them unless it becomes very deep or crusted over. Right now even the youngsters are not having any difficulties.

Look closely and you can see these horses enjoying the solitude and quiet of an open clearcut. Winter is actually a wonderful time of the year to visit the wild horses because everything is so pristine and beautiful. Taking pictures of horses and other wildlife in winter conditions can yield some fantastic images.

This is an example of the different birds and wildlife you are able to see in the winter months. This little Northern Hawk Owl keeps a close eye on us as we walked out to photograph some horses.

Even at this time of year with the sun so low on the horizon, this boy takes advantage of a nap while standing in the sunshine. At ease and relaxed, the sun does warm him up and provides some energy.

This young foal was with his small herd feeding in this winter sunshine. It got to be too much for him and shut went his eyes and he snoozed under the watchful gaze of his mare and stallion.

Dad stares us down. His facial colouring is unique – he has white eyelashes on his left eye. He moved around to ensure his mares and his foal were safe but was not too concerned with us admiring his beauty.

What a stunningly beautiful this mare is! Dappled grey with a silver mane and tail. But on her muzzle you can see some brown, roan colouring too.

This mare was part of the same herd. Absolutely beautiful to see and watch.

In the area where we found these two boys, the snow wasn’t that deep yet. As is typical with young studs, they were having a discussion of who was the leader.

A day later in another location, this magnificent roan stallion was with his good sized herd on an exposed power line. The chinook wind was howling and he put his butt to the wind as he dozed off in the sun. He such a powerful, mature stallion and his genes can tell a story of what makes our Alberta wild horses unique in the world.

As we ended our travels for the day, we were fortunate to be bid farewell by this stunning young stallion and his friend. One thing about the wild horses is that they can sense from a distance whether or not you mean any harm. We were allowed to get close without disturbing them because we believe they can sense our admiration and love for them.

No matter what the temperature, we will be out there again, because what better way to spend a day than with nature and the wild horses.

Our calendars are sold out and we want to thank everyone for supporting WHOAS and our work to save and protect these wonderful horses for future generations.

November 2021 In Wild Horse Country

2021 certainly has been a year for different weather patterns in Alberta. It is now November and we are still waiting for some significant snowfall to arrive. The forests and open hillsides are extremely dry and moisture is desperately needed. However the horses are doing very well and enjoying not having to paw for any feed.

The drought this year has definitely affected the amount of forage available and therefore we are finding that the horses are moving around a lot.

This year’s foals that have survived have grown and are thriving. This beautiful herd is taking advantage of the late fall sunshine. In open areas like this they are still able to find tasty morsels of green grass around the fallen logs.

We found this herd around a natural mineral lick and it was such fun to watch these two youngsters play fighting mimicking some young bachelors that were close by. Meanwhile the other members of this family were trying to rest in the afternoon sun. This went on for quite some time until one of the mares came over to stop this nonsense!

The black mare behind these two has a very distinctive facial marking. It is features such as this that we use to identify individuals and keep track of the different herds.

While all this commotion was going on the stallion patiently stood guard and made sure the bachelor group did not come close to his mares. He is so gorgeous and proud and shows the unique beauty of our Alberta wild horses.

Another beautiful black stallion with a few battle scars, feeds in an open, sunny meadow but is always on alert for possible dangers.

This boy unlike the other stallions has no herd at the moment and had joined up with a younger stallion for company. He is absolutely magnificent and come springtime will be likely looking for some mares of his own.

We have to travel far and wide at this time of year in order to find the different herds we are monitoring. Back in a far valley this herd had found a quiet, undisturbed area to feed in. There is feed to be found even though they are in a clearcut area. They have learned to be very careful, even the young ones, when navigating through these areas.

WHOAS is part of the Alberta government’s Feral Horse Advisory Committee along with HAWS and we are working very hard to assure that scenes such as this will always be for future generations of horse lovers to enjoy.

We are happy to announce that we have now sold out of our fund raising calendars. We wish to thank all of you who have supported the wild horses and WHOAS work to protect them by purchasing a calendar.

Lest We Forget

On November 11 you may take time out of our busy day to remember our brave men and women that have died or fought for our freedom and those that still serve our country. Thank you.

I would hope that we can also take a moment to remember the millions of horses that also died on the battle fields.  Horses throughout the history of mankind have always served us with little thanks for the important part they have played in our heritage and history.  Some of the wild horses that roam our Alberta foothills are descendants of these horses that served our country and the world. In the Glenbow Museum archives they have pictures of horse wranglers rounding up wild horses in the Red Deer River/Ya Ha Tinda areas during the First World War. These are the areas where our Alberta wild horses still roam free and wild. That is also one of the reasons I fight so hard to protect and save them.

For over 100 years the red poppy has signified our remembrance of the men and women who have served to protect our freedom. In recent years there is a purple poppy that is being used to signify remembrance of all the animals that have also served their country to protect our freedom. Besides the horses who served our country, there were donkeys, mules, dogs and so many other animals who died during these wars and conflicts. The purple poppy is for them.

Run free little one and thank you.

Fall Ramblings

The fall season is upon us and the wild horses are busy moving around to find as much forage as they can in order to build up their body reserves for the cold months ahead. It is a wonderful time of the year to be travelling the back roads, photographing and observing our beautiful wild horses. This is “White Lips”!! She has a very distinctive white lower lip, thus her name.

This little colt is enjoying the afternoon sunshine while his family feeds around him in an open clearcut. Like the rest of the members of his herd he is in excellent condition and has grown quite a bit since we first saw him in early June.

Travelling the very dry backroads and trails this day was totally enjoyable, with the warm October sun adding beauty to the countryside and vistas. With the sun lower in the horizon at this time of year it highlights the coloring and the beauty of the horses we came across. That can be seen by the highlights shown on this magnificent roan stallion as he approached us to protect his herd. You can tell by his large neck and muscular build that he is mature and in his prime. What a beauty!

This mare has a unique facial marking and features such as this on many of the horses that helps us to be able to catalog and follow them. Two other members of her herd including the stallion had very distinctive markings as well.

These two youngsters even though sired by the same stallion show the wide range of coloring that occurs throughout our Alberta wild horse herds. As sunset neared we ended our travels enjoying the images of this beautiful herd of horses. So peaceful and tranquil and truly unique to Alberta.

We were so happy when our little orphaned colt was adopted. He has found a new home in the loving care of Amber Marshall from Heartland. Here you can enjoy a video of the day he was picked up from WHOAS rescue/handling facility. He will have a very good life going forward.

Everything that WHOAS does is funded through generous donations and especially the sale of our fundraising calendar. These funds help us to take of the horses we have had in our care and will allow us to continue to protect and save our Alberta wild horses. You can find a link on how to purchase a calendar at the top of the page. Your support is appreciated and needed. Thank you!

WHOAS 2022 Fundraising Calendar

Sold out

WHOAS is happy to report that our yearly 14-month fundraising calendar is now available. We have ensured that the dates are enlarged to make reading the months easier.

This is our 19th edition and we are able to price them the same as last year with the generous support of our printer, Copy Repro. The price remains at $25 which includes postage and handling, this cost is only for Canadian addresses.  This is our major fundraiser for the year as other opportunities have been cancelled because of COVID-19. You can order yours now with PayPal or send a cheque to:

WHOAS
Box 4154
Olds, AB   T4H 1P7

We can also accept e-transfers only if your mailing address is included. They can be sent to WHOASalberta@gmail.com.

Thank you for your support and interest in our efforts to further protect and save our Alberta wild horses. All funds raised goes toward our work with the horses. Your support is so important to the horses and we thank you sincerely.

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September Update

Fall is here by the feel and look of it and so we thought we would provide an update on the horses under our care at our handling facility. Our little rescued foal, Garside is doing quite well. He is still getting his milk and now he is also being given other foal supplements to help him grow strong and healthy. Here is today enjoying some sunshine after a very cool evening.

We made sure he has lots of clean bedding and some protection from the weather. We are working hard to minimize his human contact, but look at him he is so adorable, in order for him to better learn how to be a horse. Since we are closed due to COVID, it is only our regular volunteers who have the contact with him. He will soon have one of the other horses under our care join him for company.

Part of our gentling process is having the horses learn to safely load and unload from our horse trailer. When they are ready to go to their new home, they have learned how to do this safely for both them and their new owner. Here is Gordy standing calmly.

Our volunteers are very experienced and knowledgeable on how to bring a horse along to this point. Being led into our stalls before hand definitely helps get them ready for this next task. Here Danny is quietly moving the little mare, Ella, toward the trailer. Here she is surveying where she is being asked to go. She was calm but careful and stood for a few minutes to check it all out. We do not force the horses, but rather let them figure it out on their own time.

After 3-4 minutes, it was first one front foot, then the other. Looking at Gordy for reassurance, she walked in and waited to be tied. During this whole procedure she was never overly excited. This is wonderful because this Sunday she gets to go to her new, forever home.

This is Ghost who has been adopted and he will soon also learn the loading lesson. He will be gong to his new home by the end of the month.

Here are buddies Galahad and Galloway taken in the warm sunshine while enjoying some fresh hay. We have a potential adopter who is planning on taking both the friends together. We are just waiting for confirmation.

A little muddy after a rainy day yesterday, Gizmo, who is waiting to be adopted, is enjoying the morning sunshine and his breakfast. He is a very friendly horse, is two-years old, has been gelded and freeze-branded. He is small in stature but big in heart. He has progressed well with the gentling process, ties into a stall, and loves to be brushed and fussed over. He has had is feet worked on and he has been vaccinated and just wormed as well. If you are interested in him, please act quickly as of right now, he is the last horse available for adoption.

The adoption application can be found on the website at the top of the page – http://www.wildhorsesofalberta.com. And you can email us at WHOASalberta@gmail.com.