THE idea of wild horses roaming the Cooley Mountains is a romantic one, yet the 100 or so wild horses that are running free in the area have become a potentially lethal nuisance.
Most of the horse in the Cooleys are thought to have been abandoned by owners who could no longer look after them.
The problem has worsened as due to the recession, with horses and ponies being an expensive animal to house, feed and water; owners are now choosing instead to release the animals into the wilds.
The area is not ideal for grazing horses and with the network of roads across the area, the horses are and do wander out, causing a potential lethal nuisance.
Besides the road there is anecodotal evidence that they are causing damage to property.
And the problem is not going to get better by itself, as it is thought that they are now breeding on the mountains.
Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat, Chief Veterinary Officer with Louth County Council Garrett Shine said there had even been cases where wild stallions have attacked hillwalkers.
“There have been at least two incidents in which hillwalers have been a attacked by wild stallions in recent weeks,” said Mr Shine. “The bottom line is that there is no control of them at the moment, and that needs to be dealt with.”
The wild stallions are now breeding, and they are protecting their territory, be it from hillwalkers or rival males.
“One group of hillwalkers was able to chase a stallion off as they have walking poles. A 300kg stallion is going to scatter a group of hillwalkers pretty quickly.”
Mr Shine is liasing with the Department of Agriculture to come up with a workable solution.
“Last year we seized 30 horses in Louth, and 9 of those were from the Cooley Mountains. We tend to interceed only when the horse come in contact with the road and are causing a potential hazzard.
“It’s survival of the fittest on the mountains. Some of the horse grow thick hare and become hardened to it, while many just starve and die in the ditch. For everyone horse that does well, there’s another one starving to death. Only last year we found one that was literally breathing its last breath and had to be put down on the spot.
“This is sheep country, and it’s not suited to horses. The ones that do well with stand proud but the pampered, stabled horse will just simply die.
“We aren’t ignoring the situation, but at the same time we don’t want to get rid of all the horses off the mountain, but there has to be some level of control. People are just dumping these animals here as there are other horses on the mountains.
“The horse out here were rounded up before during the foot and mouth, so it is possible,” conlcuded Mr Shine.
Now the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, has pledged the department’s financial support to Louth County Council to undertake a microchipping programme in an attempt to control the herd of horses.
Deputy Gerry Adams has welcomed the micro chipping of horses which are roaming wild in the Cooley peninsula.
“Several weeks ago I met representatives of the Irish Farmers Association in Louth. We discussed a range of issues affecting farmers and among these was the problem of horses roaming in the Cooley mountains.
“I welcome the indication by the Minister to a Parliamentary Question from me that officials from his Department are liaising with Louth County Council officials in relation to the micro chipping of these horses.
“For some time now there have been up to 100 horses roaming in the Cooley peninsula which have caused a nuisance to the public and the potential for injury to persons or damage to property and in some cases have wandered onto roads in the area.
Some of these animals have been abandoned by owners and are in very poor physical condition as it is unsuitable land for horses to graze in.
In a written response to Adams Minister Coveney stated: “The Control of Horses Act, 1996 provides extensive powers to local authorities, including powers for the enactment of bye-laws for the control and welfare of horses in the local authorities functional area.
“My Department provides financial support to local authorities to assist their work in implementing the Act. Louth County Council has made bye-laws declaring the Cooley commonage a “control area” where all horses need to be micro-chipped and licensed.
“Officials from my Department are liaising with local authority officials in Louth to underline how implementation of the Control of Horses Act, together with legislation governing equine identification, can assist with controlling horses, particularly with regard to horses that are straying and or abandoned so as to prevent injury or nuisance to persons or damage to property.”