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Dianne Nelson knew she was diving into a complex, all-consuming endeavor when she decided to save 80 wild horses from being destroyed back in 1978. Her heart told her that she had no choice.

Today, the Wild Horse Sanctuary is a 5,000-acre refuge near Shingletown where hundreds of rescued wild horses and burros have found a safe home, and she is delighted to open her doors to visitors. The sanctuary’s media campaign to bring attention to the plight of wild horses led to a national moratorium on killing wild horses that cannot be adopted.

The nonprofit sanctuary’s mission is to protect and preserve wild horses as a "living national treasure" in a publicly accessible, ecologically balanced environment with other wildlife. It also aims to increase public value of the value of wild horses through pack trips on the sanctuary and public outreach. It participates in research projects on ecologically sound wild horse management and consults to help build other wildlife preserves.

Most of the sanctuary’s horses have been rescued from federal lands. Many are adopted, but others are still waiting or are considered “unadoptable.”  The sanctuary depends on donations to keep the animals fed and healthy, and volunteers donate countless hours to the cause.

The public can come and see the wild horses for no charge from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays. “You can ride along when we feed the horses,” Nelson said. “People get a thrill when they see dozens of horses coming out of the fields." Some guests take advantage of the pastoral surroundings and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along the river.

From May through October, the sanctuary offers two and three-day trail rides, where guests can view herds of wild horses in a natural setting (call 474-5770). “Seeing the horses is just the highlight,” Nelson said. “We talk about what’s happening to horses on public lands, and our history.”

It hosts an annual open house in August, which includes free rides for children, a hay maze, crafts and more. An adoption of foals is held each October. “A lot of kids live in the city and never get to see a horse,” Nelson said. “If you like horses and you like nature, it doesn’t get much better than this.”

It couldn’t get much better for the horses, either. When Nelson rescued those first horses, she wanted to establish the sanctuary close to the Interstate 5 corridor. The Shingletown site was “a perfect location for horses,” she said. “The lava rock wears their feet down naturally. It just happened to be a location with a ranching history, which had room for growth. And most of our dreams and goals and prayers have been answered,” Nelson said.

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