Feeding grounds overlooking Mr. Lassen
I spent last weekend at the Wild Horse Sanctuary, a refuge for wild horses and burros near Lassen National Park in Northern California. Dianne Nelson has run the sanctuary as a non-profit for the past 30 years and uses weekend rides and pack trips to fund the program — most funds go towards feeding the +/- 300 wild horses that live there.
Dianne Nelson and I riding on the 5000 acre Wild Horse Sanctuary
I have to admit that the experience I thought I would have over my three days there was not reality — I imagined safari-style tracking in search of horses that would be galloping through an open field. A bit of that may happen in the spring months when the landscape is green and lush, but in the late summer and fall the plants and natural water sources are parched and dry. The majority of the wild horses choose to come to a large feeding ground where they are fed by Dianne and her volunteers.
Any disappointment over learning that we would not be chasing wild horses disappeared when we realized that our camp overlooked a herd of horses that like to congregate in front of the cabins over the summer months.
Junior the stallion
We had the pleasure of observing ‘Junior’ the stallion and his herd of mares for 48 hours. What a treat! I had no idea how horses socialize and breed in the wild. What makes the experience fascinating is that we think we know horses through our exposure to our domestic version; their behavior in the wild is something else entirely. For me, the great ‘ah ha’ of the trip was when I realized that the essence of what Dianne is doing at the sanctuary is preserving the natural cycle of these magnificent animals. Clearly horses are not endangered, but the way they live and act in the wild is threatened.
One of Junior’s mares in camp
Given the long hours in the saddle and limited things to do in camp, at this point the sanctuary is not a great venue for young kids. That said, kids who are 10+ years old and love horses would be heaven. Dianne is always in need of volunteers — the organization would be a phenomenal opportunity for a teenager that wants to learn about horses.