Perspectives on the Free-Roaming Horses in Kentucky

THE APPALACHIAN TRADITION

Due to the mountainous nature of the Appalachian area in Eastern Kentucky, flat land for pasture is at a premium. So for many years, people in this area have free-ranged their horses in the mountains. Thousands of acres have been mined and reclaimed into flat, mountain-top areas, which – once the reclamation process is complete – offer a remote and safe sanctuary for horses. If people did not have these areas for free-ranging, they would not be able to own and enjoy horses.

SOME CONCERNS

Along with the special opportunity to view these beautiful animals roaming in the mountains came a few problems, however. Some stallions have been released into the mountains, creating herds that are growing each year.  The foals from these breedings are becoming feral if they do not have a chance to interacti with humans.

Occasionally  horses wander off of the remote sites and into residential areas and roads, creating a public safety issue and destroying property.  The roads in winter offer both warmth and salt, and the residential properties offer better grazing in the valley rather than on the mountain tops.

The majority of mountain horses are not vaccinated against well-known contagious equine diseases.  Disease outbreak is also a concern.

HOW THE HORSES FARE

In spring, summer and fall, there is usually plenty of grass and other forage to sustain the herds. But in the winter months, food sources can become scarce, and the horses begin to wander off the mountains in search of food. This movement of horses out of the mountains has created property owner conflicts and safety concerns. Pregnant mares who still have last year’s foal on them, and the most elderly horses, are at the highest nutritional risk in the winter.

THE LOCAL OFFICIALS’ DILEMMA

A simple solution would be to take up those horses that are causing damage or are in harm’s way. But where does one put an 900 pound animal? Or what about a herd of ten to twenty 900 pound animals?  Once the 15 day holding period expires for a stray horse that is picked up, then what does the county do with the horse? County governments are not organized nor funded to handle the increasing number of horses needing picking up, holding, vet checking, and then placement.

THE APPALACHIAN HORSE CENTER’S ROLE IN THE FREE-ROAMING HORSE SITUATION

We at AHC look upon the free-roaming horses as an asset to the community.  With a focus on holding horses while they are in their 15-day hold period, then using some of them for special programs like equine therapy and education, and finally making sure that horses which are picked up but not claimed get the best possible shot at finding a new home, the AHC provides solutions as well as economic development through tourism and jobs.

This focus can only be carried out by a cooperative effort of horsemen, country officials, economic development/tourism and education experts.  We will welcome visitors to come see the herds roaming in the mountains and learn about these horses and their lifestyle; yet we need a structured management program to ensure that the horse population does not get out of control,  causing public safety, property and disease problems for us all.