Skydog Ranch: A sanctuary for West America’s wild horses

A Skydog Ranch Sanctuary and Rescue horse walking through long burnt grass

Discover the incredible work of Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary, a forever home for wild mustangs and burros in need. Learn how they provide a second chance at life for these wonderful animals.

Witnessing a wild horse run free is an experience unlike any other, but these sights are becoming more infrequent as increasing numbers of horses are captured from their lives in the wild. As uncertain fates await those still roaming the American West, as well as the mustangs and burros already detained, some, like the hundreds who graze the lands of Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary, are given another chance at life. 

SKYDOG RANCH is a forever home for wild mustangs and burros who have ended up in horrible and dangerous situations – at killpens, at auctions, or in unloving homes where they have often been starved and neglected. 

The sanctuary is also home to several wild horse families that have been reunited after being separated during roundups. The horses at Skydog Ranch represent so many different aspects of the mustang issue: once they have been rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, many slip through the cracks and end up without the most basic care and affection. 

A wild horse family at Skydog Ranch Sanctuary and Rescue
A wild horse family at Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary and Rescue

Clare Staples, Founder and President of Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary, embarked on a remarkable journey, abandoning a glamorous lifestyle to dedicate herself to rescuing wild horses and donkeys. Over the past decade, Clare has tirelessly worked to reunite equine families and provide care for abused and mistreated animals, embodying a life of service and devotion. With over 10 years of experience in wild horse advocacy and equine therapy, Clare manages Skydog Sanctuary’s two ranches with hands-on involvement in every aspect of rescue operations. Her deep knowledge of wild horse issues and her personal approach to each rescue has made her a leading expert in the field.  

Clare states:

“At Skydog Sanctuary, our mission is to provide a safe haven for wild mustangs and burros who have been mistreated, abused, starved and displaced. Every horse here is a testament to the resilience and spirit of these magnificent animals.” 

Clare Staples, Founder of Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary
Clare Staples, Founder of Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary

The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act bill would prohibit the transport of any horse or donkey to be slaughtered for human consumption, permanently shutting down the slaughter pipeline. More information is available at Skydog’s website.

Here in the UK, the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill is reaching the end of its parliamentary journey. Receiving its third and final reading in Parliament, this historic legislation will ban the live export of horses and other livestock for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain. As of 14 May 2024 the bill was awaiting Royal assent before it passes into law. 

Under Clare’s leadership, Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary has evolved into a global brand recognised for its advocacy and social impact. Despite her influential role, Clare remains focused on the well-being of the animals, prioritizing their care over personal recognition. 

A black horse with long mane and forelock from Skydog Ranch Sanctuary
Clare remains focused on the well-being of the animals, prioritizing their care over personal recognition. 

Clare grew up in England and says that during those years she “.. lived in a sort of imaginary land where I rode everywhere on an imaginary horse, which is a bit crazy, but my love of horses was born at such an early age”. In particular, she loved watching American TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie”, along with other westerns where “you would see a band of wild mustangs gallop through and steal the mares.” Clare told us “Rescuing these wild horses is more than just saving their lives; it’s about preserving a piece of American history and honouring the natural beauty and freedom they represent.” 

Considering the image as a “romantic symbol of the American West,” Clare was shocked and sad to later discover that the American mustang’s reality was much less glamorous. As she explained, mustangs who run free on public lands get rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, making more room for mining and livestock interests” Clare became determined to offer her hooved friends a place of refuge, so she founded Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary, a 9000 acre ranch near Bend, Oregon where wild mustangs and burros can live out their lives peacefully in their natural habitat. The sanctuary also has an 11 acre location in California. In addition to rewilding equines, Skydog aims to raise awareness about the plight they face, in order to bring about change.

A herd of horses at Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary
A herd of horses roaming freely at Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary

Recently, two young mustangs caught Clare’s eye, as they bore an uncanny resemblance to one of her own horses from Skydog. Sure enough, by looking up their BLM IDs, she confirmed they were related. She then posted a Facebook fundraiser to get the siblings reunited and within just two weeks, people rallied enough support to reunite the two mustangs—now named Rising Sun and Presley, in homage to Elvis—with their native family. 

The name ‘Skydog’ is inspired by the beliefs of the indigenous American tribe the Blackfoot who believe horses are “large dogs sent as a gift from the Old Man in the sky,” calling them Sky Dogs or Spirit Dogs. Wyoming Stallion, Blue Zeus, and his herd had been roaming free on rangelands, but two years ago their freedom was cruelly taken from them casting doubt on whether it would be possible to keep these wild herds free. Nine months after the herd’s roundup, Clare purchased Blue Zeus for the paltry sum of $25 when she was the only bidder at auction. She questioned “how can a horse’s life be reduced to $25.  

Today, Blue Zeus’ is just one of several herds roaming the 9,000 acres of Skydog Ranch land near Prineville, where over 300 wild horses and more than 50 donkeys now call home, including rescues of zonkeys, zebras and even a zorse. Removing wild equines from rangelands are called “gathers” or “roundups,” spurring discord between pro-BLM voices and wild horse advocates on whether the means by which wild horses are funnelled into traps is humane, and whether capturing them at all is just, or even necessary. 

A herd of horses at Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary
A herd of horses at Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary

Low-flying helicopters chase scared herds into confinement, wherein many are injured, sometimes fatally so. Survivors are separated from family and transported to off-range corrals where they’re branded and held for management and potential sale or adoption.  Off-range facility conditions are purported by animal activists as inhumane, including Skydog, claiming that “many slip through the cracks and end up without the most basic care and affection.” 

Horse advocacy efforts are reducing the number of horses shipping to slaughter every year, from 1989 figures as high as 348,400, but the fight continues as Clare admits, “I see mustangs shipping to slaughter every week.”  While full-scale solutions of America’s wild equine dilemma remain uncertain, Clare offers, at the very least, “There needs to be better management of them on public lands, more humane treatment of them during roundups and in holding pens. The solution can’t continue to be roundups and holding, because it’s not working and there are too many horses,” adding, “We also want the BLM to keep better, more detailed records of these families when they are captured so that people adopting one horse can also have the option of reuniting family members and bands.” 

Clare and everybody at the ranches are absolutely dedicated their passion for saving the lives of these beautiful animals and preserving a part of American history and heritage. She states “The work we do at Skydog is deeply personal and incredibly rewarding. Seeing the transformation in these horses, from fear and neglect to trust and vitality, is what drives us every day.” 


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