Bob Hougham has been watching the wild ponies of Saskatchewan’s Bronson Forest for more than 50 years.
So when the 86-year-old rancher learned that someone had shot several of them, for no apparent reason, he decided to act.
Last week, his MLA Tim McMillan introduced legislation to protect the ponies.
“It seems strange that there would be a problem or a need to protect them,” the Lloydminster MLA told reporters at the Saskatchewan legislature. “A local rancher had photos of some that had been shot and drug into a pile by whoever had done it.”
Hougham said it was a sad sight.
“They’ve lived through cold winters, farms, wolves, but they can’t stand against the hunters’ bullets,” he said.
The private member’s legislation would prevent anyone from willfully molesting, interfering with, hurting, capturing or killing any of the wild ponies in the Bronson Forest.
Violators would be guilty of an offence and subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 or two months in jail, or both.
The ponies have lived in the forest near Loon Lake for generations, McMillan said. They were originally domesticated horses and were either left behind or let free during settlement of the area.
Hougham recalls seeing 30 or 40 ponies at a time in a large meadow on the east side of Bronson Lake. He had a grazing lease in the area for years and often spent time watching the animals.
“They are just beautiful,” he said. “People had travelled for miles and miles just to see the wild ponies.
“A horse running, wild and free, it does stir you somehow or another.”
Hougham said people were often concerned about how the ponies survived the winter. He took feed out once and found it the next spring still sitting where he’d left it.
In 2005, the population was estimated at 125 but today that has dropped to 37. There are two bands of 14 horses and one of four, as well as five stallions that roam either in pairs or alone.
The colt survival rate is only 24 percent, according to information provided by McMillan. Wolves are a significant predator, particularly of older animals, Hougham said.
But he was alarmed when his son discovered a pile of dead animals last fall.
“They had been shot in the stomach, or the gut, and just let go,” he said.
The shooter had to have dragged them into a pile, probably using an all-terrain vehicle, he added, because normally an injured animal would go into the bush to die.
Both he and McMillan said there is talk in the area about who might have shot the animals, but neither has proof.
They both hope the legislation acts as a deterrent.
“Because they aren’t wildlife – they were once domesticated – they don’t fit under current environment legislation easily,” McMillan said.
They don’t fit under agriculture either, because they are no longer domesticated.
The legislation was to be debated this week.