For my second co-op experience, I am working at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in northern California, which sits at the feet of the grand Mount Lassen, the last volcano to erupt in the lower forty eight before Mount St. Helens. The Wild Horse Sanctuary is a non-profit organization that protects almost three hundred wild horses and allows them to live out their lives freely and naturally on its five thousand acres of land. The wild horses living at the Sanctuary come from all over the western United States. Having been rounded up off of public lands by the Bureau of Land Management and deemed un-adoptable, they then would have either been put down or spent the rest of their lives in cramped and otherwise poor conditions in BLM “holding pens”, had they not been rescued by the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary began taking in wild horses in 1978, but has since reached capacity in land and resources. National publicity raised by the Sanctuary eventually contributed to a national moratorium on killing un-adoptable wild horses, and other sanctuaries for wild horses have since been founded, but BLM round-ups continue to this day and many wild horses still face a life of captivity.
The Sanctuary has a very small staff. Dianne Nelson is the founder and runs the Sanctuary from her home on an adjacent property. Other than her, there are only two paid employees: a ranch hand and someone in charge of communications and finance. Therefore they depend pretty heavily on volunteers and interns like me. I do whatever needs doing around the ranch, but my main job is to do the daily feeding chores. This means every morning, seven days a week, I hop on the tractor at 8:00 AM and distribute about a ton of alfalfa hay in the various pens and pastures, and then bring grain to the young horses that haven’t yet been adopted. I’ve also done a variety of other work for the Sanctuary. I’ve safety checked and cleaned tack for the trail ride program, which runs during the summer months and brings in about half of the revenue to run the Sanctuary. I assisted the local veterinarian in administering PZP, a reversible anti-fertility vaccine, to the wild mares to manage our herd size, and also helped sort the mares out of the herd as a whole. I’ve given tours to visitors and a school group, and worked in the gift shop. Along with a couple here to volunteer from the Czech Republic, I helped to check and fix around four miles of perimeter fencing, along with all kinds of other odd jobs around the ranch. I’m learning a lot from working here, about wild horses, tame horses, running a ranch and running a non-profit. I’m also learning some about gentling horses, as I am working with a young colt that has never been handled before; a task which is very interesting and really rewarding. But it hasn’t been all work and no play, I’ve enjoyed some trail rides myself and lots of beautiful hiking!
I’ve also been taking lots of photos of my time here, some of which have been or are going to be posted on the organization’s Facebook page or used in press releases. This is a great bridge connecting this co-op to my proposed Self-Design major, Communicating the Natural World, a split between Media, Biology, and Environmental Science.