Way back in 2013, I began to receive reports about a herd of horses in Boone county, West Virginia.
By 2014, the sheriff reached out to us because a colt from the herd was in a main road in the little town, and he had caused an accident and was running all over a little community away from the main herd.
This colt would go on to be rounded up by Heart of Phoenix and be named Rudy. He was rehabbed, trained and eventually, he found a great home in 2016.
In January of 2018, almost 4 years since our original round up, and after many other visits to Joe’s Creek in Boone County concerning the remaining horses and thousands of complaints coming through via phone and email and social media, we had a chance for action once again.
The complaints of locals had reached such proportions due to the dangerous situation a herd of horses presents on in road ways, especially when they are curvy and icy, paired with the damage to lawns, gardens, sheds and more, the sheriff once again reached out and asked if we could help.
I will admit, I was afraid. We were essentially at capacity in the rescue, and while we could squeeze in one, we could not accommodate 9 full size equines, some being mares in foal. We also couldn’t offer gentling and training a mostly feral herd would require.
I sat back very sad. I did not know what to say. Dare I hope we could step in, find this herd that travels many miles across private and corporate land, some being active mine land, some being land held by people not friendly to the horses being removed? Dare I believe we could find enough qualified people to help us, to offer training? And even if I dared, could I go on to think we could find a day where we would have the people and equipment we needed and actually locate and successful round up these horses in winter with snow on the ground, cold temps over mountains and through valleys?
Honestly, I should not have. But I did.
And before I knew it, the Department of Ag committed to bringing the panels we needed, and many trainers and horsemen and women were stepping up to help us.
There is nothing like covering miles of rural Appalachia in the dead of winter. . . over mine sites, roads that aren’t meant to have trailers on them and wondering if locals will decide to be hostile. . .in the search of a herd of feral horses in need of a place to call home. Wondering why you ever thought you’d find these horses at all. . .
An experience of a lifetime
The rounding up of horses in need with real cowboys and cowgirls / horsemen and women is pretty rare on this coast. . .
This was a coming together of the equine world and the community in a terrific, unmatched way.
We arrived with at 8am that morning with many of our volunteers coming from 3 to 5 hours away to assist.
We overcame initial odds with problems surrounding the ability to gain permission to go on mine property and the lack of any local people having seen the horses that day at all. This took around an hour right off.
Morale went down quickly on the heels of those issues.
Once we had permission to access mine land, we really were looking for a needle in a haystack to say the least, except we needed to find 9 needles over many, many miles of snowy mountains and valleys.
Almost no cell service. Horrible Walkie Talkie communication.
Nelson and Raven headed out alone at the base on one mountain. The other riders and most other volunteers went miles away to the top of a former mine site covered in snow to begin searching along a ridge line.
Morale continued to dissipate.
We all felt sure we had planned this for nothing. I felt very responsible for dragging half the county out to a foolish effort.
I felt I had wasted a great deal of time and money on a fruitless adventure.
It looked as if, as each hour passed. . .
As 8 turned to 10am, to 11am, to 1pm, 2pm. . .that hope was lost. . .
About the time almost everyone had given up, we got word Nelson and Raven HAD FOUND the herd in an old shanty barn local folks erected and sometimes kept horses in. I suppose in the snow, they went there searching for food.
This video shows the scene I found when we finally made it off the mountain and to them. . . after all those years leading up to this. . .
This massive effort had not been in vain.
The round up took around 30 people when it was all said and done.
We had the Boone County Sheriff’s Dept, MANY HOP volunteers with their family along, Many local horsemen and women and the WV Department of Ag, as well as a mine official.
This is one step closer to understanding and solving the massive issue of abandoned horses across WV mine sites.
Great things take many hands.
Looks for the helpers, friends.
They are out there.
5 of the equines from the herd will be in training and offered to homes once trained by Adam Black Horsemanship. 3 will be trained and become residents of Smoke Rise Ranch. One colt, a 2 year old who looks much like Rudy, will come to Heart of Phoenix, to be trained and eventually, be adoptable. NEWS COVERAGE HERE