Feral horses in Alberta

Release of domestic horses is illegal according to Section 16 of the Forest Reserves Regulation

According to the Stray Animals Act individuals releasing animals will be charged for all costs of capturing, identifying, transporting and selling the animal, as well as any damages caused by the animal on private property.

Albertans have a strong emotional connection to feral horses due, in part, to their role in settling the West. In North America, wild horses have been captured and tamed for centuries. These horses have been used to:

  • Help with labour in the fields
  • Improve quality of life in a variety ways
  • Provide people with a means of transportation

Most of the original bands of Alberta’s feral horses, are found west of the town of Sundre. The majority of these are believed to be descendants of domestic horses used in logging and guiding/outfitting operations in the early 1900s. When these horses were no longer needed, they were abandoned or released. Over the years, escaped and illegally released horses have continually been added to the population, creating the bands present today.

Every summer, rangelands on the eastern slopes produce a finite amount of forage on preferred range and there are many land uses of these public areas (recreation, forestry and resource extraction, wildlife, livestock and feral horses). All of these uses need to be managed to ensure public lands continue to provide forage, watershed protection, water filtration, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat.

Since the horse population is expanding a population management program is necessary to ensure there are minimal adverse effects on rangelands.

Management of feral horses by Environment and Parks was previously done only through capture. The department is currently reviewing management strategies and their viability, including immunocontraceptives and adoption.

Further information

In the early 1990s, concerns about mistreatment of horses captured on public land led the Alberta government to create the Horse Capture Regulation under the Stray Animals Act. This regulation was developed to ensure humane treatment of feral horses during round-up and restricted the use of inhumane methods of capture, including the use of snares.