Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill

Friday, September 14, 2012

Monero Mustangs Sanctuary

Research for my next book took me on an enlightening journey to New Mexico last year.  Driving up from Santa Fe, my husband and I stopped in Tierra Amarilla, a small town off US Highway 84, near Chama.  The route took us through Georgia O'Keeffe country and some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.  With steep mesas that stretched as far as the eye could see, it was no wonder the artist chose to live her life there.  Add white clouds on the horizon and a deep blue sky free of pollutants and the view is breathtaking.

It was in this setting that we found Monero Mustangs Sanctuary, a haven dedicated to the preservation of the American Mustang.  Located on approximately 5,000 acres at Yellow Hills Ranch, the sanctuary is operated by Sandi Claypool.  Sandi and her late mother started the sanctuary in 2000 and it is now home to over 120 wild horses.  And the number continues to grow.

It is believed that horses roamed North America 10,000 years ago.  At some point, however, they vanished from the landscape and no one knows why.  Considered part of the American West's heritage, mustangs are believed to be descendants of horses imported here from the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century.  For various reasons, the horses eventually escaped into the wild or were "freed" by Native American tribes who resented the Spanish conquerors' ways.  Those surviving the hardships of living in the wild were the progenitors of the feral horse of today.

The mustang's (mesteño - from the Spanish word meaning "wild") plight is heightened by the number of horses grazing public lands and the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) need to control the herd population.  When settlers started moving west in the 1900s, cattle ranching operations often competed with the mustang for grazing space on public lands.  Horse slaughter was too often the solution.  But in 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect the wild mustang and stated in part that "they were living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west".

A few years later, the BLM began a program which allowed wild horse adoption.  Controversial in part because of the cruelty associated with the roundups, the BLM asserts the necessity of its actions in controlling which and how many horses remain wild on public land.  The organization also insists this allows an environmental balance to the landscape and prevents depletion due to over foraging.

Enter Monero Mustangs Sanctuary.  Some of the horses found at Monero Mustangs Sanctuary were acquired by this adoption process, while Sandi has also taken in horses through other means.  Allowed to roam freely, the horses remain wild.  They naturally group and live within bands or herds.  They graze off the land but are only fed hay to sustain them through the winter months.  This keeps the horses healthy and also contributes to conserving the landscape.  Over 3,000 bales of hay are used during this period and most are obtained through financial donations, which are tax-deductible.

Visiting the sanctuary was a unique experience for us.  The day was spent locating and viewing several bands of horses, seeing them interact with each other, learning some of their mannerisms and the reasons behind them.  My new favorite word for that day was "snaking", a movement the stallions make with their heads to keep their herds in line.  We were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted and Sandi was more than happy to answer our questions.  The day was relaxed and informative.  While not finding all of the bands in residence (some were people-shy, some avoided humans altogether), we still left feeling it was well worth the cost of the tour.  In fact, as a Christmas gift, our family sponsored one of the foals born on the premises in December.

Monero Mustangs Sanctuary is a non-profit organization and is one of several wild horse sanctuaries located around the country.  Good work is performed there everyday but there is always need.  They appreciate any and all donations and if you live nearby, they're happy to have you as a volunteer.  Tours are available by appointment.  For more information, visit their website at www.moneromustangs.org.