Local rancher shelters horses evacuated from Durango fires
Special to The Aspen Times
As wildfires raged outside Durango last month, rancher Robb Van Pelt of Old Snowmass stepped in to help.
“I have some friends down there that have a guide and outfitting operation, and a stable operation. Their stables burnt down,” he explained. “They had 70 horses and did not have any place to put them, so I just went down to get 19 of them.”
As soon as he got the call for help, he knew his friends’ summer outfitting and fall hunting businesses were ruined.
Van Pelt, who is also a real estate agent, drove down to Durango, loaded up the 19 horses and headed back to Old Snowmass.
“It was 102 degrees through Montrose, so it was a long drive,” he said.
Before returning home, Van Pelt saw up close the effects of the Missionary blaze.
“The fire was still burning, and the entire area was covered in smoke. The drought conditions were incredibly bad there also. They had no irrigation water.
“We never felt endangered, although the fire was visible when we evacuated the horses.”
Sheltering the horses was one issue, Van Pelt said; another was finding feed for the animals during the ongoing drought.
“I have 100 horses that I lease out to outfitters and individuals. I brought their horses up here to feed them because I have extra feed,” he said. “I usually bring in 800 cattle, [but] we were so short of feed this year that I didn’t bring in any cattle, so I had a little extra feed for their horses.”
Van Pelt’s friends were grateful to him and the others who helped, but were obviously “very depressed that they had lost their entire summer outfitting business plus their fall hunting business.”
He said he is leasing the 19 horses out to help his friends earn some income.
“What I told them was that if I’m able to make some income with their horses, I’ll help them out. Their remaining 50 horses were placed with other friends where they’re able to make some income.”
Van Pelt has already placed a few of the horses with Capital Peak Outfitters and sent the revenue to his friends.
“While it looks like it is impossible for them to do any business for the remainder of the summer or the fall, they do have a business in Arizona,” he said. “The horses will be taken there for the winter, where they have a winter outfitting business.”
Van Pelt said it was his duty to help a friend in need, a favor he described as part of the unspoken bond between ranchers.
“They’re having a horrible time down there. I was just trying to do my friends a favor. I’m sure they would do the same for me if the situation were the reverse.”
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