Good deeds: Feeding Wild Horses

What makes a deed good? Is it good intentions or is it good results? Or are both elements required for a deed to qualify as good?


When it comes to the wildies (loose, wild and feral horses), some people turned their good intentions into action by putting out feed for the horses wintering on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.


Putting out hay along roadways certainly attracts wildies (as well as other species), but it also puts them in jeopardy.

photo: M Shatosky

Normally the wildies do not spend much time on or near the roads in their habitat even though they have become more accustomed to the logging trucks, oil and gas vehicles, and recreational travellers on those roadways. Baiting them with feed means they have to make a choice: follow their instincts to stay away or go for the easy eats.


The people who put out the hay likely did not intend for horses to be struck by vehicles or for drivers to be at risk because of the animals on the road, but those things happen. When humans are at risk, the animals often bear the brunt of the consequences by being viewed as nuisances or by being removed from the area. Such results may not have been considered when the well-intentioned feeders dropped off the hay.


And what of the hay itself? What are the consequences of distributing high-percentage alfalfa hay for animals that are conditioned to exist on native grasses?


Because alfalfa is a legume and a lot richer in some nutrients than the grass the wildies are accustomed to eating, their digestive tracts, like those of any horse, react to such a sudden change in diet. Bob Coleman, Extension Horse Specialist at the University of Kentucky and a former Albertan, advises that such a change can easily lead to gastro-intestinal stress. The symptoms of which can range from mild digestive upset to severe colic (potentially life threatening) and may include diarrhea and dehydration, both of which have a weakening effect on the horse. Again, such things were likely not what was intended.


However, should we excuse such practices because of the good intentions, do we complain amongst ourselves or do we promote and participate in education so that people consider consequences beyond their intentions? What would be most beneficial to the wildies?

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