By Kathy Smith 

More than 1,400 wild horses call Alberta home, and now the province has developed a new management plan meant to encourage the sustainability of the horses and address their impact on the ecosystem. 

The government developed the Feral Horse Management Framework because the size of the feral horse populations in some of the equine management zones is putting pressures on the province’s rangelands, wildlife, and livestock. 

A 2023 count puts the province’s feral horse population at more than 1,400, with 969 located in the Sundre equine management zone. 

Map showing Alberta’s six equine management zones that make up the horse capture area. Source: Government of Alberta 

The Feral Horse Management Framework states: “Alberta’s feral horse populations are descendants of escaped or intentionally released domestic horses, used by First Nations, farmers, ranchers, logging and mining industries and hunters before and after the Industrial Revolution. The post-Industrial Revolution shift away from horses has not changed the fact that horses are a part of Alberta’s heritage, with the province being home to one-third of Canada’s domestic (owned/non-feral) horses. 

Alberta’s current feral horse populations are not actively managed. They live on an active, multi-use landscape where the significant, simultaneous demands can result in cumulative impacts to long-term sustainability. As part of the Crown Land Vision, the ministry is working to streamline the integration of various land uses through red tape reduction and legislative updates. If horses are not integrated into a landscape-scale approach of managing natural resources, there will be significant long-term threats to resource sustainability.” 

The management plan is science-based and includes a pilot project with the The Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) to issue capture permits, which allow nuisance or distressed feral horses to be placed into adoption programs. WHOAS was formed in 2002 to give Alberta’s wild horses a voice, and their mission is: “to ensure the provision of all aspects of the conservation and humane treatment of wild horses in Alberta. We are committed to the preservation of these magnificent animals in their natural environment.” 

The full Feral Horse Management Framework is available on the province’s website.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Besmellah Samim