Travel Spotlight

Mustang Monument Up Close

Since I could walk, I have delighted in spending time on the back of a horse, a passion bestowed upon me by my mother. As any rider knows, horses can be intimidating and the sport of horseback riding itself is not something you casually pick up – rather, it requires years of dedication, patience and some grit (I’ve been bucked off more times than I can count). But I love riding — and think I always will — and so it was with particular fascination and joy that I recently discovered a new ranch in Nevada whose owner shares this passion. Better yet, a woman whose goal is not just to facilitate incredible riding experiences for guests but who has made it her mission to save the American mustang, an animal dangerously close to disappearing.

Here is what I learned during an incredible week at Mustang Monument — and how passionate horse men and women can help.

The Back Story

What used to be a population of 2 million wild mustangs roaming the United States in 1900 has been reduced to under 50,000. Shockingly, the dwindling numbers are mostly due to the animals being sold to slaughter. Regarded by farmers and business owners as an animal that is neither useful nor profitable anymore and taking up valuable space and resources, the American mustang is under constant threat of being eradicated.

Founding Mustang Monument

Originally born in Iran, Madeline Pickens first fell in love with American culture through the Western films that she grew up watching in her home country. After moving stateside, she wed oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and raised their daughter in the United States. A longtime animal lover, Madeline learned about the plight of the American mustang and immediately knew that she had found her calling. She originally teamed up with activists and locals in the Nevada area, squaring off against members of the local and state government legislatures and trying to push legislation that would protect more of these incredible animals. Frustrated by the slow progress, however, Pickens began to pursue her own dream of animal rescue — and of sharing it with like-minded animal lovers. As their first act of rescue in 2007, Madeline and her then-husband led the charge to close the last slaughterhouse in the United Sates, which ultimately assisted in passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act by the House of Representatives. (The U.S. awarded Madeline for her efforts with the Equine Advocates’ Safe Home Equine Protection Award.)

Adopting a Herd

Although the Prevention act was a great start, slaughter unfortunately didn’t come to a complete halt (it is estimated that some 30,000 have been sent oversees and sold for meat). In her efforts to do more, Madeline purchased Spruce Ranch, a property in Northern Nevada spanning over a half million acres. The estate, which she named Mustang Monument, functions as a wild horse eco sanctuary and is focused entirely on reclaiming horses held in government-funded facilities and returning them to their natural habitat. Madeline's plans are ambitious and the first 650 horses that now roam Mustang were purchased directly from slaughter buyers.

The Property Today

Mustang Monument is located three hours from the Salt Lake City airport and seems to appear as if by magic and out of the middle of nowhere. (Set near the road, the main resort and barn are not in ideal but rather necessary locations for water supply reasons in a draught ridden area.) Beyond it, Madeline owns 576,000 acres of open land covered in sagebrush and newly planted hay crops. Read a full review of Mustang Monument, complete with tips on which accommodations to request.

The Vision: An American Safari

To create a true Western experience, Mustang Monument offers a so-called American Safari, where each day is dedicated to an outdoor activity: horseback-riding up Spruce Mountain; ATV rides into the wilderness; hikes in the gorgeous landscape. There's always a surprise lunch break at a scenic spot where guests can relax and take in the breathtaking views. Although at times arduous, all activities are incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

New This Year

New to the camp are nine innovative wagons (picture a Wild West cartoon) that have been tricked out to resemble rustic tented camps. Interiors are basic (a bed, a water pitcher in lieu of a sink and a canvas ceiling), but for guests who love camping, these wagons make for a fun overnight. Evenings include a bonfire, S'mores and Western music courtesy of a local singer — all under a massive canopy of stars.

The Guests: Who Should Go

Mustang Monument is – first and foremost – for outdoorsy types who have a real love for horses. While accommodations are luxurious, especially considering the remoteness, there are no amenities like room service or cell reception. The resort is all-inclusive, and generally group oriented, with communal meals and activities. You can have a private dinner or solo horseback ride upon request — but I found that I was blissfully happy doing everything in a group.

The Mission: How you can help

Madeline's vision focuses on preserving a slice of Americana that is painfully close to extinction. The bonding I experienced with the mustangs during my stay was one of the most unique travel experiences of my life, and it was hard not to love each horse that I met. I fell particularly hard for a loving, paint-speckled pony named Velvet. We shared a few unforgettable days together, and eventually trusted each other completely. She kept me safe, hiking 10,000 feet up Spruce Mountain through windy trails and trees, and was playful at dusk when we galloped through hay fields. Leaving Mustang Monument, I was relieved to know that she was in such good, caring hands and living on such a beautiful property, encouraged to roam free. And it gave me a sense of empowerment that my stay played a small part in helping save her — and that the mission of this place is to continue saving more like Velvet.

Published onAugust 12, 2015

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