The Sheldon Stallions: Wells Creek Wild Mustang Sanctuary
The Wells Creek Wild Mustangs are a group of Spanish Mustangs known as the Sheldon Mustang (sometimes referred to as the Catnip) band rescued by This Old Horse, a nonprofit horse sanctuary in Hastings.
These horses are double survivors. First, they survived the fate of most Sheldon Mustangs who were sold for slaughter by the U.S. government as the military horse program was zeroed out in 2014.
A private South Dakota sanctuary that relocated a small group of Sheldons failed in 2016 and their 907 wild Mustangs were starved nearly to death before being saved in the largest equine rescue in U.S. history.
This Old Horse partnered in the mission that rehomed all 907 of them to private adopters and sanctuaries throughout North America and we became hosts to 47 wild Mustangs—23 of them are Sheldon Mustangs. Fifteen of the wild Mustangs we host are blind.
History of the Sheldon Mustang:
The Sheldon band mustangs are the original ‘war horses.’ The vast majority of horses in the European conflict were not European; they were American.
A Sheldon Mustang is featured in a book; Broadway play and a Steven Spielberg move all called War Horse.
War quickly used up the supply of European horses. U.S. contracts supplied American and Allied forces. Horses living in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada were managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This was one of the most well documented areas where war horses were taken to serve in the conflict.
During World War I, and into World War II, military cavalry contractors would round up horses from the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The horses would then be loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to the East Cost. From there the horses would make a trip across the Atlantic Ocean by ship. Horses that survived the journey pulled artillery or served as cavalry mounts.
An estimated 500 American horses were shipped every 1.5 days to supply American and allied troops during World War I. Nearly eight million horses died in World War I alone.
The United States government procured horses to release at Sheldon to influence the predominantly Standardbred bloodlines. Thoroughbred racing studs, many with impressive pedigrees, and draft breeds were released onto the range to create a bigger, faster war horse.
The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1974 protects wild mustangs as part of our American heritage. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages America’s wild horses. Because the Sheldons were managed under the Fish, Game and Wildlife Department, they were not protected by this law.
In 2014, the government ‘zeroed out’ the Sheldon program permanently eliminating Sheldon Mustangs in the wild. The vast majority of the remaining Sheldon horses were shipped to slaughter. A few remnants of the historic Sheldon herds were protected because they migrated onto federal land and fell under federal jurisdiction. A few private sanctuaries were able to relocate some surviving Sheldon band horses.
There are few surviving Sheldon Mustangs left in the world. This Old Horse proudly hosts 23 of them in our Hastings sanctuary and our foster network including the 19 Sheldons who will live out their lives at the Wells Creek Wild Mustang Sanctuary in Goodhue, MN.
The flaxen manes and colorful markings of this group of stallions are characteristic of the Sheldon Mustangs that lived in the Catnip Mountain area of the refuge and are sometimes referred to as the Catnip band.