By: Keator Poleman, Times intern
Within the some 604,000 acres of the Kisatchie National Forest, there lives a dwindling herd of wild mustangs which have long lived near Ft. Polk in Vernon. The U.S. Army at Fort Polk considers the mustangs “trespass horses” and issued a notice of intent to eliminate the horses on their website in 2016.
The document said the horses are “trespass livestock” and therefore not protected by the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 1971. According to the website, the elimination would have “no significant impact” on the environment.
For Kelli Briscoe, president of Haseya’s New Beginning Horse Rescue, one of the groups attempting to save the herd, her first encounter with the mustangs was in 2017 when she became a foster owner of two of the mustangs, she said. “I became so mesmerized by their spiritual presence, their intelligence, and their ability to give peace to any human that came into their path, that I wanted to fight as hard as I could for them,” Briscoe said. Haseya’s started its official rescue operation in December 2017, she said.
Briscoe said genetic testing on several members of the herd found the horses to have Spanish lineage. “Preliminary genetic testing of random blood samples from several wild horses at Ft. Polk confirmed heavy Spanish associations, pairing them with Puerto Rican “Paso” and Venezuelan “Criollo” horses (descendants of horses brought from the Southern Canary Islands region of Spain and Caribbean) in 15th and 16th centuries,” Briscoe said.
She said the goal of Haseya’s New Beginning Horse Ranch is to open a sanctuary for the mustangs with a herd management plan where the animals can live free from capture and continue on their Spanish lineage. Besides Haseya’s, Briscoe said other organizations with interest in helping the horses include: * Freedom Reins Ranch and Rescue * Wild Horse Rescue Inc. in Ohio * Baby Girl Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch in Florida. * Pegasus Equine Guardian Association Freedom Reins Ranch and Rescue, Briscoe said, took in horses in December 2017 and January, July, August and September 2018.
She said while some have been trained and adopted by approved homes, most are still in sanctuaries on leased property by Freedom Reins across Louisiana. She said Wild Horse Rescue Inc. has accepted 14 mustangs and began helping in 2018. Briscoe added that in order to maintain genetic viability, the recommended herd size should be between 100-150 members.
Pegasus Equine Guardian Association has spread awareness of the mustangs across the U.S. and orchestrated the transportation of 17 horses to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota, Briscoe continued. Amy Hanchey, president of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, said reports show the number of horses is less than 20-30 members. She said it is “extremely concerning” to hear of the U.S. Army’s efforts to eliminate the horses. “Four years ago this month (August) Ft. Polk held a meeting regarding this removal. From day one the public has begged them to consider other options, to consider their significance, to at least treat these horses with respect and be conservative in their removal plan,” Hanchey said.
She said while the army was required by federal law to open it up to public comment, they didn’t consider any sort of preservation and ignored the public. Officials at the fort gave the public 30 days from the day the notice was issued to voice their views of the elimination plan, according to a notice on the fort’s website. “Still to this day not one national nor state humane organization has stepped up to help, not one,” Hanchey said. Kelli Briscoe said her organization does not know how many horses have been killed. Meridian Falls Ranch in Texas, Briscoe said, accepted over 25 horses between May and June 2018. However, she said the group was found to have sold the entire group to a kill shelter in Louisiana in July 2018.
She said Freedom Reins raised money to “bail” the horses out of the kill shelter. While the facilities the horses were kept at were “disgustingly unsanitary,” Briscoe said the horses were brought back to health after months of treatment at the Freedom Reins ranch. She said she hopes a final DNA test coming from France will help get the horses protected. Horses are currently listed as livestock and therefore not a protected species. Briscoe said her organization would continue to rescue and protect the mustangs, regardless of their protective status.
“We will fundraise for sanctuary; we will get more organizations involved. No matter what happens, the Kisatchie Mustangs are safe with Haseya’s New Beginning,” she said.