FORT POLK – A lawsuit has been filed to protect a herd of horses after threats of auctioning the horses has risen.
Amy Hanchey, president of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, said the horses have existed in the community since the 1940s, and that there is no documented evidence claiming the horses to be a hazard.
“In the 2016 environmental assessment, it is shown that the horses haven’t caused any accidents on the base,” Hanchey told the Louisiana Record. “The lawsuit is about the guidelines and stipulations on what an organization or NEPA is supposed to do prior to something like this that would affect the cultural significance of the area by removal.”
The horses have existed since the Louisiana Purchase era. According to Hanchey, Fort Polk was a trading post called the neutral zone.
“There were Indians that came up and traded with the French,” Hanchey said. “And they all kind of congregated around this neutral zone, which is basically the area of Fort Polk and the Attache region. So horses have lived free roaming with no barriers in this area for almost a century if not longer.
“If you fast-forward to more-modern times, during the 1942 Louisiana Maneuvers, there were approximately 400,000 men and horses who were an integral part of their training in preparation for World War II. Also, heritage families were forced to release their livestock. Most of them didn’t have fencing and they were free roaming anyway, but when the Army took over the land via eminent domain, they were forced to release their livestock.”
Some community members attest to saving the animals, sending them to nonprofit organizations willing to adopt. Others stand on the belief that the horses should be auctioned off, regardless of the auctioneers’ intentions.
“Back in September 2015, the Army requested proposals from the public on what to do,” Hanchey said. “Pegasus did send a proposal. We’ve communicated with the initial general who put this in motion and the new general via email and submitted proposals and offered assistance.”
Because of the publicity and the efforts of Pegasus to save the horses, the Army enforced Course of Action 7.
“They basically took something that was illegal in the prior contract and made it legal,” Hanchey said. “So the horses became a greater risk. The horse capture permit agreement said that the horses were not to be sold for slaughter or rodeo stock or anything of that nature. After we raised publicity and raised concerns, they introduced Course of Action 7, which was part of their environmental assessment, and that course of action says they cannot discriminate against people who want to take the horses regardless of their intent with the horses.”
Despite the push to auction the horses, animal groups are interested in aiding in preserving the horses’ lives.
“The Humane Society of North Texas is very much involved,” Hanchey said. “They have taken the first 50. They took them early November. Then they took the next 15, which were just removed in the past week or so.”
About a year ago, there were said to have been about 700 horses roaming the Fort Polk area. That number had decreased to about 400.
“We have plenty of locals who live in and around that area,” Hanchey said. “They have relationships with the horses and they’ve watched the herd decrease. Now, we believe there might be about 150 on Peason Ridge, and about 200 down by Fort Polk. We believe the numbers are inflated.”
According to Hanchey, the base where most of the horses are located is not fenced in all the way around. The back area of the base is used for hunting and camping grounds.
“So when the Army isn’t doing a rotation, it’s open to the public,” she said. “So they can roam on and off of army land into forestry land. There’s no protection in either place. We know several questionable kill pins that operate in and around that area so, we believe there’s more to the story than what’s being said by Army and local officials.”
“I believe that the state of Louisiana, the Army, and the federal government, should designate a wild-horse range, and should have these horses protected,” Hanchey said. “They should do a better job of documenting the separate herds. I believe law enforcement should do a better job of enforcing basic animal-abandonment laws. I believe these horses could exist here wild and free roaming like they’ve done for centuries.”