Okotokian trying to save wild horses

Alberta: Small band of animals west of Millarville

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am

Lynn Westgate’s photo of a wild horse near Sundre, which was taken two or three years ago.
Lynn Westgate’s photo of a wild horse near Sundre, which was taken two or three years ago.
photo courtesy of Lynn Westgate

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An Okotoks woman who shot wild horses — with her camera, not a gun — is trying to save the animals from the Alberta cull.

“I have been phoning, emailing people to get on the bandwagon to protest this to all the powers that be,” said Lynn Westgate.

The provincial government has called for the capture of nearly 200 wild horses from the current population of an estimated 980 in Alberta. The majority of the animals are in the Sundre area, however, there is a pocket of wild horses northwest of Millarville.

A designated horse capture has been issued for a large area stretching from north of Canmore to nearly Drayton Valley. As well, there is a smaller capture area west of Millarville, stretching west to Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) and north to the Bragg Creek area.

The capture, which will end in March, would consist of licensed capturers collecting horses using baited corrals. The licence holder may then either keep the animal or sell the horse, sometimes for slaughter.

Westgate was part of an organization in 2013 to put an end to any culls in Canada in the future.

“A gal down east (Adrienne Calvert) started this petition so she could present it to parliament,” Westgate said. “So I got the email, went around physically to get people to sign a petition to present to the (federal) government, which did not go through but we are not quitting there.”

She got her love for wild horses when she was invited to join professional photographer Larry Semchuk in taking photos four years ago near Sundre.

“He took me up to see them to take pictures of them, that’s how I got involved in it,” she said. “I have been up there several times since and have photographed them. I eventually got to know Bob Henderson, who is the president of the Alberta Wild Horses of Alberta Society.”

She disputes the Alberta government’s claim the horse are destroying the environment by eating natural grasses or are competing for grass with cattle.

Westgate would prefer the government tranquilize and then sterilize the animals rather than capture them. She prefers calling them wild horses, rather than feral which is used by the provincial government.

“Feral horses implies they are horses that were once domesticated, but are now running wild,” she said in a prepared statement. “Yes, some are feral horses, some have shown evidence of Spanish blood.”

Tom Gamble, a farrier from the Cayley area, has rode in the hills west of Millarville for four decades.

“I have seen a lot of them over the years,” Gamble said. “They always take you by wonder, they have never bothered me at all and I have been riding up there for 40 years.”

Gamble has grown-up with horses. He said the capture is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There is a little good into it,” Gamble said.

“When people here of this, they think they are going to eradicate all the horses. That isn’t ever going to happen.”

He said the number of horses running wild does increase due to a handful of domestic animals which escape over the years.

He said one of the benefits would be the cutting down of in-breeding that takes place in the small bands of wild horses, adding he has photos of “big-headed, homely horses.”

Carrie Sancartier, Alberta environment and resource development spokesperson, said the capture is a question of balance.

“What we are trying to do is remove a small amount of horses from the landscape, certainly not the entire population, to find some balance with other wildlife in the area and livestock that use the same resources.”

Wild horses tend to gather in grassland areas, particularly which have rough fescue, which is popular with other wildlife.

“These grasses are quite sensitive to overgrazing, particularly in the spring which is when the horses like to feed off them,” she said.

She said the horses are mostly descendants of workhorses that escaped in the 1900s.

Licence holders are screened and a baited corral are used.

They are required to check on the horses daily. The horses are inspected for brands.

Once the horse has been cleared, they belong to the licence holder.

For more information about the capture go to esrd.alberta.ca For more information on Calvert’s petition Google Save Alberta’s wild horses.


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