Story & Photos By Kelli Van Nuys
In July of 2018, the Pima County Sheriff’s office found a group of 6 horses and 1 donkey criminally abused, neglected, and starving. The group included two pregnant mares, fighting for their lives and the lives of their unborn foals. Fortunately, there was a safe-haven waiting for the group, which came to be called the “Southside Seven.” Wild Hearts Rescue Ranch welcomed the emaciated group, and immediately started the long process of rehabilitation. They were provided with love, food, and veterinary care right away; they had a long list of needs that many rescues might have struggled to address.
Wild Hearts Rescue Ranch is a unique equine rescue and sanctuary. At their location in Marana, AZ, Wild Hearts currently houses over ten horses, along with countless chickens, a family of pigs, and a couple of donkeys. The ranch allows each of the horses to safely roam in large fenced-in areas, and provides them with plenty of hay to graze throughout the day. The ranch’s owner, Jessica Gray, has rescued over 400 horses since 2013.
In a tour around the ranch, Gray shared details about each horse’s background, medical ailments, and her goals for their future. Several horses have been designated “forever rescues;” they will live out their lives at the sanctuary, due to their advanced care needs. Though the ultimate goal is to find each horse a forever home, she knows she can provide the proper space, care, and love for all the rescues at her ranch. At Wild Hearts, each horse is current on vaccinations, has a hoof trim within 30 days of entering the ranch, and gets a dental with the veterinarian once a year. Gray’s passion for caring for abused, neglected, and owner-surrender horses drives her through a sometimes-dangerous job.
In early November 2018, Gray accepted an owner surrender of two extremely neglected horses, Rosey and Posey. While maintaining the care of her own horses, along with the Southside Seven, Gray brought the mistrustful and dangerously untrained pair of horses into her care. She found herself dodging bites and kicks as she gently tried to earn their trust, while providing necessary hoof trims, dental cleanings, and medical care. Despite being careful, Gray received a solid kick on her hip while working on hoof trims, which resulted in a severe bruise and a lot of pain. Gray did not let that slow her down, nor did she hold a grudge against the untrained horses. Instead, Gray continues to work on their rehabilitation, hoping someday Rosey and Posey may learn to trust again.
Eight miles up the road, Escalante Springs Equine Rehabilitation and Sanctuary, Wild Hearts’ sister ranch, shares the same mission: ending equine suffering and homelessness, while giving back to the community through equine therapy. Escalante Springs is a larger ranch, with over 15 horses roaming in fenced-in areas. The ranch also offers senior care for long-term residents. Gray works closely with Escalante Springs to share food, veterinary care, resources, and space for all of the rescues. When Gray accepted the Southside Seven, she moved a couple of her own horses over to Escalante Springs to free up room at her rescue. She visits the horses daily, and knows they continue to receive the best care possible until she can bring them back to her own ranch.
Although the partnership between Wild Hearts and Escalante Springs allows them to rescue even more equines, both rescues rely heavily on donations from the community to keep up with the bills. Monthly care for a single horse at Wild Hearts can cost over $1,000, and Gray maintains an open and honest policy when she reaches out for donations. Donation amounts above the care of the horses are put toward the ranches’ goals of building therapeutic exposure programs. Gray’s current plans include getting more equipment for therapeutic riding and exposure. Her ultimate goal is to provide free access to equine therapy for any member of the community. Having seen the need in the community, Gray hopes to get the program up and going soon. Wild Hearts is in need of more donations to make everything possible.
In addition to goals of developing therapeutic programs, Wild Hearts and Escalante Springs also provide community service hours for persons on probation. Both rescues are taking applications for adoption for some of the healthier horses; they hope to bring in more volunteers to assist with running the ranches. Wild Hearts posts daily updates on their Facebook page, along with stories about many of their current rescues and tips for equine care.
Gray hopes that, with help from the Tucson community, Wild Hearts Rescue Ranch and Escalante Springs Equine Rehabilitation and Sanctuary will continue to grow. She envisions a future where formerly abused horses and people of all backgrounds can work on rehabilitation together through equine therapy. In the meantime, she will continue to open her ranch up to providing abused horses with new lives and caring forever homes.
For additional information, connect with Wild Hearts:
Wild Hearts Rescue Ranch • 9842 N McGinnis Rd • Marana, Arizona 85653