Will Equine Sanctuaries Save America’s Wild Horses?

If confined to a sanctuary, how ‘wild’ would wild horses actually be?

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Will Equine Sanctuaries Save America’s Wild Horses?
Mustang stallions become the boss of their bands around age six. Young herd stallions chased of by the head stallion, form "bachelor" bands. (Photo: A.L. Christensen / Getty)

A couple that once raised cattle on their 4,700-acre Wyoming ranch are awaiting approval from the Bureau of Land Management to use the land as home base for a herd of 250 wild horses, reports Global Animal.

“It’s new territory, we’re still figuring it out,” said Jana Wilson, who owns Deerwood Ranch with her husband, Rich. The operation, which is still pending approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, could begin as early as September.

Deerwood is just one proposed “eco-sanctuary” that could provide a home for the 45,000 horses that roam the contested lands of the West. In Nevada, a proposal to combine public and private land to shelter horses is also under consideration. Proponents of the plan hope that private sanctuaries could boost local economies, as tourists pay to see the majestic bands of Mustangs. 

“Our hope is that this would be some kind of boon to the local economy,” said Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management.

However, critics of private sanctuaries like the Wilsons’ ranch say that the horses are simply being “stored” at smaller ranches.

“They’re just taking horses, rounding them up at great cost to the taxpayer, and putting them there and paying another rancher,” said Madeleine Pickens, the wife of billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens.

Questions remain about how “wild” wild horses would be while living in sanctuaries.

Horses on the Wilson’s ranch would be gelded. While the details of federal involvement remain undeveloped, it’s not clear if sick horses would be simply left to die naturally, or cared for by the Wilsons.

Pickens has a foundation called Saving America’s Mustangs, and believes in large-scale public-private sanctuaries under consideration by the Bureau of Land Management, which, she says, could take in thousands of horses.

For Rich Wilson, seeing wild horses roam freely on his land is a way to renew the spirit of the Old West that has been lost in years of legal battles, grazing wars, and aggressive helicopter-driven round-ups. 

“When I die,” Wilson said, “I want to come back as a horse.”