We kept seeing these ‘watch for wild horses/tame horses’ signs along our route through the mountains. At one point, DD (the husband) and I turned to each other and in unison said;
‘Ya right! Wild horses? Whatever – AS IF!’
It just seemed so unreal. I have never seen a wild horse, and for some reason we both doubted the validity of this signage. DD has lived in British Columbia his whole life, and had no idea there were wild horses only a couple short hours from home.
Our doubt didn’t last long. It was literally a singular minute after uttering our uneducated (ignorant!) statements before we saw just that – wild horses!
Grazing in the ditch of a small community on our route to Pemberton, along side the highway. Their manes were bushy, raggedy and disheveled, the fur on their backs longer than I have seen on any domestic horse – they had ‘winter coats’!
Of course I had to do some research about these incredible creatures and found out a few interesting things.
First, I learned that at one time, not long ago (2008) the BC government was paying local Native bands to shoot and kill the wild horses to use them for wolf bait and slaughterhouses. It was felt that they were competing with both native caribou herds and domesticated range cattle.
The director of government services with the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG),has been quoted as saying;
‘…my people have been capturing horses for generations for personal use. The sale to auctions and ultimately to slaughterhouses is also a way for natives on economically depressed reserves to earn money.’
The capture of these horses does not seem to be the problem – it is what happens AFTER the capture. The local Natives have clearly stated that they do not condone the shooting of wild horses for use as wolf bait. Also from Joe Alphonse, director of the TNG, via canada.com;
“If you’re going to take a horse, you pay respect and get out on the land and chase that animal in on horseback. If you can’t do that, to sit and hide there and shoot guns at a horse out in the wild where the animal could get wounded and suffer, we wouldn’t endorse that.”
But, as Alphonse also stated, the 200 – 500 CAD per wild horse caught, can really help out an under (or un) employed family.
How did these horses het here? Well, history attributes them to the Spanish, who brought the modern horse with them about 5 centuries ago. They were already here roaming loose in the mountains and valleys when the great explorer Simon Fraser (whom of which many things in BC, and Canada are named after), finally arrived about 2 centuries ago.
About 200 of the approximately 1000 wild horses in central BC, are thought to be ‘genetically distinct horses’. Currently, ongoing testing is happening to uncover more about this, as they have become the focus of global interest due to speculation about their historic origin.
‘The province of British Columbia still refuses to recognize them as a species with a right to remain on the land, even though historical evidence is clear that they long preceded European settlement.’
Something I did not know; currently wild horses are considered ‘feral’ and lack any sort of protection. Unfortunately, because of this, they can be hunted for any reason, at any time. Shockingly, they are not considered ‘wildlife’, and aren’t anyones property – so you could catch them too – if you wanted (and could).
Though I certainly understand the few arguments presented (grazing caribou and so on), I do think these horses deserve their own rights. They have survived terrible winters, huge wildfires, near starvation – and us humans. They have been in the central mountains and valleys of our province for centuries. Certainly there needs to be a balance in the protection ideals.
And really, wild horses – how cool is that?
- Wild Horses of the Chilcotin (chilcotinproperty.com)
- Wild Horses (fonv.ca)
- Aboriginals Paid to Shoot wild Horses (canada.com)