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.

A New Year

It is a new year and the weather has been very kind to our wild horses. In some locations the snow is deeper than in others but it is still soft and easy for the horses to paw through to get the grass underneath. Further west there are many open hillsides allowing the horses in these areas to more readily find enough forage. It is on one of this slopes that we found one of our well known grey mares and her very young foal.

This little on was born sometime in December. Mom and baby are in excellent condition and on this day were enjoying the beautiful warm sunshine with the rest of the herd.

On our travels this day it was fantastic to see how well all the wild horses we saw were doing so far this winter.

These two beautiful mares look so picturesque against the backdrop of the west country.

Wild horse country on a beautiful, sunny winter day.

Here one of last spring’s foals is still nursing which helps it keep growing and thriving throughout the rest of the winter. Nursing foals will be weaned later on in the year.

Strong and healthy.

Another gorgeous mare peacefully enjoys this warm January day. She was watching us as she stood guard for her herd.

Further along in our travels we were very happy to find an old friend, White Spirit. We had been unable to find him for quite some time and was nice to see that he has built back up his herd. He is strong and powerful, a very mature stallion. Even against the white snow, with the sunshine hitting him, he stood out so clearly from a distance away.

Son of Raven.

This is one of Raven’s offsprings. You really wonder how either one of them can see where they are going with such wonderful forelocks and manes? Just absolutely stunning!

You may be wondering how we got so close to this bunch. Someone had put a block of salt right next to the road. Although the horses appreciate getting salt this time of year when their natural salt licks are not so available, putting the salt beside a road is extremely dangerous for the horses and other wild life that comes by. Often you hear of a horse or even another wild animal being hit by a vehicle, especially during the night. If someone wants to do this, we urge you to please put it as far away as possible from any roadway to keep the wild animals and drivers safe.

We still have a very limited amount of fund raising calendars available. WHOAS still has horses in our care at our rescue/handling facility and the funds we raise goes towards helping take care of them until we find them their forever home. We are so pleased that Fanny and Eli have been adopted. Click on the link at the top of the page to order.

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.

Winter Snows

The snow has finally come to the hills and mountains in wild horse country and is starting to really accumulate. This beautiful stallion stands proud keeping an eye on his family on a hillside where the sun and wind still can expose the grasses.

Here is his small family group, two pretty mares and a yearling colt. They hardly moved at all as they watched us, letting the warmth of the sun melt the snow from their backs. The snow on the back of a horse indicates they are in good health with plenty of body fat built up to help them endure the cold temperatures of winter.

The horses we have been following are all looking healthy and strong. This little filly had no trouble keeping up with mom.

Even as the snow deepens it is still very soft and easy to paw through for the horses as they feed. Also next to the tree lines, there is still lots of totally exposed forage. Mom and her son are taking advantage of this.

The sun stays lower on the horizon now and late in the afternoon it highlighted this mare’s lovely mane.

This past summer there was so much human activity in the forestry that it kept the horses always on the move and seeking areas that could offer them some solitude. For a brief time the amount of traffic on the back roads diminished and the horses began appearing in more open areas again. With the November snows though, comes the Alberta big game hunting season and lots of traffic again on the back roads.

Although most hunters are very ethical there are still those individuals out there that view these wild horses with disdain. They are the ones that blame the horses for there being allegedly no deer or elk for them to harvest. It is with sadness and some anger that we have been notified of and found two wild horses that had been shot and killed. One was up in the Clearwater, a 3 -4 year old young stud and the other, a 7-9 year old mare, was killed along the South James River. Both beautiful horses that deserved to live, but were killed for no reason.

This magnificent stallion so exemplifies the beauty of our Alberta wild horses and why WHOAS and other groups continue to work so hard to get them better protected.

We continue to travel the back roads to document and monitor the horses. By doing so we are able to experience such peaceful beauty as the pregnant mare above and her stallion enjoy the sunshine. She is very pregnant and healthy and we hope to be able to witness her offspring come springtime.

We leave you with this photograph of this beautiful black mare, her black foal and her very pregnant “auntie”.

You can help WHOAS in our work to protect and save our wild horses by clicking on the link at the top of this page to order our yearly fundraising calendar. Again it contains beautiful photographs of the horses and the stories about how they live. As we a charitable society, we can provide tax receipts for any donations. All the funds goes towards the horses.

Lest We Forget

I take this day to remember all the horses and other animals that served Canada and other nations in all the wars we have gone through. November 11 is a day of remembrance for them and all the brave men and women who fought for a freedom and those still serving to protect us.

Millions of horses were casualties of the wars and in Alberta hundreds of wild horses were rounded up and sent over seas to join the fight for freedom. So the wild horses that still roam our Alberta foothills deserve respect for some of them may be descendants of those horses that served our country.

Here is a poem by Neil Andrew that really conveys my thoughts on remembering.

I spoke to you in whispers
As shells made the ground beneath us quake 
We both trembled in that crater
A toxic muddy bloody lake
I spoke to you and pulled your ears
To try and quell your fearful eye
As bullets whizzed through the raindrops
And we watched the men around us die
I spoke to you in stable tones
A quiet tranquil voice
At least I volunteered to fight
You didn’t get to make the choice
I spoke to you of old times
Perhaps you went before the plough
And pulled the haycart from the meadow
Far from where we’re dying now
I spoke to you of grooming 
Of when the ploughman made you shine
Not the shrapnel wounds and bleeding flanks
Mane filled with mud and wire and grime
I spoke to you of courage
As gas filled the Flanders air
Watched you struggle in the mud
Harness acting like a snare
I spoke to you of peaceful fields
Grazing beneath a setting sun
Time to rest your torn and tired body
Your working day is done
I spoke to you of promises
If from this maelstrom I survive
By pen and prose and poetry
I’ll keep your sacrifice alive
I spoke to you of legacy
For when this hellish time is through
All those who hauled or charged or carried
Will be regarded heroes too
I spoke to you in dulcet tones
Your eye told me you understood
As I squeezed my trigger to bring you peace
The the only way I could
And I spoke to you in whispers…… Neil Andrew

3 Seasons In One Week

In Alberta the seasons can change so quickly – from plus 20 C for a few days, then -10 C with a strong north wind and snow the next. This is how it was at the end of October. In our travels one day it was snowing heavily and it was accumulating on the back country trails. It didn’t bother the wild horses at all.

This small family group found an open hillside where the grass was still exposed and they did not have to paw to find enough feed. Another horse in the herd seemingly looked quite familiar to us, perhaps an offspring of the mighty Portero, our resident herd stallion at the WHOAS rescue/handling facility.

The similarities between the two, with the mane and body colouring is very interesting. This herd inhabits crown land just a short distance from Portero’s old territory.

This young stud was by himself and seeking a little protection from the snowfall in the pine trees. Even when the snow gets much deeper, underneath the pines there will always be some grasses exposed. This is where you will find them.

A few days later the sun had come out and we started our day driving roads that had become extremely icy. It was much warmer this day and the horses were out warming up in the sunshine. As we rounded the corner we came across this beautiful young colt and his dam. It appeared that they were all by themselves. We got out the binoculars and started glassing for their stallion and any other horses. Surprise! Standing on the other side of the vehicle, not 10 feet away from us was the stallion.

An old warrior, missing part of his left ear, he just stared at us, knowing we meant no harm, just a picture.

As we traveled along the roads soon became slushy, then muddy and the snow was melting quickly. This beautiful stallion had his family out in an open area, unafraid and quietly feeding.

This little filly was part of his herd and is now learning how to paw the snow aside to find the best grass. They learn this behaviour from the other herd members.

As the day went along, the warmed up and as we moved further north, there was far less snow. We found this family soaking up the rays. As you can see, four of them were snoozing in the warmth. Can you tell who is related?!

One of the reasons we went this way that day was to try and find this pair. In a previous post we had mentioned this foal all alone without a mare by his side. He was with his stallion then and this day we were delighted to find them together still. The foal had gained weight and was looking very healthy. We are hopeful he will make it through the winter with the guidance and protection of his dad. And look, later in the day the snow is all gone!

Toward the end of the day we had another treat. Here is Snow Queen and her herd. The foals in the herd are growing and are strong and very healthy. There was not a sound to be heard as they easily travelled through this old clear cut. What a way to end the day!

A few days later it was plus 20C. The roads were dusty and all the horses we saw were out in the open on the hillsides foraging. Perhaps they knew what was coming today? Outside our window there is a white sheet of blowing snow and even our own horses are tucked away in the protection of the trees.

We ended our day with the wonderful opportunity to photograph this magnificent stallion and his herd. What a beauty!

Fall Travels

What a beautiful time of year to travel into wild horse country.  The fall colours are brilliant and the weather is picture perfect. Taking advantage of this, we travelled out west to photograph the landscape and the wild horses. The roads and trails are dry making access into some areas much easier.

We weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the dry roadways. Here the lead mare is taking her herd toward a little stream just down the way. It was a spectacular day and we came across a large number of horses to enjoy and photograph.

We came across these two young stallions enjoying the warm sunshine in this open meadow. There was plentiful grass for them to eat but they decided to engage in typical young horse behaviour – play fighting. The unusual colouration of the roan boy was interesting to see. If you look closely at the first picture you can see he has a white dorsal stripe running down his back, where normally many other horses would have a black one. Usually neither parties will sustain any serious injuries.

This beautiful dappled grey stallion has a small band standing near a mineral lick and fresh water just in front of him. His foal has grown and is strong and healthy.

As we travelled we enjoyed seeing the herds doing so well. Just look at this beautiful mare and her foal.

The day that we were out the west winds were blowing strong and a great many of the herds we came across were taking advantage of the wind to keep the horrendous little flies at bay. Here is one of our recognizable herds which has several colour variations in its members. This was the case in almost all the herds we saw. This made the day special with lots of horse colours and the fall season colours too.

Another beautiful coloured mare and here you can see the black dorsal stripe we mentioned.

As we rounded a corner on a back trail, in a meadow we found a large herd with these two adorable young colts. The stud was a powerful red roan and there were four other coloured variations within the mares, so neat! As the mares fed peacefully in the clearing, these two young hooligans ran off and started to push and shove playfully. They kept it up for a long period of time until reprimanded by their mares.

Another tranquil scene.

We came across another herd with this mare and her tiny foal, likely only about three weeks old. The mare is in extremely good condition, strong and healthy, and should be able to sustain her baby going into the winter. Every once in awhile we come across these late foals and as long as Mother Nature is not too harsh, they can survive. The baby was able to follow the mare and her herd through this clear cut debris without too much difficulty. In such clearings next to the logs, grass can be found that is still fresh and green providing excellent nutrition.

Not everything we find is at it should be. Here this young colt has apparently lost his mare and we looked all about to see if she was around. It was just him and we presume his sire by themselves. As we watched, the two walked off together. We are hopeful that the stallion will be able to afford it enough protection and guidance to him that he will survive. We will be trying to find them again to see how things are going.

We are pleased to announce that our 18th edition of our fundraising calendar is now available. We have been able to keep our costs the same as last year, so $25 each which includes postage and handling. This will be our only major fundraiser at this time.

The link to order is now open and you can find it at the top of the WHOAS website page. We want to thank everyone for your continued support during these difficult times. Stay well.