Looking for home

Wild horse sanctuary in need of a place of its own

Some of The Mustang Project’s horses, including two colts, live in Orland.

Some of The Mustang Project’s horses, including two colts, live in Orland.

Photo by Melissa Daugherty

Mail tax-deductible donations to The Mustang Project to P.O. Box 1161, Corning, CA, 96021. The organization is holding a fundraiser, a showing of the documentary Wild Spirits: Saving America's Wild Horses, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, at the Pageant Theatre in Chico. A Q&A session will follow the film. Tickets ($10) are available only online at www.tugg.com/events/20699. Learn more about The Mustang Project at www.themustangproject.org and on Facebook.

When Tracy Mohr contracted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take dozens of wild horses being rounded up at a federal refuge last year, she decided to choose the ones that were older or had injuries that would make them less likely to be chosen for adoption.

But those traits that made them unadoptable have turned out to be a life-saver for the animals.

“All the horses we have, it’s actually good in a way that there’s something wrong with them, because at least they’re safe,” she said during a recent interview.

Mohr, founder of The Mustang Project, a nonprofit wild horse sanctuary, explained how some of the other horses rounded up at the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada went to uncertain fates. She found out that a couple of the other parties that contracted with the agency ended up running the animals—the young and healthy ones no less—through auctions whose clients typically purchase equines for slaughter.

“They might be dinner in Spain somewhere,” said Mohr’s husband, Gary.

That was last September. Today, the horses that were lucky enough to end up adopted by Mohr are safe from the auction yards. Most of them, 45 to be precise, live in Stoneyford, on pastures that the couple rent. There is a small herd of seven mares and two beautiful colts born just this past spring that lives in Orland. During a recent visit to the lush irrigated pastures, the wild equines were on high alert as this reporter snapped a few photos. At one point, all nine animals, a bit startled by a newcomer, galloped around the property, a beautiful scene for any horse lover.

Tracy Mohr and Peanut, a mustang.

Photo by Gary Mohr

The situation may sound idyllic, but it’s not ideal for Mohr, since she lives in Corning and works in Chico, both a fair distance away from the main herd. More critical, however, is that the current arrangement isn’t economically viable in the long term. In fact, at this point, nearly a year after taking the horses, Mohr is struggling to meet the expenses, about $5,000 per month, of her undertaking.

“Resources-wise, we are pretty much going by faith at this point,” acknowledged Mohr, who is also the animal services manager at the Chico Animal Shelter.

When she originally committed to taking the horses, Mohr found a private property owner who was willing to provide a home for the animals for no charge. She spent thousands of dollars on an environmental review of the donated land, but the landowner ended up backing out of the deal at the eleventh hour. She and Gary made the decision to go ahead and take the horses, and ended up finding adequate pastureland just a few days before the Fish and Wildlife Service dropped off the animals.

They’ve been searching ever since for a long-term home, and so far, have run into dead ends.

Mohr noted that the horses come from three distinct herds whose lineage goes back more than a hundred years. They were used in the military, including during World War I. She lamented that the nation’s population of wild horses, whether on Bureau of Land Management properties or federal land, such as the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, is dwindling in light of aggressive roundups. There are actually more wild horses in holding facilities than there are roaming free, according to BLM data.

In addition to letting the wild horses live out their lives in peace, Mohr has always wanted to operate a program for kids, at-risk teens in particular, to work with horses. Her vision is to have that program up and running on a property where the couple can live on-site and care for the Sheldon horses. Because she would like for the public to come and see the animals, that pretty much eliminates acreage off of private roads that would pose impediments to public access.

She’s still open to parties willing to donate land or enter some sort of ecosanctuary partnership, but more recently, she’s been investigating purchasing property herself.

“You know, we just want to have a place where people came come and enjoy the horses, have the horses enjoy just being horses,” she said. “Who says they aren’t valuable just because you can’t ride them or they’re old or whatever. Just the fact that they’re there and they’re beautiful makes them valuable.

“We want to bring them home.”