The Kisatchie: Wild Horses of Louisiana

Candace Wade takes a look at the Kisatchie horses and speaks with Amy Hanchey of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association. Learn more about the history and plight of these beautiful horses.

Photo by Kisa Kavass

WHO: The Kisatchie aka Peason Ridge aka Fort Polk (aka Fort Johnson) aka “globally rare” (by academics) aka “trespass horses” (by U.S. Army and Judge in a case to eliminate the horses from the area) are the unique herd in the Kisatchie National Forest of Vernon Parish.

WHAT/WHERE: I quote Dr. Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor, Pathology and Genetics, Technical Panel Chair, American Rare Breeds Conservancy, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, VPI and Su, Blacksburg, VA Dept. of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology VA-MD College of Veterinary Medicine Virginia Tech, and Dr. Gus Cothran, professor emeritus at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM) (whew!) regarding the origin of the horses.

The horses seem to date back to the horses brought to Colombia and Venezuela during the period of Colonial Spain pre-Louisianna Purchase. Possibly from the Spanish Barb and Barb horses from North Africa. “These crosses produced some of the most highly prized horses of the era. The classical Baroque style of the Spanish Barb . . .  displayed by their natural carriage, intelligence, and sensible temperament.” This genetic pool is considered “a very rare source of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity represents health and an ability to adapt to a changing environment.” Note:  These horses are not Mustangs.

WHEN: Horses seem to have thrived in the Kisatchie from mid-1700 to the present. The U.S. Army occupied the land in question in the form of Ft. Polk in 1941. Name was changed to Ft. Johnson in 2023. Yes, Virginia, the horses were there first. The Army promoted the elimination of the Kisatchie horses in early 2000s. In 2016 an Environmental Assessment led to the removal of 360+ horses between 2018-2020. The survival of the Kisatchie horses is unsure.

WHY: The Kisatchie horses are genetically unique, “globally rare.” They are a living piece of the history of North America.

Photo by Kisa Kavass

Q and A with Amy Hanchey of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association:

C: What is the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association?
A: PEGA started as an advocacy organization promoting the protection of the Kisatchie horses. We diversified into a Rescue initiative. We are a rescue – rehome — and preserve organization.

We work with leading wild horse organizations, animal welfare organizations, as well as equine geneticists to further educate the public on the importance of protecting wild horse populations in the wild as opposed to funneling them into the flooded domestic horse population.

Our day to day is less romantic.’ Boots on the ground’ work include caring for the horses at our sanctuary locations. Fence fixing, hauling hay and in times of drought, hauling water. We engage in public outreach. All has been challenging due to lack of vital funds. Our priority is keeping the horses that were removed and placed in our sanctuary locations healthy.

Photo by Kisa Kavass

C: Are the horses in danger of extinction?
A: Yes. The genetic analysis shows they have unique DNA that puts them in this category. Geneticists claim that the horses had no close connection with other local American breeds. Only about 3 to 5 percent of horses in the wild have those unique genetics, associated with Colonial Spanish lines.

The direness of the ongoing loss of genetic diversity in domesticated and feral horses cannot be understated. The need to conserve the remaining unique genetic characteristics among domesticated and feral horse populations is essential. Once a strain dies off, the genetically unique characteristics associated with that strain and related phenotypes are gone forever…”– Amicus Brief filed to the Court by Dr Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, ACT (Honorary) | Professor, Pathology and Genetics |Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

Until our involvement, the public was not aware of the existence of the horses much less that they are genetically unique. The horses have become a draw. Our 2018 survey showed that over 95% of those who participated we like to see a designated area in the national forest for Louisiana’s Wild Horses at Fort Polk in Kisatchie National Forest.

Photo by Kisa Kavass

C: What needs to be done to help the horses?
A: The horses must be officially designated as Heritage Horses. Funding must be secured to preserve them and to care for  the horses that have been removed. Land is needed to accommodate future round ups by the army. Talks with the Base Commander at Fort Johonson to encourage alternatives to future removals. We have had the support of LT General Russel Honore (Ret).

C: What can readers do to support the horses?
A: Follow our pages on social media, share our content, sponsor a horse, donate, becoming a volunteer, and engage public officials to encourage them to act for preservation — to present a bill to the state legislature to designate the Kisatchie horses as Heritage Horses.

You can get more information from PEGA, the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association.

Photo by Kisa Kavass