Wild horses: Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary serves community, shares traditions
Lander – Since 2016, the Oldham family has operated an eco-sanctuary located on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which is home to more than 250 wild mustangs.
The Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary, situated on the Oldham’s working Double D Ranch, cares for permanent pasture mustangs and wild horses available for adoption through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In addition, the Oldhams utilize the sanctuary to educate tourists and community members on wild horse management and Native American traditions.
Ideas to action
Former Wyoming State Veterinarian Dwayne Oldham heard of many problems wild horses created for themselves, other wildlife and ranchers while involved with the Wyoming State Livestock Board. The idea for the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary first came to Dwayne around 2004.
“I realized being adversarial was not going to work, instead I thought it would be best to try to be a part of the solution,” Dwayne shares. “Every other type of animal on the range is managed, from wildlife to livestock, but the only thing that hasn’t been managed very well until recently is wild horses, and I wanted to be involved in the solution.”
He continues, noting the BLM has been charged with this difficult task of managing the horses on the range, “I have worked with other Reservations on wild horse issues and they have more options than the BLM. It is difficult in Wyoming to pasture BLM mustangs because the horses can’t be run on any public land, including BLM land, or within 10 miles of a herd management area (HMA). The opportunity for a bid came about, and we completed the paperwork in 2013-14.”
Dwayne explains wild horses came to the ranch in the fall of 2015, and the sanctuary opened to the public in the spring of 2016.
Wild horse education
The Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary focuses on public education through public tours, including involvement with local elementary schools.
“Originally, we were a holding facility that was supposed to be open to the public, where most other facilities are big pasture and closed to the public,” says Dwayne. “We educate on why horses are moved off the range, where horses come from, why they are on the sanctuary and why the BLM manages the wild horses.”
Dwayne shares many of their visitors stop on their way to Yellowstone National Park, and many locals bring out-of-town friends and families to see the wild horses.
“We are also involved in the schools,” he comments. “We were working with the Lander schools and would give tours to fourth graders studying Wyoming history. We also had third graders from Fort Washakie and kindergarteners from the Arapaho School and St. Stephens Indian School.”
Dwayne shares the sanctuary has hosted 60 to 90 students at a time, split into groups to rotate through an educational wild horse video in the museum, learning from a Tribal elder about the horse and a wagon ride through the wild horses.
BLM wild horse adoptions have been popular at the sanctuary, Dwayne says. Most of the adoptable horses at the sanctuary are yearlings and two-year-olds. Three- to five-year-olds are also available, but not as popular.
“So far, we have been able to adopt everything the BLM has brought us,” he explains. “We work hard to place horses, and we’ve sent horses to Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Utah.”
He adds, “We have placed a majority of horses in Wyoming. Some outfitters use them as pack horses, and another person uses them for trail horses on a dude ranch.”
Sometimes, Dwayne can get wild horses from other facilities if someone is looking to adopt a particular type or number of horses, depending on availability.
Though, Dwayne notes, “Not all horses coming to the sanctuary are adoptable. In this case, they are permanent pasture horses and they are here to stay. They’re here because they either failed adoption, or they are older horses.”
Dwayne, his wife Denise and children Aisha, Jared, Odessa and Jess work together to make the sanctuary and their ranch successful. Dwayne shares the sanctuary is very much a family operation, and each person has been a big help.
In addition to the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary, the Oldham family raises cattle, sheep and their own Quarter Horses.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” says Dwayne. “We used to sell mostly weanlings in New Mexico, but for a while those were hard to sell on the market so we went to breaking and riding horses to sell.”
The Oldhams start some horses as two-year-olds, but most as three-year-olds, and sell the horses as a four- or five-year-old to make sure they have a couple years under saddle.
“We use the horses a lot for cattle work, hunting and pack trips, as well as sorting and moving the wild horses,” he adds. “They get used a lot.”
For more information, visit their website at windriverwildhorses.com or follow on Facebook on their page @WRWHS10.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.