Wild Horses in Canada and the United States
By Brenda Nelson
Many people are amazed to learn that indeed there are still some wild horses in the United States and Canada, although sadly they may not be quite what people envision.
Wild Horses in the United States
In the United States many wild horses are descendants of horses that were released, or escaped, from early Spanish conquers. Since those early days other introductions have changed the make up of these herds. Some intentional releases were made to introduce new blood into the wild herds. As well other escaped horses have added to the herds, and in recent times people have released unwanted horses (this is illegal), and these horse are not truly wild, but are “Feral”.
Now best known as Mustangs, the wild horses of the United States are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (the BLM), who are responsible for maintaining a reasonable number of horses for the grazing land available. This has raised controversy as over the years thousands have been rounded up and sent to slaughter (to be used in pet food). Many round ups were held because cattle ranchers did not like the fact that the horses competed with their cattle for grazing.
In 1900 populations of wild horses in the United States were reported around 2 million. Today the BLM considers 27,000 a manageable number, and regular round ups (including sending some horses and burros to adoption facilities) occur to control the numbers. Sadly more animals exist than there are adoptive homes for, and roughly 30,000 surplus animals are housed as a debate rages whether or not to euthanize these animals (animals over 10 years old or offered for adoption more than 3 times without being taken). The good news is that since 1971 the BLM has managed to find adoptive homes for over 225,000 horses and burros.
Adoption fees for single horses are as low as $125.
Prior to the anti-cruelty act, Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 (passed in 1971), the wild horse (and burro) populations were controlled without abandon. Horses were shot on sight, chased by airplane, poisoned, and so forth. Even now the round ups have been criticized as being cruel, horses have been chased by helicopter and stressed to the point where they are exhausted (unable to eat) and there have been reports of many deaths.
Most of Americas wild horses are in Nevada, with some in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon.
Wild Horses in Canada
Wild horse populations in Canada are quite different than those in the states, with more horses being truly “Feral” rather than wild. Meaning that most of these horses are ones released intentionally or escaped. These horses roam in the Rocky Mountains and foothills of southern British Columbia and more so in Alberta. The herds are typically smaller than those in the States, and the horses are not protected to the same extent as those in the States. Many horses are shot.
Many people go packing in the mountains and regularly a few horses find their way to freedom every year (often being scared at night and breaking away from where they are tied – thus many packers use hobbles).
These horses are viewed as pests by local ranchers who graze their cattle in the foothills of Alberta, but their numbers are not nearly as problematic as in the states as there are far fewer horses loose in this area.
Other Wild/Feral Horses
In both the United States and Canada, there are also populations of horses without owners that are often called feral or wild. Examples of these horses are the Sable Island Pony of Nova Scotia, Canada, the Banker Horse of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and the Chincoteague Pony from Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia and Maryland. Groups of released horses range other areas of the United States, abandoned due to the recession, and lack of slaughter facilities.
About Brenda Nelson