Clair Shannon and Taryn McIntyre are a couple with a young daughter, and are also entrepreneurs, but first and foremost they are horse lovers. It was a shared dream to create a horse rescue where members of the public could become educated about horses and spend time with the animals. It took eight years of planning and saving for Shannon, 34, a vet tech, and McIntyre, 26, a horse trainer who spent years traveling around the globe working with horse rescue groups, to finally open Iron Gate Ranch in 2020.
The couple bought 40 acres in Hornbrook, California, and moved to the ranch with their daughter, Adah and six rescue horses. They rescued more horses, most from kill pens, and some former racehorses whose owners didn’t want them. “Many of the horses come from really bad places,” Shannon told a reporter. “They come in underweight. They need their feet trimmed. They need their teeth floated. We have to get them healthy and fat, [and] work with them to get them to trust humans again.”
To fund their rescue horses, Iron Gate Ranch offers farm stays, wild horse safaris, trail rides and lessons. Part of the strategy includes a “glamping” site where you can book a gorgeous tent with queen-size bed and outdoor kitchen. The site is large enough for a family or a private enough for a romantic weekend. They also offer self-camping sites for the traditional outdoorsy type. So far, they’ve had visitors from Canada and across America including New York.
Launching a new venture is a challenge for anyone, but Shannon and McIntyre opened Iron Gate two weeks before the first Covid-19 lockdown began in March. “At first, with the restrictions, we were unable to do trail rides and riding lessons ‒ our main source of income to support our rescue horses. That’s where the idea of building social distancing ‘glamp’ sites started,” McIntyre explains. “It honestly really helped us survive those first uncertain months.”
With thousands of people in quarantine desperate to leave the city for an escape, the appeal of an adventure among rescue animals in the wilds of California was irresistible. McIntyre says they even had a family cancel a Hawaiian vacation to stay at their ranch instead.
And once restrictions lifted, the partners started up their trail rides, keeping it to two riders at a time and began giving riding lessons. While the pandemic has been a challenge for every business owner in 2020, Shannon and McIntyre also had to contend with the worst fire season to strike California in history. “We’ve had major fires throughout the summer and even had to evacuate our horses due to a nearby dry lightning fire,” McIntyre explains. “With the heavy smoke, road closures, and fire danger around us, we did have to shut down for over a month this summer. Thanks to community support and donations to our nonprofit, we have managed to stay afloat.”
Most of their camping guests are looking to get away, with the majority being families with children under 10 who book trail rides or riding lessons. Iron Gate tailors the trail ride and lesson to the skills of the riders. “I would say about 90% of the people who come to ride with us have never ridden a horse before,” McIntyre says.
As for the coming winter, their northern California location means that they can continue to offer the camping, trail rides and lessons, weather permitting.
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic world, they couple have already increased their herd by a lot when a neighbor who had been running horses on their property for over 30 years signed over his free-range herd of nearly 130 horses to the rescue. Managing such an extensive herd is a lot of work, but the couple are ready for the challenge. “This involves gelding stallions, providing winter feed, medical care, and possibly adopting out horses to get numbers under control to prevent a large-scale round-up,” says McIntyre. “We will also continue our rescue efforts and take in surrendered horses, rehabilitating them and finding them lifelong homes.”
The couple also plan on raising 20 head of Corrientes cattle every year, breeding Nigerian dwarf goats for milk, and growing large-scale organic produce in greenhouses.
As for where the passion for horses began? “I have my Nana to thank for my love of horses. Her memory and what she taught me has been a driving force in my rescue efforts,” says McIntyre. “There is also an incredible reward when you do something bigger than yourself. These horses are not pets, or animals to be owned; they’re our kids, our coworkers, and it’s a blessing to live alongside them.”