‘We’ve got a problem’: After horse massacre, Kentucky lawmakers want to rein in wild herd
Following the fatal shootings of at least 20 horses last month in Eastern Kentucky, a resolution was introduced Wednesday in the state Senate calling for the creation of an “Abandoned Horse Task Force.”
“People are out shooting them down like targets. We’ve got a problem,” Sen. Robin Webb told The Courier Journal. “But it’s hard to say how bad it is until we get an inventory of some kind.”
Webb, of Grayson, and fellow Democratic Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, of Prestonsburg, are sponsoring the resolution, which notes that abandoned horses in the state often search for food and shelter and have caused automobile accidents by running onto roads.
The task force would “discuss the problems caused by the growing population of abandoned horses, ways to stop individuals from abandoning their horses and ways to remove the horses that are currently running at large, becoming feral and reproducing a subsequent generation of undomesticated horses,” the resolution says.
Given the difficulties in catching and removing these horses from reclaimed mine sites and other remote areas, the resolution says “the problem has gone largely unattended leading to lawless actions such as the recent shooting of abandoned horses in Floyd County.”
Background: Reward has grown after horses were shot in Eastern Kentucky
Twenty horses were found shot to death in December near an abandoned strip mining site along U.S. 23 near the Floyd-Pike county line.
The death count was initially lower but grew as authorities discovered more dead horses.
The slain horses included a pregnant mare and a horse that was just 1 year old, according to authorities.
Three surviving horses have since been rescued, and three other survivors have yet to be captured, according to Dumas Rescue, an Eastern Kentucky group that has helped care for the rescued horses.
The perpetrator or perpetrators of the violence have yet to be identified or apprehended. It appears a low-caliber rifle was used, authorities say.
An initial $500 reward for information leading to an arrest has since grown to $23,000 thanks to donations from animal rescue and welfare groups as well as individual donors, according to Dumas Rescue.
The new task force would aim to take inventory of how many abandoned horses are in Kentucky and learn more about their condition and who is taking care of them or harming them, said Webb, who owns horses and is a member of numerous horse-related organizations at the state and national levels.
The resolution calls for a 15-member task force that includes state lawmakers and officials as well as representatives from the Kentucky Horse Council, Kentucky Equine Adoption Center, Appalachian Wildlife Federations and shelters that work with and care for horses.
The task force would be required to submit its findings to lawmakers by the end of November.
Unclaimed horses have been spotted grazing on or near mines in the coalfields of Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains for years.
Kentucky Humane Society President and CEO Lori Redmon said in 2015 that several southeastern counties likely have “thousands” of free-roaming horses, and last month, Redmon told The Courier Journal that “nothing has changed” in terms of that estimated population.
Officials say the practice of grazing horses on “strip jobs” — former coal mines, some flattened by mountaintop removal — has been going on for years in a mountainous area where houses can cling to hillsides or sit in narrow valleys.
“According to the Kentucky Humane Society, it started becoming a bigger problem after the recession in 2008, which led to more owners struggling to provide necessary care and instead leaving their horses unattended or dumping them on the reclaimed mining sites.”
“In some areas, grazing was nonexistent. So you had horses coming off in droves, walking into roadways and getting hit and killed,” Tonya Conn with Dumas Rescue told The Courier Journal in 2015. “Horses were starving; they’re coming into rural areas and destroying yards, eating paint off of cars” because of the road salt that was on them.
‘That’s not my business’: UK student shuts down ‘gun girl’ on gender neutral bathrooms
The Kentucky Humane Society went to areas like Floyd, Knott and Breathitt counties in 2015 to offer services such as vaccines and gelding in hopes of finding wild horses a new owner.
In 2016, a similar task force was created by state lawmakers to help educate the public on the issue of wild horses becoming dangerous and difficult to capture.
But getting more money from Frankfort to reduce the number of stray horses roaming by mines is difficult without having accurate data, advocates say.
Reconvening a new task force is a necessary step to find out how large the population is and get a handle on the equine-related problem, according to Webb.
Webb said she was previously the general counsel for a coal company that had a good amount of acreage and is “pretty familiar” with the issues that result when horses take over abandoned mine properties as more coal companies struggle with bankruptcy.
More from the legislature: Where does the sports betting bill stand?
The issue of abandoned horses is not just visible in Eastern Kentucky but in areas throughout the commonwealth, she added.
“The economy has naturally not gotten any better in Eastern Kentucky and other pockets,” Webb said. “So I feel like we can take another look at what’s going with these animals.”
By Billy Kobin
Louisville Courier Journal