Alberta’s Unique Horses

DNA studies conducted by both the University of Calgary and University of Texas show that our Alberta wild horses are indeed genetically unique. They have DNA related to the draft horse, Indigenous ponies and the original Spanish horse. There are multiple genetics found, but these studies show that this blend of genetics is only found in our Alberta wild horses. Leading scientific researchers have stated that if we were to lose these horses it would be a very large loss to Alberta.

Every spring new foals are born carrying on the unique traits of our beautiful wild horses. This little one will have very good hearing…look at his ears! He catches the warm sunshine next to his herd feeding around him.

This is a wonderful time of year to be visiting wild horse country. The grass has finally come in abundance and the horses are able to build up their body reserves. Although most foals are born in a tawny colour, some of the unique genetics come to light when you see a lovely grulla coloured baby like this one. Mom may look this colour too but she is covered in wet mud having recently rolled to her delight in a muddy pond. This helps to protect her from bug bites and also conditions her coat.

This is what it looks like! A day at the spa!!!

And this is what they look like after such a luxurious mud bath.

Other are more refined and choose a roll in the dry dirt.

Along with mud and dust baths, the wild horses will seek the shelter of the trees in order to escape the onslaught of insects and this also provides protection and relief from the heat of the sun. Herds will find their favourite spots and utilize them throughout the summer months.

In certain areas that the horses inhabit you will find different colours and in this part of the forest the pinto colour has emerged. This colouring disappeared for a long period of time in the west country but again the genetics are always there and now we are finding these beautiful pinto horses. These two mares could be related. They certainly stand out and are wonderful to see.

In our travels it is always nice to come across old friends just like this white mare. It is amazing that you will see the horses a few times in a row and for the longest period of time you can never find them as they roam throughout their territory. We often wonder…where do they go?

Hello world. I’m only a few days old. A very curious baby from the herd that was not concerned with us taking some pictures. When we come across a herd feeding contently with newborns around, we always maintain our distance in order to assure that we do not disturb the families or cause any stress to them. We use our camera lenses to get these close-ups and are thankful we have such opportunities. If the herd is disturbed, it could cause them to run off to protect the babies and there stands a chance that the foals could injure themselves due to the rugged terrain they live in. Again this year we have heard accounts of foals with broken legs as their bones are still soft and growing. So, please keep a respectful distance when you are out viewing these magnificent creatures.

These horses have found a beautiful open meadow to graze and grow in. The horses prefer an open area in order that they can see potential danger. Sight, smell and hearing are so important to them. One of the reasons horses are more spooky when it is windy is that they cannot hear approaching danger clearly and the wind disperses the scent of other creatures. Horses are herd animals depending on their members to help keep them aware and safe especially when foals are on the ground.

Feeling safe and secure.

Another member of wild horse country, this young black bear thought that we couldn’t see him if he stayed still behind the bushes. One of the wonderful things about our foothills is not only being able to enjoy with wild horses, but also being able to see the other wildlife that lives there.

An offspring of the stallion we call Socks, who we haven’t been able to locate for awhile, is dozing in the sun alongside his family. It is nice to see the genetics of colour and strength passed along from Dad to this boy. We will spend the rest of our summer travelling the back country enjoying the serenity of being with these horses.

Beautiful Horses for Adoption

Felix

In the past few months WHOAS has been called upon to rescue a number of wild horse stallions that had strayed onto private land. This seems to have become a springtime situation which is caused by landowners whose property borders the public lands and their failure to maintain their fences. In some cases it may be because of a tree falling down across it but in others it is pure neglect. The maintaining of the fences is required under the Fence Line Act of Alberta.

Fortunately WHOAS is in a position to be able to rescue horses in such a situation and bring them to our facility where the journey toward a new life can begin. We truly wish they could be free. With WHOAS we assure their health and that they are rehomed to suitable forever homes. The new owners will ensure that they will be cared for and given a good life.

Pictured above is Felix, now 2 years old. He is already to go having responded nicely to his gentling and now needs to bond with his new human.

Fargo

Our other boy that has been with us for awhile is Fargo pictured on the left with the blue halter on. He has responded fantastically and has even been saddled by our wonderful volunteers. They continue to work with him to assure he continues to progress. Fargo, who is 4, deserves a really good home with a very knowledgeable owner.

George

This 4 year old bay we named George has also come along extremely well. He is a quick learner and responds eagerly to new things presented to him. He is ready to go to the right owner who will end up with an amazing horse.

Geronimo

This 3 year old we named Geronimo. He came in a little bit thin but under tender loving care by WHOAS volunteers he has gained good weight since this picture. Currently he has not been gelded and his gentling process has just begun. Again, like all wildies that we have worked with, he shows a willingness to respond to the work being put into him. He is taller than some of the others we have rescued. Just look at his long legs! He is now haltered and leads well in and out the barn where he can be tied into his stall.

Galahad

This is beautiful Galahad, a 3 year old. He is a light sorrel with flaxen mane and tail. He is also haltered now and is learning to to be led. He too goes into his stall every morning or days like yesterday in from the pouring rain. The volunteers begin brushing him and getting him used to human touch. He too needs to be gelded before going to a new home.

Gordie

This is a 4 year old dark bay that we named Gordie. If you wonder where the “G” names come from, in the years the horses are brought in, a letter of the alphabet is assigned to identify them and for 2021 the letter is “G”. He is one of our most recent arrivals so his gentling process has just begun. He has been haltered and is led into the barn every day. The intelligence of these wild horses definitely shows through in the way that they respond to the passionate care they receive from our volunteers.

Galaway

Say hello to Galloway. Also about 4 years old, again who has only been with us a short time and he is progressing well. Each of these boys has a unique personality and it is interesting to hear from our volunteers how these traits affect the way they respond to their care and nurturing. He is haltered and will be gelded in the near future.

Gizmo

This beauty with his long mane and tail we have named Gizmo. He is smaller in stature than many of the other wildies we see. He is very friendly and in a very short period of time has progressed fast and well. In the stall he enjoys the gentle touch and brushing that the volunteers lavish on him. We are not quite sure of his age but most likely around 4.

We encourage any prospective adopter to come out to visit and learn how to win over and gain the trust of these magnificent young boys. There’s lots to learn. Our volunteers can show you the ins-and-outs of how to care for and bond with these wildies. Maybe you have a home for one of them.

If you are interested in volunteering, send us an email and we will put you in touch with our leaders who manage our facility and they can arrange a time for you to visit.

Volunteering with these wild horses is not all glamorous! It involves cleaning their pens, feeding, watering, all before the actual handling begins. If this is something that interests you, we do want to hear from you. Bring a lunch, some boots, rain gear (maybe) and a smile. We will be happy to meet you!

WHOASalberta@gmail.com

Welcome Visitors

As COVID restrictions have started to be lifted, WHOAS can now accept visits to our site. However, we ask you to make an appointment first to ensure our volunteers will be available to meet you and show you around.

Please call Jack Nichol, 403-638-8255 or Dan McIntyre, 403-507-3791 to make arrangements.

WHOAS relies on public support and donations to be able to take care of our rescues, gentle them and find them a forever home. Your donations are gratefully accepted and we do accept funds via e-transfer through our email: WHOASalberta@gmail.com. PayPal is also set up on the website and cheques made out to Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) can be sent. All donations will receive a tax receipt.

Trim Time

Part of our responsibility in taking care of the horses that we rescue is to assure their overall health and welfare. This includes the trimming of their hooves to keep their feet in good condition. When a domestic horse is to be trimmed, you call a farrier, you hold onto your horse, he lifts their feet and the work is done. At WHOAS the resident herd of horses we have are semi-wild and we do not handle them unless necessary. However, they also occasionally need their feet trimmed too as they do not have the opportunity to naturally wear their hooves down. So we bring in an expert farrier who has designed a system to allow for horses to be safely trimmed. These two mares peek around the corner as they wait their turn to go down the trimming chute.

WHOAS has developed our handling system to work in conjunction with the farrier’s specially designed tipping table trimming chute. The design of the chute system allows for the safe movement of the horses into the tipping table. The table has been designed so that the horses can be safely restrained to assure they do not hurt themselves or the farrier working on their feet. He has used this successfully for many, many years dealing with a wide variety of horses in all types of situations. Other rescue groups also employ his expertise.

Have a look at my feet. The front ones are long and misshapen so it is time for my pedicure! This mare moves freely toward the handling system where attitudes can change!

The process at work, secure in the table, the hoof is trimmed down, and then a special grinder designed for this job makes them look pretty. This assures the overall health of these horses or any horse.

While Granite’s mom, Babe, was being trimmed, he decided to visit with George, one of the other young boys, who has been adopted and just waiting to go to his new home.

All mares are done and waiting to be put out to pasture including Babe and her son Granite.

The mares did not hesitate to tear off and it was quite something to see Granite flying like the wind following the herd. Then it was Portero’s turn to join his herd and off he goes!

We are happy that Fritz, a yearling, will be going to his new loving home this week.

Felix, a coming two-year old, is ready for adoption too. He will need a knowledgeable and kind owner with lots of time and patience to bond and work with him. He has quite a personality.

The Geldings

Babe’s new little colt, Granite, was so interested in what was going on the day we were to geld 3 of the young boys so that they were ready for adoption.

We are so fortunate that the WHOAS veterinarian, Dr. Bruce Stover assembled a very experienced team to assist him in the process. Here the team begins to get ready, preparing drugs and equipment for the 3 surgeries they would undertake.

This is George, a three-year old who had strayed where he didn’t belong and WHOAS was obligated to rescue him. He was the first to undergo the procedure and has already been adopted. Used to being haltered, and handled, he was totally relaxed waiting in the chute, having done it many times before (this is part of the gentling that is done so the horses can be handled safely).

The chute that we use is specifically designed to allow for the safety of the horses allowing us to do whatever may be necessary in order to assure their health and wellbeing.

Administering the sedation drugs.

Once sedated he is led down to his “operating suite”.

Now fully under sedation, the operating can proceed with two veterinarians conducting the surgery while another team monitors his breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels.

Here he is a short time later, walking around wondering, “what just happened to me?”

This is Fabian, a yearling who has already been adopted.

Part of our gentling process is to bring the horses along to the point where they can be led and handled safely. Much work has been done with Fabian as you can see as he is being led.

The gentling process pays off as Dr. Stover is able to administer the sedation as the boy just stands quietly for him.

The best laid plans often have a hiccup. Once fully sedated and examined it was discovered that he was crytoid, that is only one testicle had descended. The surgery to find the second one still inside his abdomen could not handled in the field. Therefore we have arranged this specialized surgery to be done at a well-known equine clinic. Unfortunately this will be very expensive. But WHOAS is committed to do whatever we have do for the health and safety of the horses.

While down, he was given his vaccinations and his wolf teeth were extracted. He was also freeze-branded which is a requirement on WHOAS for any horses that we adopt out.

Up and awake with his new brand. The brand hairs will grow back white, W over H.

This is the cute, yearling we call Fritz. He is so friendly that when you go into the pen he comes right up to you to see what you are doing. He loves to be brushed and fussed over. Fritz is still not adopted but we hope someone will step forward to give him a loving, forever home. If interested and you have the time and facilities, send us an email and we will get in touch.

WHOASalberta@gmail.com

He was so calm and relaxed while receiving the sedation.

The surgery with the full team at hand.

Safely up and walking around, vaccinated, wolf teeth removed, and new brand ready for his new home.

The whole time this was going on, our resident stallion, Portero, kept an eye on the proceedings and the other horses in line. Except!

The exception was little Granite pestering the heck out of Felix while his mom, Babe kept whinnying at him to stop! Felix is gelded already and just needs some more gentling and he will also be ready for a new home tool.

We are so happy that one of the more mature mares, Emma, and her filly and another young filly have also been adopted and will all be going home together shortly. Here she is being led to the chute so she can be freeze-branded and vaccinated along with Finally and Faelyn.

Standing calmly, and ready for her freeze-brand and vaccine.

The two fillies.

No worries…we’ve already been done! These two boys just laid in the sunshine while a lot of this was happening.

A Hard Time of the Year

Spring has sprung but we wonder where the grass is? These early weeks of spring can be especially hard on the wild horses as they struggle to find suitable forage to gain back their strength and conditioning from winter. Little ones like this new baby have mom’s milk to sustain them, but mom has to work hard to find enough food to produce milk.

Although there appears to be lots of grass, by this time of year it has lost a lot of its nutritional value. The mares in foal are roaming quite a bit in order to find enough to eat to help them successfully foal out their babies.

The yearlings from last year, like this filly, definitely show the hardships of winter. The green grass is starting to come but it needs a good soaking of rain to bring it on. Then all the horses and other wildlife will begin to thrive again.

Other youngsters, like this boy, like to play in the springtime mud. Its itchy loosing their winter coats and the mud baths and rolling help them shed out. Dad is so disgusted he turned his head away from his son!

This beautiful older mare is pregnant and right now is doing fine spending most of her time grazing. It will be interesting to see what colour her baby is. The sire is a bay as you can see in the following picture.

Taking care of his herd and new son is so tiring!

The rest of the herd is enjoying the warm sunshine. As you can see facial markings can be extremely helpful in identifying individuals. This is important for documenting and keeping track of the herds.

Lunch time. Foals nurse several times a day trying to get as much milk as they can before their mom moves off.

Done with milk. Time for a nap!

The forest and grass meadows are extremely dry right now. We are hoping we get some warm spring rains to help all the animals and cut down forest fire hazards.

Wild Horse Count 2021

The Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has reformed the Feral Horses Advisory Committee (FHAC) to come up with a management strategy for the wild horses on the eastern slopes of our Alberta foothills. The committee was first formed in 2013 but fell by the wayside with little being accomplished. It was during this time that WHOAS entered in an agreement (memorandum of understanding – MOU) with the government to establish our conception program and adoption program. This all came to an end in 2019 when the MOU expired.

In this reformation it is vital that any decisions or management strategies be based on current scientific research and knowledge. WHOAS had supported research being done by the University of Saskatchewan, but due to a lack of support by the AEP it was left in limbo. Now we are hopeful that going forward this and other research projects can be undertaken with support by the government.

One of the positives of this committee is the inclusion of a representative from the Stony Nakoda First Nations. We believe that the indigenous knowledge of the horses and the ecosystems they live in are key in future decisions.

As things progress with the committee and the management decisions being made WHOAS will continue to keep you up-to-date.

In February of 2021, the AEP did a census of horse numbers in all six of the wild horse designated zones. This was not done in 2020 but we do have the numbers from 2019.

Here are the counts and the comparisons from previously.

Zone 1 – Elbow – 2019 – 88; 2021 – 81

Zone 2 – Ghost – 2019 – 379; 2021 – 313

Zone 3 – Sundre – 2019 – 981; 2021 – 763

Zone 4 – Clearwater – 2019 – 101; 2021 – 118

Zone 5 – Nordegg – 2019 – 114; 2021 – 39

Zone 6 – Brazeau – 2019 – 16; 2021 – 0

Totals: 2019 = 1,679 horses actually counted; 2021 = 1,314

The 2021 count represents a 22% decline in horses counted. The only area showing any increase was the Clearwater but we want to point out that extensive clearcutting has been done therefore making any horses or any other wildlife more visible from the air.

There are many reasons the population of horses has seen a reduction but includes increased predation from cougar, bears and wolves. Environmental factors also play a part as well as the dramatic increase in land use by recreationists which puts a lot of pressure on the horses.

The AEP has indicated that they are committed to the wild horses remaining on the landscape thus the need for sound scientific data to base any decisions on a management strategy.

This very beautiful and obviously very pregnant mare is due to foal any day now. We hope that her offspring will be able to live free and wild.

Winter Travels

Winter so far has been kind to our Alberta wild horses. As we travel the backroads checking, documenting and photographing them, we find that they are doing extremely well. The foals that are still with their mares are very healthy too and have thick fuzzy coats to help keep them warm.

Throughout wild horse country the snow depths can vary quite a bit. To the east and north end of their range it is deeper than that in the western sections. Even in areas where the snow is crusted over it is not that thick or deep that the horses can easily paw through it to find enough food.

Against and underneath the trees, there can be little to no snow and the horses work their way through finding this feed. As you see here this stallion is in fantastic condition as he enjoys the warm rays of the January sun.

This beautiful mare and her foal are also taking advantage of the sun and exposed grasses next to the trees. Both are thriving and truly show how unique and wonderful our Alberta wild horses are.

As we travel we find many different colourations of our wild horses. This is a dun coloured stallion next to one of his bay coloured mares. He is so proud and protective of his herd.

Close-ups thanks to a good camera lens. We use shots like this for our identification records that we use to keep track of the wild horses. They are all so beautiful!

WHOAS continues to respond to request from landowners and the LIS (Livestock Identification Services) to help deal with wild horses that get onto private land. In this case this boy ended up at the Ya Ha Tinda ranch, which belongs to Parks Canada. He was probably forced out of the area he lived in by heavy logging activity and looking for company he ended up at the ranch. After consultation with the authorities and with proper paper work in hand, WHOAS rescued him. Once he has been gentled and gelded, he already has a future home. Although WHOAS would have wished him to be free, in some situations this is not possible.

Here is Fudge, one of the previously rescued older stallions, now a gelding, looking at the newcomer. He is moving along quite well and hopefully by spring he will find himself a forever home. WHOAS continues to accept adoption applications for horses under our care.

Need some more pictures of our Alberta wild horses? We still have some of our 2021 calendars available via our website.

More 2021 Calendars Now Available

Due to an overwhelming demand for our annual fundraising calendar we had sold out of them, but wild horse supporters are continuing to ask for them. Due to continuing requests, we have ordered and now have in stock more available. If you would still like to purchase one and support WHOAS work to protect and rescue our Alberta wild horses, you can click on the link at the top of this page or send us a cheque at WHOAS, Box 4154, Olds, AB T4H 1P7. They are $25 each which includes postage and handling.

Merry Christmas

On behalf of the Board of Directors of WHOAS and the Alberta wild horses, we want to take this time for a safe and good Christmas and a better New Year. It has been a hard year for all and we hope the beauty of our wild horses can offer our supporters some happy thoughts and peace inside.