Montgomery Creek Ranch: Care for Wild Horses in Sanctuaries

August 25, 2015 / Elk Creek CA

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now that horses are one of my passions. I work with the team at Montgomery Creek Ranch (MCR) to document many aspects of horses and humans connecting. The Ranch is a wild horse sanctuary dedicated to raising awareness about America’s wild horses and burros. With so many wild horse roundups being done by the Bureau of Land Management and Native American tribes culling their herds, private citizens have taken on the care and protection of wild horses so they have a safe place to survive and remain wild. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking and the dedicated individuals who rescue these animals are my heroes.

At MCR, there are over 200 horses living free on 2,000 acres and over 40 horses in training. Because the terrain is much different than the native land of the horses, trimming of hooves is scheduled twice a year. In the way human fingernails grow and need trimmed, horse hooves also grow. In the wild, the hooves are naturally filed or shaved down from climbing on rocky slopes and hard surfaces (think Western desert landscapes). In some sanctuaries, the landscape is a smoother terrain. Thus, humans must trim the hooves keep the horses healthy. My role during the trimming is documentation of the horses and process through photos. A team of professionals is in place to scan microchips, monitor their health, treat injuries and ensure each horse is vaccinated and wormed.

The care for wild horses in sanctuaries takes a dedicated team of farriers, vets, cowboys, photographers, cooks and support staff. The images in this entry show the team, dedication and the process of a wild horse trim. (See more about the team here.)

The process begins when a large herd is brought into a large pasture/holding pen. From here, the herd is sorted into manageable groups in smaller pens. Riders skillfully separate the herd into groups of 20-25 while trying to keep bonded pairs and family bands together, minimizing overall stress for the horses (this is my favorite time to photograph). No horse is ever left alone.

The sorted group runs down the alley and into a smaller pen just outside of the trim area. A group of about 5 horses are then gently pushed into the “tub”- a confined area just before the alley. The “alley” is narrow, high-walled and paneled.  The horses can move forward and back slowly, but only a few feet. The walls are high enough to keep them from jumping out. One by one, each horse is moved forward to the “horse chute. (the squeeze)” Just before the squeeze, there is a small space with no alley walls where the vet and support staff can do an up close, visual examination of the entire horse, and the horse can calm down before heading into the horse chute.

The horse chute is a hydraulic-powered, padded chute that squeezes the body of a horse, holding it in place, neck up, standing square. The pressure of the squeezing results in a relaxing effect and stabilization of the body. The chute tilts 90 degrees and the bottom drops out, exposing the horse feet and legs. The feet are tied off with ropes to the cleats on the outside of the chute, protecting the horse’s leg and the farriers. Farriers use tools to trim and file the horse’s hooves. Depending on the condition, the farriers will sometimes use a sawzall and grinder to trim. The goal is to have the horse out of the chute within 5-7 minutes. Once the horse is back in the upright, standing position, the vet examines the horse through multiple panels, administers vaccines in the neck or hip, and deposits a paste wormer inside the mouth. Horses can get scrapes and injuries in this process, which is why we have our vet on site at all times during the trim.

At last, the front door opens and the horse exits the chute with the newly trimmed feet and head held high to join his or her friends in the adjacent pen (while trying to spit out the worm paste). A photo is taken and entered into a ranch management database along with any identifying information (when available), and other health information for each horse.

Although a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, the wild horse hoof trim is an essential part of the care for wild horses in sanctuaries. The men and women who care for these beautiful creatures deserve to be recognized for their work and I am blessed to be invited into their world each and every time I step foot onto the property at Montgomery Creek Ranch.

Spring: West Nile, Four Way vaccines & Strongid Paste Wormer

Fall: West Nile, Rabies vaccines & Ivermectin Paste Wormer