My Experience With the Devil's Garden Wild Horses

By Ellie Phipps Price

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The Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory is 500-square miles of rolling and rough country within the Modoc National Forest just outside of Alturas, California. The area consists of sharp rocks and dense brush — in fact, if the Devil were to grow his own garden, this would be it. It’s rough, beautiful country managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS).

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There is an abundance of wildlife in this area including California's largest and most significant wild horse herd that have called the forest home since the 1800s. Like so many areas where wild horses reside - there are also private landowners with grazing leases within the Territory that bring their cattle and sheep up from the valley for summer grazing.

The ranchers want the horses gone, and the USFS has decided to comply.

The first helicopter roundup happened in the Fall of 2016, where 220 Devil's Garden wild horses lost their freedom. After the operation, the horses were sent to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Litchfield Corrals. Many of the mares were pregnant and delivered their foals in the BLM's holding pens in the spring and summer of 2017.

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In the fall of 2017, the BLM separated a group of 28 "weanlings" from their mothers and shortly after 25 of them tragically died from antibiotic-induced colitis. One of the survivors, who we named Selena, was adopted by Montgomery Creek Ranch, along with four Devil's Garden mare/foal pairs and one orphan filly, Pocket, whose mother died in the BLM corrals.  

These were such wonderful young horses, we decided to put them in our training and adoption program. These horses are sturdy, have great attitudes and personality and are good prospects to grow up to be great trail horses because their ancestors evolved in the rough terrain of the Garden.

Selling California’s Mustangs for Slaughter

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In 2018, Suzanne Roy, Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), and I traveled to the Modoc National Forest to meet with the Forest Service to discuss how we could help manage and fund a fertility control program for the remaining wild horses. Even though the Forest Service initially expressed interest in working with us, they went ahead and rounded up another 932 horses in October 2018.

Now, hundreds of these horses are in danger of being sold for human consumption in Asia and Europe, thanks to the Forest Service plan to sell them without limitation on slaughter. Even worse: this horrific plan is taking place in California, a state that has prohibited the cruel practice of horse slaughter for two decades.

For now, the horses are safe pending litigation that was filed by AWHC and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but MCR continues the work to rescue, adopt and train as many as we can to get them out of the holding pens where they are at risk of losing their lives.

Horses Available for Adoption

As I have come to know and love the Devil’s Garden horses that we adopted from the first roundup, my hope is that people who are looking to provide a home for a horse will choose one of our six youngsters --Selena, Pocket, Flint, Tule, Paloma, and Fisher. They are coming two, have been gentled, and are ready to be started as saddle horses.

When these horses have been adopted, we will go back to the corrals and adopt more horses in need and put them in training. MCR firmly believes the best life insurance for a horse is training.

At our Ranch, we have two full-time trainers who partner to gentle, start and finish horses using natural horsemanship. We usually have about 20-30 horses in training at all levels of ability from just gentled, like the Devil's Garden two-year-olds, to fully trained and working with cows.

Our horses-in-training get lots of time on the trails, crossing creeks, climbing steep hills, and riding out over all kinds of terrain to give them the milage that will make them safe and dependable trail horses ready to find their forever homes.