Wild Horse Rescue Center gets results for American icon

Unique ranch helps rehabilitate abused mustangs

MIMS, Fla. – Diane Delano, owner of the Wild Horse Rescue Center, is this week's Getting Results Award winner.

On the shores of Lake Harney in southern Volusia County, the morning air is thick and heavy. The sun breaks over a canopy of an oak and cypress hammock, lining the Wild Horse Rescue Center ranch. 

"It just gets so hot and the direct sun is just tough," said Diane Delano, explaining the early start to her day.

Delano and volunteer Mathilda Theoren work with a 4-year-old mustang named Dalla from Nevada.

"Dalla came in really afraid, no confidence, unsure of humans. She wanted nothing to do with us," Delano said. 

On this morning, the young horse is calm, obeying commands and comfortable around her trainer. The horse gallops around the circular pen.

"She'll make a nice horse," Theoren said.

 "Seeing them come in downtrodden, thin, afraid -- to see them transformed into confident, healthy, vibrant animals is wonderful," Delano said.

Delano has dozens of horses on her 39-acre ranch. Each one was born wild on government land in one of 10 western states.

"This is a lifestyle," Delano said. "I've been on this path for 28 years. Ever since I was a child, I've loved horses."  

Over the years, the nonprofit has rehabilitated, trained and found new homes for hundreds of formerly wild mustangs purchased through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Adoption Program. 

Delano said many people purchase horses with the intent of taming them, only to realize the task is beyond their abilities.

"If they have no knowledge and they get this wild horse, they, unfortunately, resort to very harsh, hard, abusive treatment because they think that that is acceptable," Delano said.

That's when they end up here, where it can take years to gain their trust.

"It's not a quick fix," Delano said. "We do not turn our horses over quickly."

The Wild Horse Rescue Center is unique, one of only a handful of ranches on the East Coast that train and rehabilitate mustangs.

"There's a lot of other rescues out there," Delano said. "Very few are set up for wild horses."  

"We run a rescue and every horse comes in with different baggage," said volunteer Mathilda Theoren, one of the many volunteers from around the world.

The volunteers stay on the property for anywhere from a week to a few months, arriving as part of an international volunteer program. Delano said she relies on volunteers to keep the program going. 

"We're hay junkies," Delano laughed. "We go through a lot of hay."

Local volunteers are also welcome and needed. Brianna Plowman and her daughter, Zoe, try to help once a week.

"Diane is one of the most wonderful people I've ever met," she said. "This is an amazing place."

Plowman nominated Delano for the News 6 Getting Results Award.

"It's just really inspirational to see, and I think more people need to know that she's here," Plowman said.

Zoe, 8, shows us how she brushes Rio, one of the oldest horses on the ranch. Delano rescued him 28 years ago after he was rounded up following wildfires in Nevada.

"You go in circles around his whole body," she said. "And then, with the hard brush, you go in the direction of the fur."

Following the grooming, Zoe feeds him a bag of carrots.  

"I think this is the best place in the world," she said.

If Rio could talk, we're sure he wouldn't say nay.


About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.