Don't Fence Them In
With the encouragement of friends and other mustang supporters, Nelson called talk shows, newspapers and TV stations throughout California, seeking sponsors for her horses and decrying the slaughter of animals that symbolized American freedom and Western spirit, animals whose ancestors helped win the West.
Knowing she'd need more land to rescue more horses from slaughter, she sold everything she had and bought 60 acres in Shingletown. The sanctuary has since purchased more land and is leasing major tracts that are often in jeopardy of being sold, including a 2,000-acre parcel currently up for bid.
Congress eventually responded to the pleas of people like Nelson and, in 1982, instituted a moratorium on slaughtering wild horses. Still, wild horses in dire need keep coming Nelson's way. Sometimes, she hears reports of horses being hurt in the wild or abused. Sometimes, people who adopt horses from the BLM find they can't tame them, or don't want them after all.
(The BLM estimates that about 40,000 wild horses live among the 261 million acres overseen by the federal agency. Last year, the BLM rounded up 10,081 wild horses and burros, and was able to find homes for 5,891. The rest are penned in hopes of future adoption.)
Our ride through the sanctuary is not for sissies, especially not during the hot summer months. Much as I love pretending to be a cowgirl, after nearly six hours in the saddle I am insanely grateful to arrive at our overnight campground. Snacks and huge coolers of icy drinks await us, along with our sleeping bags and other luggage that has been trucked to the site.
Those with energy to spare help unsaddle and brush the horses, but most of us simply chat and await the sunset.
The staff prepares steaks and chicken over an open grill, and cornbread, potatoes and other hearty side dishes in the cookhouse. One of the interns plays the fiddle as we sit around the campfire that night.
I'm amazed that I've emerged from the long ride without bodily consequence. I did walk bowlegged for about half an hour after first arriving and have a few scratches from close encounters with trees, but the soreness I expected never arrives.
By morning, after a huge breakfast, I'm ready for the ride back to the ranch. Ready to experience a small remaining piece of the Old West, and a view of the wild horses that helped to tame it.
Details: Wild Horse Sanctuary
GETTING THERE: The Wild Horse Sanctuary is in Shingletown, Calif., about a three-hour drive from Sacramento. Round-trip fares from D.C. to Sacramento begin at about $230. United and JetBlue fly to Sacramento nonstop from Dulles, and numerous airlines have connecting flights.
The sanctuary is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco and 40 minutes from Redding, Calif. Connecting flights from Washington to Redding generally cost more than $400.
SANCTUARY RIDES: Two- and three-day rides operate from May through mid-October, with up to 10 guests, unless special group arrangements are made. Rides, including good grub and accommodations, cost $295 for two days, $395 for three. Accommodations are in a clean but rustic cabin. Only one cabin and the cookhouse have electricity. There is indoor plumbing with flush toilets in an outhouse-like building, and hot showers in a separate shower room. Beds with sheets are provided, but bring your own sleeping bag and a canteen with all the water you can drink and, on hot days, to pour over yourself. Children under age 14 participate only with special management approval. Info: 530-335- 2241, www.wildhorsesanctuary.org.
SANCTUARY EVENTS: The annual open house, including a barn dance, barbecue and free rides for kids, is slated for Aug. 21. The sanctuary will also be sponsoring four- and six-day cattle drives at the ranch of a benefactor. Visitors who call ahead will usually find someone on-site to show them around, but Wednesdays and Saturdays are official visitors' days.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Major attractions within a short drive of the sanctuary include Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mount Shasta, Shasta Lake, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Sundial Bridge. Contact the Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-874-7562, www.visitredding.org.
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