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Horse rescue taking root in Manteca & Ripon
Bad economy puts equines in jeopardy
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Ripon resident John Airrington takes it slow in attempting to bond with an 8-year-old mustang at a Ripon ranch. The horse rescue operation from Lake Isabella is moving abandoned horses to the Ripon and Manteca pasture areas hoping they can be adopted. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin
Emergency medical technician (EMT) John Airrington has turned his focus on abandoned horses – a result of the economic downturn – hoping to keep as many as possible away from the slaughter house.
Airrington, 23, is working nearly full time without pay as the interim director of the non-profit High Sierra Wild Horse Sanctuary and Gentling Center headquartered in Weldon near Lake Isabella in the Sierras an hour and a half drive east of Bakersfield.
The sanctuary reports an endless supply of horses coming to them to their facility. Many people reportedly can’t feed their horses because someone in the family has lost their job.
Tim McDaniel donates his services, too, as veterinary technician from Waterford checking the animals and giving vaccinations that do not require a fully licensed veterinarian. Cherie Mangelos has signed on to train the oftentimes wild horses to a level they can be adopted. She is going the extra mile in her off time from a Modesto dental office, donating her services without pay, he said.
He has horses in Ripon and another 10 horses are going to be put to pasture on a six acre site in Manteca. It is a move that will save the operation from shouldering costly hay for the horses waiting for someone to adopt them.
Airrington lauded Ripon’s new Tractor Supply Co. and its manager Rob Christopher who he said offered to hold horse and burro adoptions days at the facility on South Jack Tone Road.
The Ripon horse lover credited his mother as being the driving force behind his appreciation for all types of animals from his first hamster to a dog and eventually to his own horse. He has two at his mother’s ranch in Ripon – Sheyanne and Drummer, his mustang —while she has two more set out to pasture, Babe and Jet.
It wasn’t all good memories for Airrington who was bit in the face by his boyhood pet, Lassie. He said his dog attacked him when he gave her a hug that resulted in 96 stitches in his face. No one could understand what triggered the aggression. The family later discovered the dog had a malignant tumor that was putting pressure on the brain. He said he wasn’t able to smile for years.
“A year later we were driving in Stockton and we went to the animal control office. I saw a dog being led down the hall to be put down – that was my new dog,” he said. She was his dog right then and there – a Queensland he named “Melon Head.”
Airrington was just eight years old when he asked his mother to give him riding lessons – the beginning of a love story that would eventually carry forward to a mission, a passion, in saving wild and abandoned horses.

1,000 times better than from a breeder
“The cool thing about rescue is that when you get them home you build a relationship and bond with them. They are 1,000 times better than buying one from a breeder. They are appreciative, and you can tell,” Airrington said.
As a high school freshman, he was talked into attending Durham Ferry School by his teacher Kristen Fountes where the school came complete with a horse program. He said he loved it and it changed his appreciation of high school, and increased his love for horses.
The High Sierra Wild Horse Sanctuary and Gentling Center is not only a rescue operation but it also deals in training of the horses it takes under its care. Founders Joe and Nadia Lane have expanded their life saving operation into San Joaquin County where they hope residents will be more open to adopting the animals they say are in the best of condition.
The couple work full-time jobs in addition to supporting the needs of the homeless horses they have opted to support. The cost of hay alone during the last two months was $6,100, Nadia Lane said.
Many of their horses are mustangs that had been adopted earlier out of the Bureau of Land Management and many being later abandoned by their new owners. Others were given up because the owners could no longer afford the feed cost, Lane said.
The sanctuary has 57 horses, eight burrows and two mules in its care. The cost of adopting the horses, burros and mules runs between $250 and $1,500 each depending on the amount of training they have received from the High Sierra Wild Horse Sanctuary.
Anyone wishing to help support the effort to save the horses may send their checks to the High Sierra non-profit organization at P.O. Box 941, Weldon, CA, 93283. Airrington may be reached at 992-7236.