Please Don't Pet or Feed Wild Horses

The Ochoco National Forest and the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition wish to remind horse enthusiasts and other members of the public not to pet or feed wild horses, because doing so can actually harm the animal and require its removal from its native range.

Earlier this month, campers on the Lookout Mountain Ranger District befriended a wild mustang that entered their camp. They fed the horse, petted and groomed him, and the horse followed them on rides with their own horses. It was not the first time this horse had human interactions. He had been coming into the campground for at least a year, receiving similar treatment from campers who wanted to befriend him.

The mustang had to be trapped because he remained in the campground after the campers departed, seeking food from other campers and companionship with their horses. He lost his fear and respect for humans, and he lost his instincts to return to the forest and forage as he had previously done. 

“When we have a wild horse that has become accustomed to human interaction, we have to remove the horse from the territory for the safety of the public,” said Lookout Mountain District Ranger Slater Turner. “This takes a lot of time to plan and execute. My commitment is that my staff will implement the capture and removal in the safest manner possible for the horse, the public, and our employees.” 

The horse was successfully loaded into a trailer last week without injury or incident by skilled employees, but not without several days of work and preparation. Wild horses may seem calm and friendly in the forest, but their response to captivity and transportation can differ from domestic horses. There is potential for a life threatening injury when attempting to trailer them.

“This was a very stressful situation for all involved including the horse, which is unfortunate and really unnecessary,” said Tory Kurtz, a Forest Service wild horse program manager.  “I’m happy that he will be going to a good home and I appreciate all of the partners who helped make this successful.”

“The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition is extremely concerned about the rise of intentional interactions between public and wild horses in the Ochocos,” said Gayle Hunt, president of the coalition. “There are currently several horses which exhibit all the signs of persons deliberately attempting to tame the horses, and many other cases where persons have been observed doing this or have posted photos.”

There are several reasons why taming wild horses is a problem, Hunt said. “First, the wild nature of these horses is what keeps them somewhat safe, and promotes the level of interaction between their own species needed for immediate survival and long-range sustainability. More urgently, close encounters with people and with domestic horses will almost certainly result in the injury or death of some or all of the players. When domestic horses are allowed to mingle with wild horses, the risk of disease or parasite transmission is greatly increased, as is the likelihood of loss of fear resulting in aggression or breeding attempts between the horses. One photo taken recently showed the lone stallion in question being stroked by humans while their horses were hi-lined in camp. A wild stallion approaching a tied domestic horse would very likely end in strangulation of one or both animals. Too, this stallion is now fearless around humans and the breeding instinct will be unencumbered by any efforts by the human to protect domestic mares. The only way to resolve this situation is to remove the young stallion to a life of captivity.”

The captured mustang has been removed to a private pasture where he will be halter broke before he is sent to his new adopters. “We are fortunate to have a good relationship with the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition,” Turner said. “They have been very helpful in finding a good home for the horse.”

The Ochoco National Forest and the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition offer these tips and guidelines for camping and recreating around wild horses:

• Do not harass, chase, or harm wild horses in any way. This is a federal crime and can lead to a hefty fine and even jail time.

• Do not feed the wild horses. Handing out table scraps, grain, apples, or even livestock salt, can cause the horse to lose the fear necessary for survival. Poultry feed containing wheat, large amounts of grain, small yard apples, and mineral blocks formulated for other livestock can all kill a horse.  

• Do not touch or attempt to tame wild horses. Doing this causes the horse to lose its fear of people and can lead to the horse being permanently removed from its habitat because of public or wild horse safety concerns.

• Never let wild and domestic horses establish a relationship. Make certain your horse has not been exposed to equine disease and is current on vaccinations and de-worming. Camp away from known water holes and gathering places. 

• Don't tie horses unattended in wild horse country. Don't expect flimsy portable panels to keep your horse safe. Use hotwire pens to leave a lasting impression on the wild ones.  

• Please drive slowly in wild horse areas. You never know when a horse may jump out in front of your vehicle.

• If you have any concerns about wild horses please call the Ochoco National Forest office at 541-416-6500.