Sonoma Valley's Ellie Phipps-Price a fierce advocate for wild horses

  • Ellie Phipps Price gives one of her herd of 172 wild mustangs a carrot Saturday April 20, 2013 as they graze on rangeland at her Montgomery Creek Ranch near Stonyford. The horses were headed for slaughter before Phipps Price rescued the animals. Phipps Price owns Dunstan Wines /Durel Vineyards in Sonoma. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

ELK CREEK, Calif. — The sun was beginning to angle behind the hills when a pack of wild horses swept through a gap in the terrain, turned and watched as a second band galloped into view.

One mustang called out in the golden light. Another threw back its head and whinnied during a call and exchange lasting several seconds.

Then the herd of perhaps 80 horses blended together and ran off, their manes flying against a blur of rich brown in a scene straight off the rangelands of the storied American West.

Horses Saved From Slaughter


"They're part of our heritage," says Sonoma Valley wine producer Ellie Phipps-Price, who rescued the horses from certain slaughter. "They're not a commodity. Just because something doesn't make you money doesn't mean it's not worth having."

Phipps-Price bought the 2,000-acre ranch west of Willows as a refuge for 170 mustangs she purchased at a July 2010 government auction, outbidding buyers who wanted to butcher the horses for their meat.

The sale marked her public entry into the emotion-filled debate over these icons of the American West. Over the last three years, Phipps-Price has leapt full-force into the fray over federal management of wild mustang herds, whose <NO1><NO>50,000<NO1><NO> members in captivity now outnumber those left on the wild by a margin of nearly 5-to-3.

With her backing of several lawsuits seeking increased protection of mustang grazing lands, a film in the works to raise public awareness of the issues, and a commitment to help change federal policies on wild horses, Phipps-Price is, she says, "all in."

"This is a problem that needs to get solved," Phipps-Price said. "If we can't come up with a humane, sustainable way to manage them on the range, they'll be lost. They'll be gone."

<NO1><NO>A mother of two and soon-to-be "empty-nester," Phipps-Price, 52, had a lifelong love of horses when she came to her new mission in late 2009. The instruments of her conversion were a<NO1><NO> 2006 Vanity Fair story titled "Galloping Scared," along with a book about the American mustang that had long lain on a shelf before she felt compelled to read it.

Phipps-Price was jolted by what she glimpsed of the mustangs' plight. Chris Towt, her partner in life, wine and horses, said Phipps-Price's decision to dedicate herself to the cause seemed to crystallize overnight.

© The Press Democrat |  Terms of Service |  Privacy Policy |  Jobs With Us |  RSS |  Advertising |  Sonoma Media Investments |  Place an Ad
Switch to our Mobile View