Saddles & Sanctuary: Mountain Valley Horse Rescue gives equines purpose
It is just past 10 a.m. at the Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in southern Routt County, and Shana Devins has a rake in her hands and is busy cleaning a paddock on the 115-acre ranch outside of McCoy.
“My day starts with feeding, water, grain and hay, said Devins, the rescue’s executive director. “There is medication for the older guys and special needs horses. Then it’s cleaning up corrals and paddocks and taking care of the property and those sorts of things. It’s a very glamorous position.”
But as executive director of the horse rescue facility, she has time to joke but no time to complain.
As she runs through the morning routine of caring for 28 horses, mules and donkeys that call the ranch home, her main purpose is to make sure the animals she cares for are happy and healthy.
“These horses have fallen on hard times, but it’s through no fault of their own,” Devins said. “People bred these amazing animals, but we have a tendency to feel like these animals are disposable, and I don’t believe that they are.”
She knows all of the horses on the ranch by name as well as the stories that brought them to the ranch, which is located a little over an hour south of Steamboat Springs on Colorado River Road.
A smile appears on Devins’ face as she talks about Woodrow, a mustang that was born on the ranch in April after his mother was rescued from a failing horse sanctuary in South Dakota where too many horses died before volunteers discovered there was a problem.
She also likes to tell visitors about Gabby, a 30-year-old mule, which was ridden in English horse shows in her prime but now battles hip problems that leave her in pain when she is ridden.
Then there is Latigo, a trail horse that could no longer keep up with the work after an inury. These days he doesn’t wander too far away from Devins as she gives some horses a little extra feed.
Mountain Valley Horse Rescue takes in horses that were abandoned by their owners, and some that got lost in the wilderness and were never claimed, plus a few that were rescued from abuse and neglect.
“We work with local law enforcement authorities in Garfield, Routt, Pitkin and Eagle counties for severe abuse and neglect cases,” Devins said. “We will take seizures and relinquishment of horses in those kind of situations.”
She said the rescue also receives a number of referrals that come from local veterinarians.
“When they go to see a horse and the owner says, ‘We don’t want to, or can’t, provide the care the horse needs to get healthy again,’ then they call us,” Devins said. “If they think that the horse could recover and if it just needs time and money invested in it, they call us. In that case, we can sometimes help out with that.”
Devins said there are more than 6,000 unwanted horses just in Colorado, and 170,000 across the country. It’s illegal to slaughter horses in the United States, but more than 120,000 are shipped across international borders. Most are aging horses bought at auctions.
If Devins had her way, she would like to save them all, but she knows there is not enough space, money or resources to do that.
The idea for the horse rescue group was born in 2004 after a pair of horses was found wandering in the Flat Tops Wilderness area during hunting season.
“A couple of horse enthusiasts took care of those girls and recognized the need for a regional rescue operation,” Devins said. “So the Mountain Valley Horse Rescue was started as a nonprofit in Eagle. The horses were kept in backyards or any place they could tuck a few horses away here and there.”
The organization eventually leased property and then purchased land for their current facility thanks to a pledge of $1 million from the Shaw Family Foundation.
But Mountain Valley Horse Rescue wants to do more than just help a few horses. The organization hopes to raise awareness about the larger issue that surrounds unwanted horses.
“We have really tried to become a community resource and to reach out to the community to not just offer these horses a place to come and recover, but also through outreach and education, create a community of horse advocates,” Devins said. “We want to educate people whether that is pony rides at farmers markets or clinics that we do here on the ranch, so that more and more people know and care about horses and recognize their intrinsic value, their historical value and their value as individuals.
“The auctions are not the problem,” Devins explained. “It is the owners that end up taking the horses to the auctions. If we could stanch that supply, there would not be horses for the kill plants to buy.”
But she also understands that sometimes circumstances force owners to make choices they don’t want to. She said Mountain Valley Horse Rescue is there to help when situations warrant a rescue when they can’t take the horse.
“We try to put some of the responsibly back on private horse owners, and we will help them market horses that they need to place. We will help them find their horse a new home,” Devins said. “We do a little matchmaking in hopes of getting a horse from one private horse owner to another, and we prefer to only take them here at the ranch when the situation is really critical and time has run out.”
She said most horse owners and commercial operations want to keep their animals as they grow older and want to be responsible owners. She said it is difficult sometimes because horses cost about $5,000 to board and feed annually and can live for more than 30 years.
“I think most people if they can, and if they could, would keep their horse forever,” Devins said. “But most people don’t have 100 acres and a back pasture they can kick the old guys out into.”
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