Amanda Uechi Ronan visited the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and Doris Day Equine Center, one of the most unique sanctuaries in the United States.
Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse industry. Today, we recognize the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and Doris Day Equine Center.
Nestled deep in the east Texas piney woods, lies the largest animal sanctuary in the United States, boasting 1,400 acres and just under 1,000 animals. Truly a hidden gem, the facility is one of the most serene I’ve ever encountered.
I passed through a thunderstorm to reach Murchison, Texas, ending up on a country road, barely a lane wide, lined with trees that crossed over a narrow wooden bridge. The asphalt was gone altogether on some parts, the after effects of the giant thunderstorms rolling through Texas this spring, but I soon found my way to the immaculate gates of Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. The ranch is operated by The Fund for Animals, which is an affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States. I was greeted by half a dozen smiling faces in the office, before we began the tour.
We drove past the primates first and I got goose bumps when we slowed enough to hear their hoots and cries echoing through the facility. It was lightly misting and the primates seemed to be enjoying the cooler weather. Many of them looked at us curiously from their habitats, while playing with the many enrichment toys given to them by caretakers. Our guide informed us that many of these primates were rescued from biomedical research, roadside zoos and the exotic pet trade.
Next, we met Alex, one of the facility’s big cats. Alexander was part of an exotic pet rescue in Atchison, Kansas. He was one of about a dozen dangerous wild animals abandoned by their owner. When I first spotted him, he was perched on a massive structure that, for lack of a better description, looked like a giant cat tree. In the blink of an eye, though, he was silently on the ground, nestled in waist deep grass and almost entirely hidden.
After watching us for several minutes, he closed the few hundred yards between us in just a few quick strides. Though Alex seemed friendly, rubbing affectionately on the fence and making soft huffing sounds, he continued to make direct eye contact with my seven-year-old daughter. Our guide was quick to note that the tigers very often seem to “target” small children during the tours. Though it was a frightening speech, it’s a pertinant one, especially since big cats are often rescued from the exotic pet trade and ill-equipped owners.
Next, we headed towards the horse “Gen Pop” area of the sanctuary. This massive pasture holds horses that aren’t suitable for adoption, but don’t have special needs.
The horses come from a varied background including, but not limited too, slaughterhouse rescues, police seizure, the Premarin industry and the Bureau of Land Management. Only at Black Beauty Ranch can you find a massive draft horse, aptly named “Big Ben,” a mustang and a mule named “Taillight” in the same herd.
Black Beauty Ranch cares for on average 200 horses and 300 donkeys. Many of them live out the remainder of their lives at the sanctuary, but a few are selected for training at the Doris Day Equine Center. Founded in 2011, the center is an innovative and beautiful facility. The in-house trainers not only retrain rescue horses and screen adoptees, but hold clinics and perform across Texas. Their latest outreach initiative is called “Adoption is an option.”
Every horse at the center has a story, but two in particular struck me. Febreze was seized by Dallas Animal Services along with seven other horses — and 53 dogs — in January. The animals were found on a property within Dallas city limits consisting of less than two acres. The animals were terrified, fractious and very difficult to handle.
“We were originally concerned whether any of the horses would be adoption candidates, but as they settled into their new routine and started training, Febreze emerged as a true gem. She has a wonderfully social temperament and we quickly figured out that she had previous training under saddle. Imagine our surprise when we found she had many advanced skills, including some Level 3 dressage maneuvers!” – Vickie Spears, director of the Doris Day Equine Center.
Febreze is a registered Thoroughbred under the name “Angel Flyer.”
Gale, a ten year old Thoroughbred registered under the name “Gone With a Smile,” won a few hundred dollars over a couple of years before finally finding himself in the hands of a negligent owner who planned to use him as a breeding stallion for barrel racing horses. When the seizure warrant was served to remove him and other horses, the rescuers on the scene believed he was dead. He was down on the ground, tangled in fencing and too weak to struggle or get up. When they realized he was still alive, they rushed to his aid. Once he was healthy and gelded, he was transferred to the center for training and adoption.
“He is a gentle soul, not in a hurry to get anywhere. Gale currently has an adoption pending and should go to his new home within the next few weeks, but we’ll still have a part of him here for some time … we also took in one of “his” mares who is in foal with his baby expected to arrive in May.” – Vickie Spears, director of the Doris Day Equine Center.
I was able to witness one adopted horse named Zeda, go home during my visit. Vickie told me a little about her story — she was a police seizure — and how it took months to gain her trust. Upon arrival, she dug a four foot trench in the quarantine stables from pacing back and forth. It took a long time for Zeda to be approachable, but the trainers and caretakers at the Doris Day Equine Center eventually taught her that “everything is okay, life isn’t a threat,” and now she has been placed with a loving family.
The Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and Doris Day Equine Center have humble beginnings — the founder and Fund for Animals rescued 577 burros set to be killed in the Grand Canyon.
From that one audacious act, countless lives have been saved. The sanctuary is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an honor few rescue organizations can boast. My overall impression of the facility was … peace. Almost every pasture we drove through, the animals were lounging quietly, grazing or sleeping. Antelope destined for canned hunts were resting in a large herd on a hillside. A bull rescued from the rodeo circuit looked at us over his shoulder with only a passing glance.
Only once did the natives grow restless and it was clear that the act was one of pure joy. During our second trip through the horse pastures, a little black Mustang took off at full speed toward the woods with the entire herd hot on his heels. It was a rare sight — seeing almost a hundred horses running when and where they wanted to — and one that I will treasure.
The sanctuary is not a zoo, but small, prescheduled, guided tours can be arranged. For more information check out Fund for Animals.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected] Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.