Friday, January 20, 2012

Wild Horse Visit

A couple weeks ago my son and I took a day trip west of Sundre, Alberta to see if we could find some of Alberta's wild horses. There is plenty of hot discussion about these free ranging horses from environmentalists, ranchers, governments, hunters, trappers, logging and oil industries and people like ourselves, who love the idea of wild horses in the wilderness. There are people who want to exploit them by trapping or rounding them up to be sold to abattoirs who will butcher them for world wide people and pet meat markets. Other people want to be able to round them up and break them to ride, pack or pull a wagon. Some people are shooting and leaving them to rot for some perverse pleasure.

Do horses belong in the foothills and forests of Alberta or any place else they live? Are they truly wild or are they just released from some ranch or farm who can no longer care for them properly?

Are they feral animals, horses gone wild after wandering away from abandoned farms, pack outfits, ranches, or lost Indian ponies who wandered off to scrounge a living were they could? Some people suggest they have genes from the original Spanish Conquistadors horses. There were horses in North America before the last ice age, so perhaps these are descendants from then.

Irregardless of where they come from or the discussions about how to manage them, they are beautiful animals who seem to fit into their chosen ranges. As Michael and I drove along the Forestry Trunk Road, we spotted at least 15 animals in 3 different herds. Some were farther off and unapproachable. One herd was grazing on the hillside on the other side of a river. Another group was foraging through the lodge pole pine forest above the road. All were very alert and noticed us as soon as we stopped to look them over. We spotted a herd of 4 about half a mile down a shallow hill in an old logged out burn. I decided we should try to approach them to get some photos and to see for ourselves what they looked like up close. We made our way downhill using natural draws and bushes to hide in on our stalk. The snow was crunchy and the wind waffled around,as if unsure of where it was coming from or going to. We managed to get within about 100 yards before the naturally alert ponies noticed us. 2 of 4 heads popped out of the grass to see what we were all about. Pretty soon all 4 horses watched as we continued our nonchalant approach. I had already got a few pictures figuring to at least get a record of what we were seeing before they bolted for the tall timber, but they kept grazing quietly as we got nearer. We got to within about 20 yards or so, closer than I have gotten to "tame" horses, before horsey body lingo told us we were there. For the next half hour or so, we were in the beautiful western Albertan equine living room. As these horses grazed, we maneuvered to get the best angle of the sun and background for photos. I see the same inter species awareness as they grazed and monitored our actions, as I do when I watch bears or birds. I try not to interrupt their business or stress them out as we enjoy their company.

The horses were in beautiful condition, I thought. A few scars, war wounds from battles of old, marred otherwise pristine coats. Long guard hairs covered full, finer undercoats, their ribs were well covered by a layer of fat and well conditioned muscles rippled as they grazed. One stallion has a giant "skin tag" on his left hind quarter. Their feet were in good shape, judging by their tracks in the snow. Best of all was their alertness and their curiosity about the two humans who quietly moved along with them as they gathered their noon time meal.

We saw only deer tracks interspersed with the few horse tracks as we wandered around this burned over landscape. There was plenty of grass with quite a bit of browse for the critters to eat. Rabbit tracks were also numerous and there were grouse trails on top of the snow. It seemed to me that there was plenty of food for the horses and any other animals who may want to live here, The horse herds that we saw were well dispersed so as not to over graze the land.

This was a good day, memorable for me for the company I was with. Time spent alone with your son sharing a wilderness experience in the company of wild animals is always memorable. We don't get to do it often enough.

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