“When we rode up the hill, my horses pace quickened and we arrived on the plateau. It was like a horse heaven seeing the wild horses in their world,” said Ron Smithson. Smithson, a self-proclaimed infrequent rider from Morgan Hill, California was bowled over by the beauty of the Shasta Cascade region and its connection with wild horses. Smithson joined me and several other riders for a weekend overnight horseback riding vacation with wild horses in Shingletown, California.
Situated amongst native oak trees and volcanic lava rock, The Wild Horse Sanctuary was started by Co-founder Dianne Nelson back in the 1970’s. “In 1975 the government wanted to thin the wild horse herd. After three years of contracting for the forest service and adopting out everything that was caught, there were still horses remaining that were going to be killed. In 1977 we rescued our first wild horse. We started catching the horses that hadn’t been adopted because we didn’t want to see them killed. We then started the sanctuary. It was a lot of people supporting us,” remembered Nelson.
Currently, the Northern California based Sanctuary offers an opportunity for experienced equestrians, as well as beginning riders, to get up close and personal with wild horse viewing. For animal and nature lovers not interested in a ride with wild horses, there are opportunities to sponsor a horse (the horses require supplemental feeding when the natural grass dries up) and the ranch offers an excellent hands-on internship program.
Left to right: Erin Crossman, Nancy Brown, Dianne Nelson, Morgan Ruiter, Ron Smithson, Jeanine Ruffoni & Kelly Lombardi
During my ride I met Photographer Erin Crossman from Ontario, Canada. “I volunteered at The Wild Horse Sanctuary 21 years ago in 1994,” said Crossman. I lived here for six months. I took a year off of university to volunteer with the wild horses. Now I’ve returned to photograph the horses. This is my way of giving back by donating my work.”
One of our guides, 21 year old Morgan Ruiter from Melbourne, Australia, was in Shingletown as an intern. “I wanted to do some volunteer work and what better place to be than in California, working with wild horses.”
“All of God’s creatures deserve a chance to be free from being hunted and rounded up,” continued Smithson. “This is great work they are doing here. I’m happy to support this great cause.”
The Wild Horse Sanctuary offers two, three and four day horseback riding vacations in Shingletown, California. The ride you select determines the amount of time you spend in the saddle. I opted for an overnight trail ride in May, an ideal time to see wild flowers. For a more indepth review of the actual base camp and overnight trail ride experience, please visit my What a Trip blog. If you have always dreamed of riding with wild mustangs, this is your chance. Round up some friends and head on out west.
If You Go: The Wild Horse Sanctuary (530) 474-5770
5796 Wilson Hill Road,
Shingletown, California 96088