Engaging Journeys, Engaged Journalism

Wild Horses, Please Drag Me Away

Escape from the Daily Grind and Go Wild . . . at the Wild Horse Sanctuary near Manton

Horses originated here in North America. Ancestors of today’s horses migrated to Europe, Asia, and Africa but were frozen out here by the last ice age.

Then horses came back. The thundering herds of Western yore started up from the escaped steeds of Spanish explorers and soldiers. Permafrost preserved remains of the ancient Yukon horse – the last horse of prehistory to live in North America – and, much to the surprise of researchers, DNA samples established that it was essentially identical, genetically, to both feral and domesticated modern horses.

Wild horses at the sanctuary live in natural groups, roaming freely on 5,000 acres. (photo © Katey Barrett)

The wild horses live in natural groups, roaming freely on 5,000 acres. (photo © Katey Barrett)

So here’s a question to ponder the next time you’re on a trail ride, say, out spying on mustangs:

Horses were reintroduced to this continent within historical memory, yet the species first evolved here, and co-evolved with North American habitats. So doesn’t that make it a native species?

Hmm . . .

About that wild-horse trail ride: It so happens that the best place for that is also here—just northeast of Red Bluff, in fact, at the Wild Horse Sanctuary near Manton.

Co-founder Dianne Nelson started adopting “unadoptable” mustangs in the 1970s. Some 300 wild horses and burros now roam freely on the sanctuary’s 5,000 acres of lava cap, oak woodlands, and juniper scrub, terrain not all that different from the rough Modoc landscapes much of the herd originally roamed.

Consider attending the open house in August, or the foal adoption in October. (photo by XXXX)

Come for the open house in August, or the foal adoption in October. (photo by Stan Rapada)

The nonprofit Wild Horse Sanctuary is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when visitors are welcome to hike the horse trails.

More exciting, though, are guided horseback trips and two- or three-day overnight rides, complete with hearty cowboy barbecue and a sleeping-bag stay at Wild Horse Camp, in rustic cabins complete with kerosene lamps. Trail rides are offered from late spring into October. If you’ve always dreamed of rounding-up “li’l dogeys,” the longer October cattle drive at the Carey Ranch is for you.

Or bring the whole family in mid-August to the annual Open House, to get up close with mustangs and burros on docent-led walks. You’ll also enjoy free horse rides for the kiddos, face painting, and crafts. Not to mention barbecue, live music, working stock dogs, and demonstrations of horseshoeing, grooming, and basic veterinary care.

Whenever you come, the horses are the main attraction. (photo by XXXX)

The horses are always the main attraction. (photo © Katey Barrett)

In October, come for the annual foal adoption. Due to the recession, foals from previous years are now young horses, still patiently waiting for the right folks to take them home.

If you can’t visit the sanctuary right now you can always “adopt” a wild horse, through regular tax-deductible financial contributions. Keep in mind that because of California’s drought, grazing is poor and the sanctuary’s need for help to defray hay and other costs is greater than ever.

Initial image: Wild horses come in all colors. (photo by Jeremy Martin/BLM Oregon)

Wild horses come in all colors. (photo by Jeremy Martin)


For more information, go to the sanctuary’s website.

Kim Weir is editor of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project that looks “up the road” to explore questions concerning the economy, the environment, and social equity in Northern California. Up the Road enjoys the journey, too, pointing out worthwhile places to go and things to do along the way.

A long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Weir is also a former reporter for North State Public Radio.

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