Feral horses looking for a home

Concerns a group of feral horses may get sent to a slaughterhouse if they're not bought at auction are unfounded, says the Yukon's director of agriculture.

Concerns a group of feral horses may get sent to a slaughterhouse if they’re not bought at auction are unfounded, says the Yukon’s director of agriculture.

“If (the horses) aren’t sold off here then we’ll try to find other places for them,” said Tony Hill. “We wouldn’t send them off to a meat packing plant … I don’t know where that rumour started.”

The 11 horses were recently corralled in the Takhini Valley area where some ran wild for up to 20 years.

The horses will be sent to ranches in Alberta or British Columbia capable of breaking and rehabilitating them so they can be sold.

Some may end up in the horse-equivalent of a retirement home, said Hill.

But the government is hoping they’ll be snapped up before they need to send them down South.

To try to draw more public interest and give people time to put together a bid, the government has pushed back the date of the public auction, which had been scheduled for this Saturday.

It will now happen on October 9.

In the meantime, the two groups of feral horses are being boarded at the Whitehorse Riding Stables.

Getting them there wasn’t easy.

Rounding up a band of horses that have run wild for almost 20 years is complete mayhem, said Paul Heynen.

He spent years trying to wrangle one set of seven horses near Haines Junction that some people say may have once belonged to Elijah Smith.

They were becoming a problem for motorists.

Recently two of the mares in the band were killed when different cars collided into them on the Alaska Highway.

To try and lure the horses Heynen set up some corrals with food along the highway.

But he couldn’t just use bales of hay.

“The (feral horses) don’t even know what hay is,” he said.

So he put salt blocks in the corrals and waited.

It can take months for the horses to no longer feel threatened to feed from the corral.

But when they finally tripped the gate, he got five mares and one stallion penned in the corral. A younger stallion didn’t get in, but was waiting nearby.

Heynen needed three other people just to transfer the horses into a trailer.

“You’re nervous because you’re dealing with a stallion,” said Heynen, explaining that he’s watched a stallion on his father’s farm tear another horse’s throat out.

“They’re extremely dangerous, especially around mares.”

The four wranglers, each standing on a thin piece of plywood, used a large tarp to push the horses through the corral and into the trailer.

“The plywood is flying everywhere,” said Heynen.

“If the stallion hits the corral you’re standing on he might just run you over.”

Heynen has been wrangling horses, cows and geese for 25 years.

The government began actively capturing horses in 1988 after a nasty spate of accidents in the early ‘80s that killed six people. Between 1982 and 1986 there were 88 accidents involving horses.

Since 1996 there haven’t been any fatalities related to horses, said Heynen.

But horses are still dying.

This summer alone nine horses were killed between the stretch of Haines Junction and the Takhini River Bridge, said Heynen.

Seven of those horses were owned by people and had gotten loose.

That was the case with the other four horses Heynen captured earlier in the summer that are up for auction.

He initially caught eight horses, but the owner couldn’t afford the fees to get his horses back so he forfeited four of them.

According to Heynen, there are still two groups of feral horses running wild in the Yukon.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com

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