Wild Horses in Wyoming
A visit to Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary
Photography by Jana Wilson, courtesy Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary
At the base of the Snowy Mountain Range in southern Wyoming, there’s a destination unlike any other. Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary is one of three wild horse sanctuaries in the country. It’s home to 350 wild horses and the public is invited to visit.
Wyoming is a place where the Wild West still lives, and in fact, the Bureau of Land Management manages 16 wild horse herds on public land in the state. Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary, a private, nearly 5000-acre ranch owned by Rich and Jana Wilson, has been certified by the Bureau to care for these wild horses because grazing land is getting scarce.
"The positive side of the eco-sanctuaries is they are open to the public and provide education on the wild horse and burro problem in the U.S.,” said Jana Wilson.
We visited the ranch, located about 30 minutes west of Laramie, earlier this month. It’s an experience that I’ll never forget.
We arrived on an early May day that was threatening rain. However, the famous Wyoming gale force winds were absent, replaced with a light breeze. We hopped in the back of Rich Wilson’s pickup (which has been fitted with seats) and began the drive out into the lower pasture; the horses are on a rotational grazing schedule and are sometimes up in mountainous pastures.
Jana Wilson rides in the back of the pickup and acts as a tour guide as Rich drives awe-struck guests through 350 wild horses, also called mustangs. I hadn’t realized that we’d be so close to these magnificent creatures, and while not every tour gets an up-close “hello” from the horses, on this day many of the mustangs were friendly and curious, coming right up to the pickup bed.
The assortment of color in the herd is startling; these wild horses seem to come in just about every equine coat variation there is. Jana Wilson explained to guests that the horses tend to herd together in color-coordinated groups. As the truck bounced along, to our amazement, Wilson was right. We saw several groups of gray horses banded together with an occasional chestnut pair in the mix.
All the horses at Deerwood are geldings and relatively calm considering they have spent their lives in the wild. When they first arrived at the ranch they were jumpy, but after awhile they learned to trust the Wilsons. Some are even quite friendly with guests, as our group delightfully discovered. None of the 350 horses here are broke and therefore cannot be ridden.
The herd mainly grazes for food, although the Wilsons feed them hay in the dead of winter. The Bureau of Land Management's guidelines for the ranch, however, prevent them from providing vet services.
The ranch is open to the public from May through September, and guests need to make reservations in advance for a tour. Tours last about an hour and a half and are $40 per adult and $20 for children 17 and under.
On June 9, 2018, the ranch will open its gates for a free public day featuring tractor-trailer tours to visit the horses. The Bureau of Land Management will have an informational booth, and there will be wild horse adoptions, wild horse training demonstrations and more.
The subject of wild horses is not without controversy, and while I did not delve into the varying opinions about the issue in this article, if you’d like to learn more, read this article in National Geographic online.