Councillor justifies West Hants horse shooting

Residents explain horses held them 'prisoners' in their own homes

Carole Morris-Underhill
Published on June 2, 2014
The majority of horses that called the Fundy Gypsum property in Sweets Corner home were relcated earlier in 2014.
Ashley Thompson

The RCMP may have concluded their investigation into the shooting death of a wild horse in Hants County without pressing charges but the issue is far from dead and buried.

Folks have taken to social media in an effort to discuss the death and try to find some answers. Through that process, there have been many allegations — something that West Hants Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane felt compelled to address at the council's latest meeting.

Cochrane added a presentation on wild horses to the May 27 committee of the whole agenda as a last minute item.

When it came time to speak on the subject, Cochrane began by acknowledging the RCMP investigated and cleared him of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a horse in Sweets Corner.

The horse in question was from Ralph Morash's 'wild' herd. Cochrane said the comments people are making about him, and those who live in the area where the horses roamed free, are unfounded and based on misinformation.

“This problem didn't just start yesterday. It started in 1984,” said Cochrane, noting that as the years went by and the herd multiplied, frustrations mounted for the residents of Cochrane Lane.

He noted that the issue progressively got worse since 1998, as young stallions would be kicked out of the herd in the spring, only to make their way onto the neighbouring properties. The horses would stay until late fall.

Although several of these unwelcome visitors were corralled and relocated over the years, by 2011, Cochrane said the issue was spiralling out of control. Morash was requested to remove his herd from the Fundy Gypsum property, which is where the herd had been roaming freely for decades. Fencing had fallen into disrepair. The nearby residents were fearful the rogue horses would injure someone.

“As a result, in the last year or so, we have become prisoners in our own homes,” said Cochrane.

The deputy warden said the horses would defecate on their doorsteps and sleep near their homes. He alleged one of the horses pinned his wife against a car. The residents were also frightened the horses would wander onto the nearby roadway and cause a traffic accident.

“The neighbours were really getting up in arms because we were afraid we were going to bury a child or bury a human being,” said Cochrane.

Debbie Francis and Brian Hamilton, both Cochrane Lane property owners, spoke at the meeting to explain what a strain living near untamed horses has been.

“This has been an ongoing problem. It's not as cut and dry as it looks and we're not the bad people that everyone is making us out to be. We have done everything we have been able to do,” said Francis.

As the owner of four horses, Francis said the issue “got out of hand” for her in 2009.

“I had a horse home on stall rest who had a broken foot, who had screws in and needed to be in a stall calmed down,” said Francis. However, there was a wild horse outside the barn that wouldn't leave, causing undue stress to her recuperating animal.

As the wild horses would stay for months at a time, Francis said she couldn't leave her horses outside for fear of what would happen to them. She noted a stallion damaged her fencing in an effort to mate with one of her ponies.

Hamilton said he has allowed Morash to travel across his property in order to feed the horses in the wintertime. He's also tried to help relocate the animals.

“Ralph and I have spoken on numerous occasions. I've worked with Ralph to try and deal with the problem,” said Hamilton, noting that on two occasions, a fellow farmer helped corral some problem horses and take them away.



Municipal involvement

Cochrane said he was in contact with West Hants' CAO and bylaw enforcement officer trying to get the issue resolved. Canadian Gypsum Corporation, Fundy Gypsum's parent company, was alerted to the situation, as were several provincial departments and agencies.

In November 2013, the Department of Natural Resources issued a permit to possess a firearm in wildlife habitat.

According to the permit, which was originally issued to Gary Lunn, the municipality's bylaw enforcement officer, it was for the purpose of “shooting wild horses” with a .270 Remington, 303 British rifle. The permit was valid from Nov. 12, 2013 until Dec. 31, 2013. Al Bland, from the Windsor branch of the Department of Natural Resources, signed the permit. It was later noted the name on the permit should have read Cochrane instead of Lunn.

“In 2012, it was getting more serious all the time. There was an effort from the municipal office here to tranquilize one, at quite a considerable expense,” said Cochrane, in an effort to explain to council the events leading up to the shooting.

“And as a result, that horse was, I might say, literally filled with darts. And it never slowed down a bit. It just drank them, and became stressed of course,” said Cochrane.

Cochrane said the animal was “going to suffer an agonizing death” so he tracked it through the woods to try and find it.

“I did not want to see it suffer. I am an animal lover myself,” he said.

Hamilton said he spoke with Morash after the animal was killed.

“I wanted to assure him that the horse we put down had been put down humanely. Which it had been,” said Hamilton, later noting, “...I'm going to say, unequivocally, the horse was put down properly with no pain, no suffering.”

Hamilton said the horse was buried on Fundy Gypsum property.



Resident expresses concerns

Gena Arthur, one of the driving forces behind the recent relocation efforts of the horses, requested a full investigation into the shooting when she was granted permission to speak at the end of the meeting May 27.

“When it comes to animals being at large, there’s always potential for danger. My concern is not saying that any of those dangers didn't exist or didn't happen, but it's the way the matter is dealt with that I am concerned with,” said Arthur.

The local woman, who has been researching the events leading up to and following the shooting of the horse, questioned the municipality's actions, including whether the horse's death was necessary.

One such anomaly that she pointed out was that a veterinarian was contacted for advice regarding how to humanely euthanize a horse in 2012. However, the horse wasn't shot and killed until late 2013.

Arthur became involved in the herd's relocation efforts once the media published reports indicating there were plans to cull the entire herd.

“I was upset to hear what was happening with the residents. I was upset with the way the municipality was handling the situation, and we resolved the situation in a very short time,” she said.

With a team of four people, Arthur said 12 of the horses were rounded up and removed from the site. The remaining two were in foal. Plans are now in the works to have them relocated. None of the animals, or the volunteers, sustained any injuries in the move, she said.

“So I think that right there proves this idea of not being able to catch them being a falsity,” she said.

Arthur stressed to council that the horses are not wild or feral, but rather unhandled, like cows and sheep that spend their days grazing in a pasture.

In light of the controversy surrounding the horses, Arthur wants answers.

“I think there should be a full investigation into the conduct of the people that were involved in this whole situation.”