“I never tire of the horses, and they never disappoint a visitor,” Jana Wilson said.
She was speaking about the stallions in her care.
Jana and her husband, Rich, operate the Deerwood Ranch
Wild Horse EcoSanctuary on the extended family’s 4,700-acre
property in Centennial, Wyoming.
It’s where 350 horses captured wild in Wyoming roam free.
“Once people are here and we get them out with the horses, you can feel this peace come over them.
“You can sense a common bond,” Jana said.
Through tears, a recent guest from Georgia said visiting the horses was the highlight of her life.
“Therapists bring clients here,” Jana said. “They go to the horses then sometimes stay for a picnic lunch.”
“You can just feel how positive it is.
“Some kind of tranquility comes over them,” she said. “Horses have a way of bringing out emotions in people.”
One might say, healing of all sorts takes place here.
And it all came about from a small ad in a local paper.
BLM Horse EcoSanctuaries
In 2010 Jana’s father read that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was seeking private land for excess horses.
Three things were needed.
– Rocks to wear the horses’ hooves down
– Running water through all the pastures the horses would be in
– And plenty of natural shelter in the form of willows and trees so the horses could find refuge in the tough Wyoming winters
Jana, a self-proclaimed progressive rancher, said a two-year application process resulted in Deerwood Ranch becoming the first of three BLM-sponsored EcoSanctuaries in the country.
The wild, albeit gelded, stallions, reside with four generations of people who have called this land home since early 1980s.
The “eco” part of EcoSanctuary stands for economy and ecology.
That’s because part of the BLM’s intention is to boost local tourism and offer education about wild horses.
“A lot of people come to Wyoming looking for wild horses living in their natural habitat, but they can’t find them,” Jana said.
Partnering With the BLM
So, lucky for the public, the pact between the Wilsons and the BLM states that the EcoSanctuary be open to visitors from May to September.
Another part of the agreement says that horses will live as close to their natural environments as possible.
That means feed is only provided in winter, and no vet care can be given.
The exception is euthanasia for a severely-injured horse or one that is suffering and near death.
Yet as a result of the agreement, the Wilsons get to witness instinctual healing.
On one occasion they observed a stallion with a cut leg spend big portions of every day standing in brook water until the injury had healed.
He was accompanied by a companion, something Jana said each horse naturally has.
Visiting the EcoSanctuary
As to visiting Deerwood, all I can say is, “Do it.”
And do it more than once.
By way of truck or ATV (all-terrain vehicle) you’ll be transported to another world.
Once in the vicinity of the horses, there’s plenty of unrushed time to watch them graze, run, amble and rest on the magnificent land that extends halfway up a mountain.
But count on each tour being different.
Sometimes curious horses wander toward you, even nuzzling.
And other times the connection is made without touch.
It’s entirely up to them.
Wild Horse Protection
While wild horses have been protected in the U.S. since 1971, laws may be changing.
With few predators, their numbers are growing rapidly.
The estimated number of mustangs roaming the west exceeds 86,000.
Each year thousands are rounded up and kept in holding pens while others are put up for adoption.
Undeniable friction exists between the ranchers who use public lands for herd grazing and wild horses doing the same.
Yet 350 fortunate mustangs found their way to Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary.
And nearly 1,500 people will trek to Centennial, Wyoming to visit them this year.
I wonder if that number includes the five to six times my family and friends and I will be there?
• Visit Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary.
• Read the full and edited text of the Wild Free-Romaing Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
• Read “Wild Horses and the Inmates who ‘Gentle’ Them,” by Steven Kurutz, New York Times Fashion and Style, 10/15/2017.
• Watch the full documentary, “Wild Horse Wild Ride,” on youtube.
• Read “They’ll Shoot Horses, Won’t They?” New York Times Op-Ed by Ellie Phipps Price, 7/21/2017.
• Read “The Quiet War Against Wyoming’s Wild Horses,” by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 8/11/2011.
• Stay at the Wilson’s 2-bedroom, river-side cottage on the grounds of Deerwood Ranch.
• Read “Wild Horses, Wilder Controversy,” by Ben Masters, National Geographic, 2/6/2017.
• Read “Wild Horses: The Consequence of Doing Nothing,” by Ben Masters, National Geographic, 2/7/2017.
• Read about Home on the Range Animal Sanctuary.
• • •
Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1 — C. West