Friday, November 9, 2012

"Feature Friday- Sandi Claypool, Monero Mustangs, Still Wild"

Howdy Folks,

In Rio Arriba county New Mexico there’s a range with Pinyon pines, beautiful mountains, a tiny rusty trailer and a small band of Spanish Mustangs. The tiny trailer is home to Sandi Claypool who is devoted to protecting and preserving the Spanish Mustang. The trailer has been there since 2008. The Mustangs since 1598. Sandi inherited her passion to protect the Mustangs from her mother Ila Bromberg who was educated as an archeologist and had herself a lifelong passion to preserve them, their heritage and their history.

This sanctuary is located on 4,700 acres on the Yellow Hills Ranch where the wild horses are free to remain wild, running free under the watchful eye of Sandi, who since her mother’s passing last November, operates the sanctuary alone, living in that tiny rusty trailer with electric but no running water.

Our story though, starts back a few years; it was 1997 when Sandi was looking for a Spanish stallion to bred to her mare, Kat Dancing. At that time the USDA Forest Service was removing wild horses from the Jarita Mesa Wild Horse Territory and offering them for adoption. Sandi saw the stallion, now known as Katzman Dancer, and filed the required papers. Eventually she was awarded ownership of the stallion. Katzman Dancer is now considered to be the foundation stallion, having been DNA tested and ranking very high with the original Spanish markers. Through subsequent breeding, “Monero Mustangs” was established.

Katzman was Sandi’s introduction to the herd management practices of the Forest Service and, while well meaning, it was painfully obvious to Sandi and her mother that the removal and adoption of so many of wild horses was causing the depletion of the gene pool, and could threaten the very survival of the herd. At the time it was estimated there were only 60 horses remaining of the original band. The Spanish horses at Jarita Mesa Wild Horse Territory are direct descendents of the first 1,000 horses Spanish explorer, Don Juan de Onate led across the Rio Grande River in 1598 when he claimed the territory for Spain.

Sandi and her mother sprang into action, leasing land and adopting as many Jarita Mesa Spanish horses as possible. For the next few years Sandi spent every moment, when not at work with the Social Services, with the herd she and her mother were assembling. The vision of protecting the band of descendents of the original Spanish horse, and to create a genetically pure herd, was slowly taking shape. Within 5 years the herd numbered nearly 30. Excited by the prospect of success, Sandi and her mother founded Monero Mustangs as a non-profit entity in May of 2003. The name “Monero” represents the geographic location where their herd went from a dream to a reality. It is an Italian word referring to the coal mines that supported the early settlers in the northern part of the Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. To Sandi and her mother it seemed as if the noble horses whose gallant ancestors helped build a nation might have a tiny nation of their own.

It was a fabulous dream coming true. The herd continued to grow and so did the relationship Sandi enjoyed with the Forest Service, who got in the habit of calling when they had horses they knew no one would adopt. Especially the older horses. The Forest Service knew they could count on Sandi and her mother. They even began accepting other wild horses not of Spanish lineage. Back in the settling of the American West, Cavalry mounts and settlers’ horses were often lost or left to run free and their decedents run in the wild herds. As long as they were wild, Sandi and her mother would provide the safe home for them to remain, wild and free. By 2007 there were over 40 horses under the care of Sandi and Ila.

Then things took a turn. A bad turn. Suddenly horrible things began to happen that caused Sandi to fear for the herd’s safety. In one week they found 3 dead babies. Other pressures were coming to bear as well and Sandi knew she had to do something, fast. Once again it seemed the wild horses were not welcomed on the range they’d called home for over 400 years.

She had one possible option. One that at the time wasn’t really available, but she’d make the call for help anyway. About a year earlier she’d been contacted by a group who were purchasing land just 20 miles from her. They had even asked Sandi about introducing Mustangs to their land. She tracked down the number and made the call asking if it would be possible to move the herd right away. Were they ready for nearly 50 wild horses? Fortunately the group had settled on the land and already founded “Yellow Hills Ranch.” Sandi’s call was received with enthusiasm and broad support. Yellow Hills Ranch was willing to allow the horses to roam freely on nearly 5 thousand acres, with a promise of protection. Things happened quickly, as they needed to for the safety of the horses. When Sandi and her mother got the green light, Sandi retired from her job, put her house up for sale and they moved the herd. In one day, in the spring of 2008, Sandi, her mother and a friend loaded and transported 45 wild horses to Yellow Hills Ranch.

Today the total herd numbers just over 100. Sandi lives alone in that tiny rusty trailer keeping watch, doing the paper work and continuing to build the foundation. She has made her inspections of the horses sometimes on crutches, or with her broken arm in a sling, or sick with the flu. In the winter, the hay must be hauled to feed the horses whether Sandi is in the pink of health or under the weather. She knows every horse by name, their family tree and every horse knows and trusts her. From time to time the Forest Service still calls when they need to find a home range for a special wild horse.

Yellow Hills Ranch and Monero Mustangs welcomes visitors to spend the day observing the Mustangs in their natural environment. Sharing her knowledge about these unique horses is Sandi’s passion and she encourages you to come see them for yourself. On a typical visit to Monero Mustangs, she will guide visitors around the ranch to see the horses in their favorite places and explain the history and the stories of each of the Mustang families. Please go to the website to schedule a visit and learn more about these elegant horses and the struggle to protect them. Tours are the main source of funds to keep Monero Mustangs operating, and they offer photographers unequaled opportunities for great pictures. Another important source of funds is Sponsorship. This is an exciting way to be involved with these magnificent wild horses. These are very personalized sponsorships where you can sponsor a horse of your choice, and Monero Mustangs will keep you informed of their progress during the year with pictures and diaries.

Working long distance with Desiree Goodall, a 17 year old volunteer living in Montana, Sandi is currently creating a comprehensive registry of all the horses at Monero Mustangs. This is very important because should anything happen to Sandi, without this registry the identification, history and other facts, such as health and personalities of these horses would be forever lost.

A future goal of Monero Mustangs is to open an educational center which will include a Colonial Spanish Horse museum and a research facility for DNA and historical data. With the welcome home at Yellow Hills Ranch, Sandi and Ila’s dream of preventing this tiny strain of horses from becoming extinct and to educate the public about the treasure we have in our midst has become a reality.

Thanks to one woman’s passion and devotion, the Monero Mustangs are “Still Wild” and running free.

Gitty Up
Dutch Henry

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