Ortega Mountain Ranch

Natural Lifestyle





With flowing tail, and flying mane,
Wide nostrils never stretched by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that follow o’er the sea.
—Lord Byron



Through domestication, we have robbed horses of their freedom. Horses in their herds travel between 15 -20 miles per day in the wild. They do this at a relatively slow pace, walking, meandering, running at times, and foraging. They eat a variety of plant matter. They are barefoot—in all terrain and in all weather conditions. They are in the elements, whether it is scorching hot or freezing cold.

Horses have a very efficient thermoregulatory system. They are able to dissipate heat effectively in hot weather, and in cold weather, they can generate heat efficiently. Oftentimes at our ranch, we will see the horses choose to stand in the 100 + degree hot sun or stand in the cold wind or rain instead of going under their shelters.

In a natural environment, horses are not standing in a stall for 20 – 24 hours a day. They are not blanketed at the least hint of cold. They are not subjected to iron hammered onto their feet. They are not forced to eat a mono-diet grown on depleted soils or a diet full of processed and sugar-laden food.

At Ortega Mountain Ranch we strive to replicate the natural lifestyle. All of our horses are outdoors 24/7 in large paddocks with a natural pasture turnout. Sometimes the horses are let loose so they can wander freely around the ranch. They have large clean troughs of pure well water, and their paddocks are cleaned twice daily. Each horse has access to a rain/shade shelter. Fresh grass hays are fed twice daily, and supplements, designed for each horse’s particular needs, are fed daily.

We do not believe in using a bit in a horse’s mouth—ever. We ride our personal horses either with rope halters or bitless bridles. All of our horses are barefoot, and if we ever ride them in rough terrain that would hurt their feet, we use boots. We ride either bareback or with lightweight saddles that fit each horse individually.


One of the great disservices done to horses has been the advent of sweet feed. Horses are genetically designed to thrive on high fiber, low protein, and low sugar feed. As a vegan prey animal, their stomachs are small, so they do best on small amounts of food eaten throughout the day.

With the use of sweet feed, there has been a dramatic rise in metabolic diseases in the horse. We do not feed sweet feeds, and we prefer not to feed extruded supplements if they can be avoided. We feed low glycemic grass hays supplemented with approximately 10 – 20% alfalfa, tailored to each horse’s dietary needs. We also supplement the hay diet with appropriate amounts of low glycemic feeds such as beet pulp, rice bran, flax, and various vitamins, minerals, and herbs. We do not use a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy with diet. Each horse’s diet is individually customized, based on condition and age.


Natural Healing

The primary reason that horses are retired is because they are no longer sound. Lack of soundness can be due to one or more of a multitude of problems, but whatever the condition, it is chronic. Poor health can manifest in many ways, including physical ailments such as hoof, bone, and joint problems, digestive/absorption problems, weak organ function, soft tissue injuries, neurological ailments, and metabolic disorders. Emotional problems can also hinder a horse’s overall health.

No matter what we do, I believe that we must always ask ourselves how much do we really know about what we know? Most people have learned what they ‘know’ about horses from relatives, friends, and/or peers. How much of that ‘knowledge’ is good for the horse?IMG00083-20090502-1426

One definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. If something isn’t working, it isn’t working. It’s as simple as that. So, if it isn’t working, why not try a different approach? In general, people are afraid to make changes and to leave their comfort zone. I have seen countless numbers of people continue with a treatment protocol that does absolutely nothing to improve their horse’s condition. At best, the condition remains the same. More often than not, the condition worsens. Yet these people continue down the same path, pouring money into treatments that don’t work. They do it because they’re comfortable doing it. Why? Because their friends and peers are following the same system. I ask these people who are spending hundreds of dollars a month on vet and farrier bills all the while their horse is not improving—How’s it working for you?


Barefoot Hoof Care

The horse’s hoof is an engineering marvel. It is so perfectly designed that it can IMG_3668support 900-1200 pounds over a few square inches of surface area. Part of its brilliant engineering is that the hoof is not rigid. It is designed to flex. Hoof flex does two very important things: it creates a shock absorber, and it works as a pump to circulate the blood through the hoof and back up the leg. A healthy hoof must be allowed to flex. Horseshoes prevent the hoof from flexing. There is no way that a hoof can be healthy and work at peak performance with a shoe nailed to it.

Nearly every horse that comes to Ortega Mountain Ranch has horrible feet, the result of many years of wearing horseshoes. One of the first things we do is to start a program of barefoot trimming. Our goal is to get the feet balanced, get proper circulation back to the feet, and allow the foot to grow out with proper alignment. It takes 9 months to one year to grow a new foot, which requires patience, persistence, and the awareness that the process will pay huge dividends. Oftentimes a seemingly impossible case will show incredible improvement over time as the new hoof grows out.


If you have any questions, please reach out to us at ortegamtnranch@cox.net