August 30, 2014
The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary
42132 Ridge Road
Deer Trail, CO 80105
Hours: Call to schedule tour (allow 3+ hours)
Suggested Donation Fee for Tour: $40/adult, $20/child (6-15), under 6 FREE
Today I went with a group to the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary. I hadn’t heard of the sanctuary before, but was excited to have a chance to go see some wild horses, especially Mustangs, a symbol of the American West.
The Sanctuary, also known as GEMS, is located on 900 acres at the northern tip of the Black Forest in Deer Trail, CO about 85 miles southeast of Denver. I wouldn’t have guessed there could be a forest after driving past miles of flat farmland. Uniquely, the driving directions on GEMS website use “trees” as a landmark! Part of the drive is along a well maintained dirt road and probably takes 1:15 hrs from the Stapleton area.
Our group of ten took a hiking tour that we found on Living Social through the property to see the wild Mustangs. Deanna greeted us. We signed a waiver and were offered a restroom in the office before we began by visiting the burros.
The burros arrived from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facility in Canon City ten days ago. Enclosed in a fenced area by the barn, they stood in the middle of the pen as we peppered Deanna with a variety of questions about the facility, its mission, and the Mustangs in general.
We followed a dirt road along the open, rolling hills of the property. Though the rain wrecked havoc on the road which may also be used for driving tours, it made for a nice landscape of green grass and wildflowers that would otherwise be non-existent in August. We enjoyed a lovely day, no rain, and though warm by the afternoon, I can think of much hotter days during most summers.
After about 1.5 miles, we finally spotted the Mustangs up on the hill in the shade of one tree. We walked a half mile further, mostly on the road and partly bushwacking through tall grass sprinkled with yucca and prickly pear. Soon we were picnicking 30 feet from 21 wild horses.
The Mustangs came to the sanctuary from a variety of places, though all future Mustangs will be coming from the Sand Wash Basin about 45 miles northwest of Craig, CO. The Sand Wash Basin is one of the BLM’s Herd Management Areas where the BLM conducts round-ups. As Deanna put it, “The round-up is not a pleasant experience for the horses,” but the area is rocky with little shade and cannot support the herd, so the government collects as many horses as it can and keeps them at its holding facilities. From what I understand, the holding facilities are not that great either, so it is nice that non-profit sanctuaries like GEMS are being created to offer these horses a better life.
Not only do the American Mustangs have better grass, shade and weather in Deer Trail, CO, they are also handled, trained, and adopted over time, thus the horses go to good homes! GEMS is currently home to eleven Sand Wash Basin Mustangs. Most of them were gathered as yearlings in 2008 and lived at a holding facility in Canon City until the sanctuary adopted them at the end 2012. Of course, before GEMS could adopt the horses, the government inspected the facilities and did not hand over the title to the horses for a year until after the government checked on the safety and well being of the Mustangs.
In addition to the American Mustangs, GEMS offers a home to several Spanish Mustangs. The Spanish Mustangs have quite a different appearance from the American Mustangs. Many have a dark stripe down their back and most of the ones at the sanctuary were of a roan, gray or pinto color, though not all. The Spanish Mustangs came from a few different ranches including the Cayuse Ranch, Caballos De Destinos, and from a man in Foxton, CO who passed away.
Most of the Mustangs are small for a horse, pony size standing 14 hands high. Generally, the group stood with their rumps to us beneath a tree, however, a few entertained us. Naomi, a chestnut mare with a few white splotches on her side, was the most interested in us. She came the closest and let Deanna pet her for a second. What a pretty face she had too!
The black and the gray were inseparable, so they followed each other around near the vicinity of the other horses. Tanner, one of the two geldings on the property, was very interested in three of the Spanish Mustang mares, so he pinned his ears and directed traffic occasionally. While I was standing slightly off from the group for a few minutes shooting photos, the Spanish mares came directly toward me. Deanna mentioned that Tanner was relatively friendly, so I held my hand out in hopes for a quick pet, but he was more interested in the ladies he was following.
After our leisurely picnic, we bushwacked a different direction back to the road as we headed toward the barn. We met a few more Mustangs in a pen near the burros. One old lady was close enough to pet. We also walked out to the front pasture to meet some of GEMS “ambassador” Mustangs, though they were more interested in grazing than visiting us. The ambassador horses are halter broken, trained in ground work, and trailer trained. They go to different educational events for Mustangs.
There are many ways to get involved with Mustangs including volunteering at GEMS and even documenting horses at the herd management areas to improvement lineage records. Visiting the sanctuary was both an educational and peaceful experience. I recommend it for something fun and different to do near the outskirts of Denver…ETB