KBR Wild Horse and Burro News

More scientific priorities set

Story Date: December 10, 2007

For a number of years the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association (VRWPA,) occasionally assisted by other groups, have provided winter hay to wild horse bands in the Virginia Range. As techniques for monitoring these horses have improved, the wild horse groups have concluded that the adverse side effects caused by winter feeding exceed whatever benefits may be derived. As a result the field active groups have embarked upon more scientifically based range strategies intended to provide greater sustainability for the horses without degrading their natural instincts.
Natural behavior? Horses "trained"
to come to the feeding truck.

Here are the problems.

Foals (who learn most of their survival skills in their first 18 months) do not learn how to forage successfully in winter conditions. They learn that if they get hungry, they simply need to seek out humans. We have a whole generation of horses that have come out of the Highlands to such places as Reno and Moundhouse that simply hang out for handouts in the winter. Eventually those not killed on the highways get removed from the range.

Horses desensitized to humans will abandon their winter survival skills in favor of easy meals.
Feeding programs concentrate too much grazing pressure near the areas where feedings take place. The advantage of winter snow is that horses naturally dissipate into areas far removed from normal water sources where there has been little if any summer grazing. Some bands have been observed going for a week or more before returning to their customary water sources. The combined effect of available moisture from snow and reduced transpiration during winter allows these horses to engage in a natural seasonal dispersion of grazing pressure. Horses need to migrate to winter grazing grounds to reduce the amount of overgrazing taking place in their "home" grazing areas and to lessen their impact on winter germination of essential grasses.
Winter feeding grounds near Misfits Flat. No shortage of grass here.
Feeding programs desensitize horses to humans and disrupt their natural survival behaviors. Bands that remain wary of humans don't get picked up unless some kind of major aerial roundup takes place. They find their niche on the range and stay there.

Providing the wrong feed to horses can also impact their survival ability. Horses have evolved to consume the kinds of grasses that they instinctively seek out. These grasses actually act as sponges, holding water in the horse's secum and allowing horses to move about and graze longer between trips to their water supplies.

Horses have evolved to be most compatible with native food sources. We humans tend to feed what is most pleasing to us. What we provide for them isn't always what is best for their independent sustainability. The most humane approach is to maximize the range's ability to produce natural food supplies and reserve distributing hay for those rare dire emergencies.

Not much grass is visible to us humans
But the horses seek out the grasses that they pass over during the summer.

Continue to Part Two

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