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Wranglers should wear helmets: coroner

Yukon's coroner is recommending that anyone hired to wrangle wild horses in the Yukon wear a helmet.

Yukon’s coroner is recommending that anyone hired to wrangle wild horses in the Yukon wear a helmet.

The recommendation, from chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald, comes as part of her report into the death of Arnold Johnson in January 2014.

Johnson, 57, was a subcontractor hired to round up wild horses north of Whitehorse, near Kusawa Lake.

According to Macdonald’s report, on Jan. 26 Johnson and a second man were attempting to wrangle six horses from a coral into a loading shoot to be taken away from the area.

It is not uncommon to move wild horses in the Yukon. They are seen as a public safety concern.

This group of horses was frequenting the highway right of way on the North Alaska Highway, Macdonald noted.

The horses spooked and an 800-pound mare tried to jump a metal livestock gate. The mare got her legs tangled up and both the horse and the gate fell on Johnson, Macdonald said.

“Mr. Johnson struck his head on the frozen ground and was immediately unconscious,” the report says. “As a result he sustained serious head injuries and was pronounced deceased on Jan. 27, 2014 at Whitehorse General Hospital as a result of blunt force head trauma.”

Macdonald lists his death as accidental.

The coroner’s report is in line with a preliminary report released by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board in March.

According to the board, the direct cause of the accident was “that the metal fence panels in the chute were not capable of withstanding the force applied against them and one failed when the wild horse attempted to jump it.”

The sole recommendation in Macdonald’s report is that people working with the feral horses wear helmets. She notes that Johnson did not have a helmet or any other protective gear when he was knocked over.

“A helmet would have mitigated the head injuries sustained by Mr. Johnson in this incident,” she said.

The recommendation, to the Yukon government’s agriculture branch, is that anyone who is working to capture, corral or transport feral horses be made to wear a helmet.

The Yukon’s feral horse wrangling operation was put on hold following Johnson’s death.

Agriculture director Tony Hill said his office is waiting for the WCB to finish its final report to decide if the program is going to be started up again.

He said they intend to implement the coroner’s recommendation if the program is restarted.

WCB spokesperson Richard Mostyn said his office is planning on releasing its final report in less than two weeks, on Jan. 26.

Contact Ashley Joannou at