Saving the Wild Horses of North America and How Extreme Mustang Makeover is Getting it Right

Canada has one of the lowest population densities in the world with only 3.5 persons per square kilometer – this is a lot of space to share, not only with other people, but also with the animals who inhabit the land. The province of Alberta is home to people (3.6 million of us), grizzly bears, black bears, big horned sheep, moose, deer, elk, coyote, cougar, multiple species of game birds and waterfowl and of course, the feral horse.

There are approximately 770 wild horses that roam the province’s foothills. This is an incredibly small number considering the vastness of the wilderness they call home, and yet every year Alberta’s ESRD (Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) issues permits for the capture and removal of these horses. They are an integral part of the ecosystem, but do not hold a “wild” status so they are not a protected species. In fact Alberta’s wild horses are managed under the Horse Capture Regulations, which is governed under the Stray Animals Act. These beautiful horses have survived here for hundreds of years, having been first documented by the original European settlers in North America, living off the land void of any human interaction. The term “Stray” is a misused one. Last year a record of 218 permits were issued, with nearly all of the individuals subsequently captured heading to the auction, and then to slaughter.

Other provinces have implemented laws to protect their own wild horses: Newfoundland labeled its Newfoundland pony a “heritage species”, Saskatchewan passed Bill 606 to protect the horses of the Bronson Forest and perhaps most famous, are the wild horses of Sable Island – a small crescent shaped island off of the coast of Nova Scotia – who are protected under federal regulations.

The Alberta government can look to these wildlife conservation and management strategies already functioning within Canada for insight and direction, but they needn’t stop there. The U.S. has an amazing program in place for not only raising awareness, but also getting horse people and the general public involved in protecting and managing wild horse populations. It’s called the Extreme Mustang Makeover and it promotes and facilitates adoptions of wild horses. Essentially 100 trainers are each given 100 horses and 100 days to train them from “wild to mild”. Then the Mustang Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management puts on the Extreme Mustang Makeover events across the country where the trainers compete on their gentled mustangs and then put them up for adoption.

Last month in Clemson, SC rider Elisa Wallace won the event on her mustang Fledge after earning the highest score in the compulsory maneuver and the freestyle portions of the competition. Here is a video of her winning ride:

And for a comparison, here is a video of Elisa and Fledge’s first day together:

The transformation here is amazing. And only after 4 months of training! It just goes to show wild horses deserve a status above “stray” and “feral” so that they are protected and managed humanely. They prove themselves to be intelligent and trainable over and over again at these Extreme Mustang Makeover events. Watching a few of these videos has opened my eyes to how willing horses are with proper and gentle training. It has also served as a reminder that the best horses aren’t necessarily the ones with the registration papers or sought after pedigrees. I hope the government here in Alberta will look to the Mustang Heritage Foundation and seek to emulate how it has successfully raised awareness and gotten people involved in protecting and managing wild horse populations through it’s Extreme Mustang Makeover program.