Advocates Urge Court to Immediately Stop Army’s Illegal Seizure of Horses, Slaughter Plan

SOURCE:  Animal Legal Defense Fund

Pegasus Equine Guardian Association files preliminary injunction motion to protect Ft. Polk horses


New Orleans — This week animal advocates filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking a federal court to take immediate steps to stop the Army’s illegal roundup and sale of Louisiana’s wild horses pending their lawsuit’s resolution.

In 2016, Pegasus Equine Guardian Association (PEGA), led by attorneys with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, sued the Army over plans to evict roughly 700 wild horses from a western Louisiana Army base and national forest areas that are used in trainings. The lawsuit alleges the Army violated laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, by asserting it did not need to prepare an environmental impact statement for the removal of the horses. The Army also omitted other requirements, such as ensuring nonprofit organizations could put groups of horses up for adoption, rather than the horses being sold for slaughter.

The plaintiffs filed today’s motion in an attempt to restrict the Army from moving forward with its plan, pending the lawsuit’s resolution. The Army has recently ramped up its efforts to evict the horses, leading to speculation it will try to moot the lawsuit by completing its plan before the issues can he heard.

For decades the horses have been living on, and part of, historic Fort Polk and Kisatchie National Forest areas. Horses have ranged free on this property long before Fort Polk existed. Animal advocates fear that the Army’s current, controversial plan will result in the slaughter of the majority — if not all — the wild horses due to the difficulty in rehoming horses who have been wild for generations.

“There are several unique herds of truly wild horses in Louisiana, that are of value both environmentally and culturally, especially to the inhabitants of the area, but also to all Americans,” says Amy Hanchey of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association. “The horses should be preserved and protected. Regardless if they have been abandoned, generationally wild or otherwise wild, their welfare is at stake.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund works with law schools across the country to expand their curriculum of animal law related classes and clinics. The organization’s expert animal law attorneys provide support and advice to programs, such as Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.


Animal rights group presses Army on wild horse roundups

by By JANET MCCONNAUGHEY as published in Stars and Stripes

Animal rights advocates want a federal court to make an Army base in western Louisiana stop rounding up hundreds of wild horses on land it owns or uses…

Horses graze in front of an armored Humvee at Fort Polk, La., on Sept. 20, 2014. Animal rights advocates want a federal court to make an Army base in Louisiana stop rounding up hundreds of wild horses on land it owns or uses. Court papers filed on Jan. 8, 2018, say Fort Polk began escalating efforts in November and may be trying to eliminate the herds before a judge can decide whether the roundups are legal. WILLIAM GORE/U.S. ARMY

Fort Polk began escalating efforts in November, and some captured horses are treated poorly and many may be slaughtered, the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association said in court papers backing up its request for a preliminary injunction.

People and groups that might adopt the horses, “are being arbitrarily rejected and removed from the potential adopter list, increasing the likelihood that ‘kill buyers’ will be able to acquire the horses,” the association wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in an email that the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen Kay scheduled a hearing Jan. 30 in Lake Charles.

The association sued the Army and Fort Polk’s commanding officer in December 2016 over plans to get rid of about 700 “trespass horses” the Army considers a safety risk in training areas.

Most of the horses are on about 48,000 acres (19,400 hectares) in the Kisatchie National Forest — part of 90,000 acres (36,400 hectares) of forest land that the base uses for training, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jim Caldwell has said.

The Army has lists of tax-exempt rescue groups and people interested in taking the horses. Its plan calls for notifying them after roundups of up to 30 horses. Any rescue group unable to take every horse from one roundup is struck from the list. Individuals who can’t pick up the number of horses they commit to within five days also are removed.

The horses have been there for decades, possibly more than a century. Some people speculate that the herds are descended from Army cavalry horses. Monday’s court filing, however, asserts the horses have roamed the area at least since the early 1800s. Fort Polk was founded in 1941.

Some look like descendants of horses acquired by Choctaw Indians from Spanish colonists, according to a letter from Jeannette Beranger, senior programs manager of The Livestock Conservancy, filed in the court record.

Some horses from isolated areas should get a closer look, which might prompt DNA tests to see if they are “Choctaw horses” or similar strains, wrote Phillip Sponenberg, a professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, in another document filed Monday. He said such horses would be valuable for conservation.

In a another court document, Jeff Dorson, head of the Humane Society of Louisiana, said he received complaints this month from tipsters who aren’t Pegasus officers about inhumane treatment of the horses.

Pegasus has received other allegations that “current contractors or subcontractors are not treating the horses humanely, failing to provide adequate and non-moldy hay and sufficient clean food and water, using inhumane round-up techniques, or engaging in practices that will favor moving the horses to kill buyers over animal welfare organizations or humane adopters,” the organization said.

One contractor or subcontractor, Jacob Thompson, “has been in legal trouble with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, State of Texas, and State of Oklahoma for abuse, theft or other violations involving livestock,” according to Pegasus’ filing.

Thompson was fined $3,150 on Friday for violating five Louisiana regulations including selling livestock without a permit, Veronica Mosgrove, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said in an email. She said his only state-licensed business is Thompson Horse Lot. The lot’s Facebook page states that it’s in Pitkin, which is near Fort Polk.

A call to the number on Thompson Horse Lot’s Facebook page was answered by a man who said, “We’re not interested in no press.” The man said he was not Jacob Thompson and hung up when asked his name.

Lawsuit filed to protect Louisiana’s Wild Horses

For Immediate Press Release
Fort Polk, Louisiana (December 14, 2016)


Today, Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, represented by Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, filed a lawsuit in the Louisiana District Court against the US Army at Fort Polk Louisiana, charging that the Army’s plan to eliminate herds of horses violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The suit is about the historic and cultural significance the free roaming Heritage Horses have on the landscapes of Western Louisiana and the Army’s intention and actions to “eliminate” them. Wild horse herds across the United States are remnants of our country’s earliest history and they exist in the Kisatchie National Forest region of Louisiana, where they roamed on vast grazing areas near abundant water sources and dense stands of trees that sheltered them from harm and the elements for generations. They were in the area long before Louisiana became a state in 1812. Horses referred to today as Spanish Colonial Horses, were obtained from the Spanish and brought from Texas by Native Americans to the Kisatchie region. The Caddoan, Comanche and Avoyel horse cultures traded them with the French and others to the north and east, past the Mississippi as early as 1682 (r1). This is also the Louisiana Purchase and Neutral Zone region where thousands of wild cattle and horses were driven from the Piney woods of East Texas near the Sabine Parish area to the Natchitoches livestock markets on a trail known as Old Beef Trail or Burrs Ferry Road. This small, compact horse is found in the wild herds of Peason Ridge, LA and in the remote areas down toward Fort Polk, LA. As settlers moved to the region and made farming their livelihood, they documented the numbers of livestock produced (r2). In the mid 1800’s, thousands of horses were free ranged with no fencing on vast grazing areas in today’s Sabine, Vernon, Beauregard, Rapides, Grant, Natchitoches, Webster, Claiborne and Winn Parishes, Leesville and Fort Polk. Furthermore, auction and estate sale records show hundreds of saddle horses and wild horses were sold in these areas. Horses and mules also came by railroad and were transportation for the area’s sawmill towns and massive logging industry. When commercial logging subsided, some horses were reported loosed with existing wild horses, others were left behind when the army took over Heritage Families’ land by eminent domain (r3).

Horses of every size and age were also utilized by the military from locals and used as “remounts” and service animals because of the shortage of regulation cavalry horses. Hundreds served alongside the cavalry horses during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 involving over 400,000 men (17,000 mounted Cavalry Troops) in preparation for WWII.

“Those horses are part of our ecosystem. They were here before we got here and we just have to figure out how we’re going to deal with that,” 
– Retired Army General Russel Honore’

“In light of the thousands of wild horses and burros that the federal government wants to remove from the range in Nevada and elsewhere, it would be irresponsible for the Department of Defense to move forward without a long-term, humane management plan for the Fort Polk horses. We respectfully urge the army to partner with local organizations to create and implement a humane management plan, using safe, proven fertility control, to reduce the number of horses over time..”
-Neda DeMayo, wild horse expert, President and founder of Return to Freedom.

“The Army’s plan sets a dangerous precedent for future viability of these unique horses. The unique herds of truly wild horses are of value both environmentally and culturally, especially to the inhabitants of the area, but also to all Americans. They should be preserved and protected. Wild horses are wild by their nature, regardless of what label some want to put on them. The wild horses that survive today may be regarded as “feral” by some, however, the fact that horses were domesticated before they were reintroduced back to the North American continent matters little from a biological nor a welfare standpoint. Regardless if the horses are abandoned, generationally wild or otherwise wild, their welfare and long term viability is at stake.”
– Amy Hanchey, President, Pegasus Equine Guardian Association

Citizens and animal welfare organizations have expressed concerns for the welfare of these innocent creatures. Locals have reported seeing them in the area as long as they can remember. Several attempts have been made to collect information pertaining to the horses on behalf of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, however the Army has been unable to provide basic information regarding Louisiana’s Piney Horses. 

Reference 1 USDA USFS Kisatchie Heritage Program
Reference 2: A Good Home for a Poor Man: Fort Polk and Vernon Parish, 1800-1940 by Steven D. Smith
Reference 3:

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Hundreds of Wild Horses to be Relocated from Louisiana Military Base to Dallas TX Area for Adoption

Caleb Downs, Breaking News reporter as published on The Dallas News

Hundreds of wild horses from a military base in Louisiana are being relocated to North Texas in an effort to find them new owners.

fort-polk-horsesThe operation is being managed by the Humane Society of North Texas, according to KXAS-TV (NBC 5). It is moving the herd of nearly 400 horses from the Fort Polk Joint Readiness Training Center in Vernon Parish, La., to the Humane Society’s location in Decatur.

“It’s an honor to work with the Army and be a part of this,” said Sandy Shelby, the Humane Society of North Texas’ executive director. “It is kind of historic.”

Army officials said there were previously around 700 horses and donkeys living on and around Fort Polk, but many of the donkeys were stolen, according to the Humane Society of North Texas.

Shelby said the horses are well-known in Vernon Parish and are referred to as “trespass horses.”

The army decided to move them because they were too close to the military base and all the weaponry contained within it, which wasn’t safe for the horses or military staff.

Many advocates have argued that the horses should have been left alone, but “kill buyers” were offering to purchase the horses and ship them to Mexico to sell their meat.

The Humane Society then stepped in to relocate the horses for adoption, Shelby said.

The Humane Society of North Texas will move the horses in groups of about 50 at a time for the next two years until all have been relocated, according to NBC 5.

The first 50 have already been moved. They’ve had little human interaction, and volunteers with the Humane Society said they need special homes.

“Whoever comes in that wants to get involved in this does need to be an experienced horse person,” Shelby said. “We’ll keep [the horses] as long as we need to until every last one of them gets a home.”

The Humane Society says the relocation effort will cost about $50,000. It is asking anyone who can’t adopt a horse to make a donation to help feed and house a horse while it waits to be adopted.

Making Sense of Fort Polk Wild Horse Plan

as published on The Washington Times

“ideally there would be a way to find space for the horses within the 40,000 acres that the Army does not use for training.”

FORT POLK, La. – Horse advocates continue to raise questions and concerns about whether removing horses from Fort Polk is necessary, and about how it will be done.

fortpolkwildhorsesOne such group of advocates is the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association (PEGA). Its vice president, Pinckney Wood, said that “the goals of Pegasus are to preserve the wild horses that range on Fort Polk lands, and to prevent any of the horses from ending-up in the ‘slaughter pipeline.’ We have sought to do (this), while at the same time respecting the mission of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center.”

Some of PEGA’s ideas to meet this goal include using herd management techniques to keep horses away from training areas, and fertility control methods to reduce the population.

In response to PEGA’s questions surrounding the number of horses on the Army base, which they think seems drastically inflated, Troy Darr, Public Affairs Officer on Fort Polk, said, “last year the estimate was 700 horses, so we assume it is a slightly higher number this year.” He pointed out that there had been a scientist on staff to perform the task of estimating how many horses are actually living on the land at Fort Polk. This type of assessment generally involves counting a measured part of the population, and then extrapolating the approximation of the entire population from that count.

PEGA has suggested that “ideally there would be a way to find space for the horses within the 40,000 acres that the Army does not use for training.” This solution includes using pens and fencing to keep horses away from training areas.

Of this, Colonel David “Gregg” Athey, Garrison Commander, said, “the land that we train on is very large; it’s very vast.” He pointed out that Fort Polk “just went through land purchase for 45,000 acres. “This was done to expand our training area,” he said, “because we have a deficit. The brigade combat teams we train are much larger than they used to be, therefore they require much more land. We also have our own brigade here and we have the responsibility to provide them with the training they require to maintain their readiness.”

Creating a horse sanctuary “would be taking a huge step backwards by giving up property that we just got, as authorized by Congress. It would be cost prohibitive,” stated the Garrison Commander.

PEGA has raised questions about sterilization of hours in the wild herd and suggested the horses could be relocated within the Kisatchie National Forest.

When asked about herd management via fertility control, referred to as “sterilization” in the PEGA blog, Col. Athey explained that the Army has partnered with the LSU Agriculture Department to assist in these endeavors and assure that they are taking proper care of the horses while administering a form of contraception called porcine zona pellucida, commonly known as PZP.

The American Wild Horse Preservation has pointed out that the FDA, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and animal care committees all carefully review protocols for PZP use, and more than 20 years of data, carried out under these sets of rules, clearly show that wild horses are neither injured by the drug, nor do aberrational behaviors occur as a consequence of its application.

HSUS assures that the vaccine is used only to slow reproduction and may not be used for the extermination of entire herds. PZP is designed to bring about short-term infertility and is reversible, if not used beyond five consecutive years.

“The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sees this type of fertility control as a way to reduce horse removals, to place fewer horses in short- and long-term holding facilities, and to achieve budgetary savings,” said Don Glenn, Acting Group Manager of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, Washington.

During the past two to three months LSU started utilizing PZP fertility control treatments on the Polk horses by “darting the females.” Athey explained that “the initial stage of this process was LSU coming to study the herds and identify behaviors. They advised us the best way to go forward is to treat the mares because if you sterilize the stallions it breaks down the social networks within the herds.” He said this is the first part of the implementation of the Course of Action (No. 7) selected by Brig. General Gary Brito to eliminate the horses from the post.

If horses must be removed in order to achieve the Army’s primary mission of providing superior training at Fort Polk, PEGA would like to ensure that the horses will be treated humanely and will be placed into caring hands, as opposed to being sold for slaughter, or other such inhumane treatment.

The horse advocates pointed to an article by Jerry Finch, a senior correspondent for Habitat for Horses, where he writes that horse slaughter schemes are often covered by a “set of fronts and organizations that make a monetary profit out of defending the existence of horse slaughtering, either directly or indirectly. It’s not about equine welfare, humanity, professionalism, or reliability.”

The worry is that a nonprofit may be a front for someone who feigns love of horses, but rather intends to sell them to slaughter for personal, monetary, gain.

The Garrison Commander said “this month we will be bating these animals into pens and that will start the full cycle.” This part of the process brings up PEGA’s interest in wanting to know what will happen next for these horses.

The Army’s chosen course of action determines that “the horses will be adopted, given away, sold, and relocated.” Specifically, in partnership with LSU, 25-35 horses at a time will be corralled into approximately two-acre lots. They will then be offered to 501(c)3, nonprofit organizations, who will take possession of the horses and administer an adoption program for private individuals.

One such group which has come forward to take some or all of the horses is the Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT), the largest and longest-standing nonprofit animal rescue and adoption organization in North Texas.

It serves over 25,000 animals annually through its various programs. HSNT’s mission, according to its website, is to “act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and ensure their legal, moral, and ethical consideration and protection.”

Col. Athey said HSNT “thinks they may be able to accommodate all of the horses and they will identify the right families to take them. That is what they do, and this is just a bigger project for them.”

PEGA has expressed concern regarding the intentions, and documented history, of inhumane behaviors of some organizations who have also expressed interest in participating in the process of removing horses from Fort Polk. Athey said, “if there is significant credible evidence supporting this kind of thing, we are going to do what’s right.” He said, if there is evidence, such as court documents, of potentially questionable treatment of horses by a nonprofit group, “we will present it to the Commanding General who will make the decision.”

From the point when the nonprofits take over, the Garrison Commander stated, “we count on these organizations to do the vetting” of individuals who intend to adopt horses.

Troy Darr said that HSNT “adopted out 700 horses last year and 600 horses the first half of this year.” Fort Polk is going to try to make available 200-250 horses per year.

Any horses which may remain will be offered to the general public on a first-come, first-serve basis. PEGA wants to ensure that whomever the horses end up with have good intentions for them, and that it can be guaranteed they will not be sold for slaughter or treated inhumanely in any way.

Darr explained that these individual citizens, who may or may not have an opportunity to take horses from Fort Polk, depending on how the process evolves with the nonprofits, “are not vetted. They are Americans who will have all the responsibilities and advantages of owning a horse. It’s not within our purview to supervise horses owned by the American people. We don’t have the legal authority to tell somebody what they can do with the horse. If someone breaks the law, once they’ve got the horse, that’s up to the sheriff, or the state police, or the FBI, and horse advocates” at that point.

PEGA also raised questions about whether it is ethical to remove “wild” horses from this land. Amy Hanchey, PEGA President said, “wild or not, we are humans and we are expected to be humane. The Army has a responsibility to the surrounding community and other people around the country.” She continued, “human life is paramount, but the horses also have a right to be treated well.”

Wood presented a 2004 joint resolution of the Louisiana House and Senate. Of this he said, “resolutions don’t have the weight of law. However they express the will of the Legislature, and as such, they ought to be taken seriously.” He continued, “it addressed the horse situation at Fort Polk, and was authored by State Representative Warren Triche during the 2004 Regular session of the Louisiana Legislature.”

To summarize, the joint resolution states that “there are hundreds of unclaimed, unbranded horses living in free-roaming bands on the pubic lands of … Fort Polk Military Reservation.” It continues, saying “the U.S. Army has effectively managed these wild animals for decades and has and should retain the authority to continue to do so in a manner that is best for the well-being of the animals.”

One portion of the joint resolution mentions that the Environmental Assessment (EA) developed by the Army must regard “the wild horses that roam freely on the lands in Kisatchie National Forest used by the Army as training areas;” Col. Athey said Fort Polk does not own or train on National Forest land.

There has been no DNA testing done on these particular horses on Fort Polk, but Col. Athey said “we rely on what the courts have already determined,” and that is “these are not protected animals. These are feral animals and they have been abandoned,” which is why they have been deemed “trespass” horses.

Horses which are qualified and determined to be labelled as “trespass,” are not protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

Colonel Athey said the nonprofits, mainly the Humane Society of North Texas, will begin claiming horses at the end of this month. He stated that they “are doing this in manageable numbers.” It is expected that this process will take about two to three years, within continuous reassessment of the process, with adjustments made as needed.

Athey reiterated that “removing the horses from Fort Polk is for the safety of the soldiers and horses, the maintenance of the integrity of the JRTC program, and the prevention of damage to equipment.”

PEGA and other horse advocate groups maintain an important role in this process, ensuring that the horses have advocates who will speak for them and work to ensure that they are treated humanely in any and all contexts.

Fort Polk Horses Need Your Help

from Amy Hanchey

Kistachie National Forest, which spans 7 parishes in Louisiana and encompasses a whopping 604.000 acres of land, is home to Fort Polk Military Base, which resides on approx. 140,000 acres.

There are 2 theoretical groups of horses that roam the area.

First, the horses that are seemingly more domesticated. Most likely dumped horses. These horses congregate near the base itself.

domestic horses

Second, Wild Horses located in an area called Peason Ridge – These horses are a very tight knit herd and Do Not seem to be domesticated at all.

Wild Horses

They are likely the progeny of the Cavalry Horses from WWII and potentially with lineage to the Colonial Spanish Mustangs. Self-sustaining for the last 75+ years.

Caring individuals made a simple request for the humane, ethical, conservative approach to addressing the equine presence at Fort Polk Military base and Kisatchie national forest as a whole. Although our focus is centered on the welfare of the horses, the safety of civilians and soldiers is paramount. However the gross disregard for the public’s opinion is extremely concerning, as is the attempt to paint caring individuals as activists which has a negative connotation. This is a classic tactic and frankly inappropriate and inflammatory. The horses need a voice focused on their welfare, this is not activism, rather advocacy.

Public demand for conservative, humane, ethical treatment of these animals is undeniable and support continues to grow as seen by the steady increase in support gained since sept 2nd.

The claim that their permits sufficiently safeguard horses from ending up on slaughter trucks is complete a farce. With no tracking or follow up procedures in place, the claim is a sham. There have been multiple instances of Fort Polk/ Kisatchie horses end up in kill pens, leaving their foals behind far too early. Whether this occurred under current permit or under their noses, the inability to safeguard these horses, by the current leadership is clear. There is strong historical evidence that the horses came into the area with the Hernando de Soto Expedition (1539-1543). Free-roaming horses came into the area from various sources including American Indians (1800’s), Heritage Families and the U.S. Calvary (1940’s). Their progeny still roam this area today.

When asked about his plans for the horses, General McGuire said many times, “That Elimination of the horses is necessary to maintain first class joint training facility”

The Commanders at Fort Polk come and go every couple of years. Previous Generals allowed the horses some even fought to preserve them, protecting the sanctity of the land, history and animals. It is grossly unfair that a temporary commander is making a permanent decision on the behalf of future generations.

We implore Officials to work with equine advocates and wild horse experts to devise and execute an ethical and humane solution to the equine presence in Kisatchie / Fort Polk / Peason Ridge. One that allows the military, the civilians and the Horses to peacefully and safely coexist as they have done for the past 75+ years.

We believe a first class operation should strive for that same mentality in everything they do.

Please contact officials and request that a hold be placed on removal pending comprehensive, ethical, humane, and conservative plan has been presented developed and presented to public.

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Fighting to keep horses at Kisatchie National Forest



Horses at Kisatchie National Forest

by Katie Lopez

Amy Hanchey has been fighting for months to make sure the hundreds of wild horses that roam Kisatchie National Forest in north Louisiana stay there.

“There are generations of horses that are truly wild and lived in that wilderness…it’s a matter of ethics.”

Hanchey, along with many others fighting for the same cause, they claim the horses are descendants of Calvary Horses from World War II.

“The Second Calvary was enacted at Fort Polk or Camp Polk and they let the horses go once the war was over,” Hanchey explained.

But—with no paperwork backing them up…army officials said there is no way to prove that these horses are descendants of the 2nd Calvary.

The Army believes that the majority of these horses have actually been abandoned in the forest.

“I think it would take a DNA test and I’m sure there are veterinarians out there that can provide that kind of test and potentially tie them back,” Hanchey said. “Even if they’re not, if we can’t prove it for whatever reason, it’s still a matter of—the fact that these horses have been able to live there self-sustained for 70 plus years.”

Despite being a part of Kisatchie for 75 years —army officials said the horses are now ‘trespassing’ on their land.

“We try to base everything that we do on fact as well as examine the situation through multiple eyes and come to the right conclusion as to what we do with this problem,” Col. David Athey said.

But even if the Army ultimately decides to remove these horses—Hanchey questions how long it will be before they are back again discussing the same issue.

“Even if they remove the horses what measures are they going to put in place to prevent the community from dumping their horses there? That’s part of the problem as to why there are so many horses.”

A decision will not be made until January.

Army says nay to 700 feral horses roaming Louisiana base

The “forest” mentioned in the article below is the Kisatchie National Forest.  I spoke with the Forest Supervisor, who told me Fort Polk will decide what will happen to these 700 horses.   These horses are on the base, so the Forest Service is not involved.  We will look into this situation and give you an update.  We do not want these 700 horses going to slaughter.   – Debbie


photo Lolita Baldor / AP

Herds of feral horses are roaming on thousands of acres in Louisiana where soldiers conduct intensive training, posing a danger and a nuisance to troops at risk of being kicked, bitten or unpleasantly surprised by random piles of manure, Army officials say.

“Sometimes training has to be halted while they shoo horses out,” said Kim Reischling, spokeswoman for Fort Polk, a 198,000-acre base about 20 miles from the Texas state line.

The officials are trying to find a way to deal with the approximately 700 “trespass horses,” and are holding a meeting Thursday to hear input from residents and animal rights groups, among others.

Most of the horses can be found on about 48,000 of the 90,000 acres of forest land that the base uses for training, said Jim Caldwell, spokesman for the 604,000-acre forest.

Some people speculate that the horses are descended from Army cavalry horses, and a local author has self-published a children’s book based on that tale. But it is more likely that they are descendants of area farm and ranch horses, said Reischling and Rita Bingham, director of the Humane Society of West Louisiana.

Others were almost certainly released fairly recently by people who could no longer afford to feed them, Caldwell said.

“These horses vary from being pretty untamed to coming up and eating potato chips out of your hand. So some of them have not been there that long,” he said.

Roundups are difficult because the horses spend much of their time in the forest, officials said. In addition to presenting a nuisance for the soldiers, they also put a damper on local hunters’ efforts, according to Caldwell.

“If you plant wildlife foods for deer or turkey, the horses are right on those foods because they’re fertilized, and more nutritious.”

They also snarf up sprouts from seed planted to control erosion, he said.

Reischling said one problem is what the horses leave behind: “horse manure in the areas used by soldiers.”

Reischling said a roundup in 1993 snared 41 horses, which were placed with two local ranches. Another in 2000 placed only eight with new owners.

In 2007, horses were caught, tested for infectious diseases, and sterilized.

As far as controlling the horse population goes, however, “the sterilization does not work,” Reischling said.

“With animals migrating in from other properties or being dumped, it’s been determined that the sterilization process will likely not even stop growth,” she said. “And in any case, it would take years.”

Space Shuttle Columbia: Like the Horses, We Shall Never Forget

Forward and Story by R.T. Fitch ~ Co-Founder/President of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“Feb 1st 2003 changed the lives of millions of people.  As a country and a human community we lost 7 brave souls over the skies of north Texas and Louisiana, that day.  The space shuttle Columbia came apart as she attempted to re-enter the atmosphere and the course of space flight was changed forever.  And likewise that day the experience was my very first glimpse into the soul of the horse.  Take it any way you want but I began to seek, explore and delve deeper into the equine/human relationship just 10 short years ago this very day.

The passing of the seven angels perhaps saved many future lives with the their sacrifice by highlighting safety as a major concern in future space flights, but their ultimate gift also opened up a few humble eyes to mysteries unknown, my own being one such pair.

Below is the story and excerpt from our book, Straight from the Horses Heart: A Spiritual Ride through Love, Loss and Hope that was written in the cool, crisp dawn after the events of Saturday, February 1st, 2003.  It is the first equine insight I ever penned and because of that it will always be special.  We offer to you, today, in memory of those who lost their lives that day and to the memory of all those I have loved and lost since.

I mean it most sincerely when I say, ‘May the Force of the Horse® be with You!'” ~ R.T.


I Sit in Wonder

It started out as any other Saturday; up before the sun, make coffee, check email, say ‘hello’ to the dogs, greet the horses, and review the list of projects that needed to be accomplished before the sun set in the evening; however, this Saturday had a few dramatic twists.  I needed to be several places at one time during the same time frame, so there would have to be some fancy juggling.  The electricians were coming out to wire the new horse barn; at the same time, the farrier was arriving to trim the horses’ hooves; plus, we needed to pick up a load of hay prior to noon.  So, it was time to dance.

On the morning of Saturday, February 1st, 2003 all of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana was under a dense fog warning.  I stepped out of the house at sunrise, it was obvious that things might be moving a little slower until the fog lifted.

Ethan ~ by Terry FitchI was immediately greeted by the pair of happy-go-lucky German Shepherds who are always excited on Saturday morning as they get to go for a ride in the Big Red Truck to get hay.  Oh what fun!

As I gazed out into the pastures, I could not make out the four pampered ponies, as the fog was too thick.  I walked out through the back of the barn and no one was to be seen, so the odds were pretty good that they were in the back pasture munching down on their round bale.  I stepped out several yards, gave a call, and waited.  The mist swirled around me like foam in the surf as I listened intently for rumbling hooves, but the morning maintained its silence.

Unhurriedly, like dolphins slipping through the depths, the phantom shadows of the horses gradually began to materialize before me.  One at a time, in order, in line, they calmly walked up to me in formation for their rub on the withers, pat on the chest, and scratch on the belly; each taking their turn at receiving their morning hello, until all four circled me.  Together, we walked back to the barn.

At the barn I stopped and surveyed the new side gates that lay in place, waiting to be installed by the part-time ranch hand – me.  While Harley gently mouthed my cell phone in an effort to steal it from my belt, I began scratching down a list of hardware that I was going to need to accomplish the gate project.  I dropped my pen which meant Harley hit pay dirt as he quickly grabbed my cell phone and gracefully twirled it above my head by the antenna.  A big grin emerged on his face as this is his favorite game and he managed to accomplish the cunning feat without my interference – Harley one, Human zero.  I carefully retrieved my phone and bent down to pick my pen up when suddenly I heard a distant pop, bang or shot.  Immediately, I became alert to the fact that I was standing amidst a small herd of horses, in limited visibility, with “scary” noises occurring.

Quickly, I looked at the horses and then relaxed as they did not spook; they were not flustered or even nervous.  In fact, they were standing in an alert stance, heads held high and ears at full extension looking to the north/northwest, the opposite direction from whence the sound had come.  I wondered if it was a gun shot.  The thought slowly slipped away into ‘LaLa Land’ as I proceeded with my tabulations.  After all, who in their right mind would be hunting in the middle of a fog bank?

I remember concluding my list, walking back into the barn, and turning to gaze at our equine children – they were still there, standing in place.  In fact, they were in formation, one in front, three in back staring ever so intently to the northwest.  Their formation reminded me of a delta, a triangle pointing into the direction of their labored glare.  I was confused.  How could they be so interested in looking in the wrong direction; what were they hearing; what did they think they were seeing; and what was going through their minds as they appeared to be mesmerized and in a trance?

The sight of them there, standing in the mist looking off into nowhere, disturbed me to the point that I called to them.  No one budged.  I called again and the head of the Appaloosa slowly turned in my direction just enough so that one sad eye could look at me.  I motioned to him and he slowly turned around, walked to me with his head lowered and nuzzled my hand.  I scratched his forehead and noticed that his right eye had just formed a tear, one lone solitary tear.  I asked if he was sad; I asked if he wanted more food; I asked what the problem was and only heard a gentle sigh in response.  I dusted it off and went back to work.

At the time, I did not know that to the north of our quiet farm, a comet named Columbia was passing overhead, a bright meteor carrying the souls of seven courageous and generous human beings home.  I did not know.  I had no clue that seven souls of my species were headed across the bridge high over heads.  I did not know.

Four horses, however, stood gallantly at attention; four horses looked to the sky; and four horses felt something that I did not.

In reflection, I wonder if I did not miss something else that morning, something that my single-minded human brain did not hear, something special, something wondrous; yet, I was not listening.  I now sit in wonder and roll it over in my head time and time again, that gentle sigh, that horsy response, and the tear in that eye.  What did it say; what did it mean?

Did I really hear something in the gentle escape of air from those equine lips, a sound so profound that it did not compute at the time it happened?

Was that a gentle whisper, a thought, a suggestion?

Was my soul, and not my ears, hearing those quiet words?

Was the meaning really what I now believe it to be?

Was my heart touched by the souls of the four horses when I still failed to understand; yet, admittedly heard the whisper, the soft voice that spoke on another level. “We are so sorry; we are so very, very sorry.”

I sit in wonder.


The Winds of Destruction

Excerpt from the book Straight from the Horse’s Heart by R.T. Fitch

For all the Souls that await the arrival of Isaac

“Exactly seven years ago this day, I penned these jumbled sentences, below, in an effort to make sense of the feelings that both Terry, myself and our horses felt as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down upon our small Louisiana farm.  Today Terry and the herd are safe in Texas, where we currently reside, and it appears out of harms way, but the same is not true for our friends along the northern gulf coast of the mighty USA.  So from half way around the world I extend a virtual hand to those who are sharing the same feelings and asking the exact same questions we struggled with over a half a decade ago; truly, may the ‘Force of the Horse®’ be with you” ~ R.T.


The horses have been turned loose in the pasture, the hanging plants have been secured, the wind chimes are down, and all equipment is securely stowed.

Now, all that is left to do is wait; wait for the storm to do what it will do.

Churning viciously out in the Gulf of Mexico is a monster the size of three states – a furious beast that breathes rain, hail, and destruction at the rate of over 165 miles per hour.  It’s the stuff that science fiction movies are made of.  We wait; for what, we do not know.

We could have left; we had time.  In fact, I tried to persuade my bride to depart with her cat yesterday morning, but she would not leave me and the rest of our family.  She seems to feel that she needs to be with us.  I, however, feel otherwise.  We recently bought a four-horse slant load trailer just for this purpose.  Now that we have five horses sharing our lives with us, we opted to stay and await our destiny.

This is not new to me.  A Florida resident for several decades, I have been through my fair share of hurricanes.  In fact, we are in better shape now as Laughing Horse Farm is hooked up to a new, state-of-the-art generator that will keep us in power long after those who have lost theirs are sweltering in the heat.  All is well and good; that is, if anything is still left standing.

Why are we here; what is running through the minds of the horses?  They know that something is wrong; they smell it, they feel it.  Why are we here?  Why do we live with the thought of total destruction of all material goods and the potential loss of life in the back of our minds?  What made us stay?

The outer rain bands of the storm are swirling violently over our heads and the winds are picking up.  As the sun sets, it casts an eerie pall over the landscape; its fractured light bounces off from the massive thunderstorms.  There is a feeling of impending doom in the air; you could cut it with a knife.  The horses are running anxiously in the pasture while the cows are crying out from behind.  They know.  Why are we here?  What will come?  We have lost control and submit.  We pray for those souls that may soon depart.  We are only mortal and cannot change what is certain destiny.  We are diminished by the size and the immensity of what looms over our heads.  We are humbled by the realization that we are not supreme in any way shape or form.  We only do what we can.

Why are we here?