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Calgary-area horse sanctuary at capacity; founder concerned about fate of Alberta wild horses in 2020

Cochrane horse sanctuary at capacity; founder concerned about fate of Alberta wild horses in 2020
WATCH: A Calgary-area horse sanctuary is at capacity and its owner is concerned about the fate of wild horses that could be rounded up next year. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports on the challenges facing people trying to keep the animals alive.

Every horse at the Free Spirit Sanctuary northwest of Calgary has its own story of how it escaped death or abuse.

Ganu’s life got off to a strange start. The newborn orphaned foal was from a wild horse herd near Elbow Falls. Eight years ago, he was taken to Calgary by people who were worried he would die.

“A young couple found him and tried to get help for him but everybody they phoned said, ‘Let nature take its course.’ So they popped him in the back seat of the truck,” said Sandie Hucal, founder of the Free Spirit Sanctuary near Cochrane, on Sunday.

Ganu now lives at the sanctuary along with 17 horses, four donkeys, seven sheep and three goats.

READ MORE: Possible end to birth control program for wild horses could trigger cull in Alberta

Some animals have been rescued from neglect while many of the feral horses were spared from death — like Juno, who was brought to the sanctuary five years ago.

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“He came in with at least a dozen other young wild horses and they all went to the meat guy,” Hucal said.

“Juno’s such an amazing horse. He’s got character. He’s intelligent and he’s a beautiful horse, and for me, the world needs Juno and his kind. They are good ambassadors for letting people know what amazing horses they are,” Hucal said.

In 2014, the province of Alberta allowed a cull of feral horses. Several were captured, some were adopted and others were auctioned off and sent to slaughter.

“I just think that the public doesn’t find that acceptable anymore. It was under the radar before but it’s not an acceptable option. We can do better than that,” Hucal said.

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Sandie Hucal, founder of the Free Spirit Sanctuary near Cochrane, pets a rescue horse on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.
Sandie Hucal, founder of the Free Spirit Sanctuary near Cochrane, pets a rescue horse on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

Hucal said the Free Spirit Sanctuary is now at capacity for horse grazing space. A wet and cold summer meant the pasture didn’t grow back and Hucal had to resort to feeding pricey hay a month earlier than expected.

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“When you have to start feeding earlier, it significantly adds to your expenses,” Hucal said.

According to Alberta Environment and Parks, the province’s feral horse population is expanding and a population management program is necessary to make sure there are minimal adverse effects on rangelands. The government is currently reviewing several strategies, which include a contraceptive vaccine and adoption.

“Realistically, the government’s management of these horses isn’t going to stop. Some horses are ultimately going to be removed from the land. There are adoption programs out there for them but there are horses that don’t do well,” Hucal said.

READ MORE: Alberta’s wild horses on birth control as part of pilot project

A five-year agreement between the Alberta government and the Wild Horses of Alberta Society that involved a contraceptive vaccine expired this year.

Free Spirit Sanctuary is looking for volunteers and selling calendars to raise money to feed the horses.