Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Former Mule Ranch to House Horse Sanctuary

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A Los Angeles-area volunteer group that diverts injured and neglected horses from slaughter plans to consolidate its scattered operations next month and move to a former mule ranch in Newhall.

The nonprofit Equus Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, which has been operating for four years under various names, will move to a site near the Golden State Freeway. The sanctuary will be the first of its kind in a valley with scores of horse lovers.

"Isn't it wonderful?" said Ann Irvine, a member of the Newhall Trail Riders, a Santa Clarita equestrian club with about 40 members. "It goes with this valley. It goes here."

Equus, said Director Linda Moss, is "basically a no-kill animal shelter, except the animals we take are horses rather than dogs and cats."

The group of eight volunteers has saved dozens of horses neglected by owners or injured in charreadas, traditional Mexican rodeos that include an event in which horses are deliberately tripped. The event, the mangana, involves repeatedly roping a galloping horse by its front legs, a practice that often breaks the animal's bones or tears its tendons.

"We try to rescue the ones that are least likely to survive the long drive to the Texas slaughterhouse," said Moss, whose group concentrates on Southern California rodeos.

Most of Equus' horses are purchased from stockyards in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the animals' last stop before being delivered to slaughterhouses, mainly in Texas. The price of a horse depends on its size and training, with most costing between $500 and $600. It costs Equus about $125 per horse per month for upkeep, not including veterinarian bills.

About 85 horses are now cared for at the group's four sites: two in Shadow Hills, one in nearby Sun Valley and one in Tujunga.

"We need more room," Moss said. "We're tearing our hair out going from place to place."

A tentative agreement has been reached for the group to rent a barn and 25-acre pasture, previously used as a mule ranch, east of the Golden State Freeway and north of Calgrove Boulevard.

The property can accommodate up to 150 horses. Equus leaders say they've negotiated a good offer from landowner Sam Smiser--$2,500 per month for the ranch--but donations are needed to cover the rent and feed for the animals.

Because the property is near the freeway, it will be easily accessible for visitors, who will be allowed to view the horses on the weekends.

The horse sanctuary is expected to appeal to residents who moved to Santa Clarita for its rural atmosphere. With the Castaic Animal Shelter facing closure because of county budget cuts, it will be the only valley site to treat abused horses, Irvine said.

"We're hoping to have at least some moral support from the community of animal lovers out there," Moss said.

City officials have estimated that the Santa Clarita Valley is home to about 10,000 horses.

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