Out To Pasture: Cheyenne Couple Turns Ranch Into Haven For Older Horses

David and Melissa Wilson of Cheyenne didn’t mean to start a horse refuge, but the Davissa Ranch has evolved into a haven where Wyoming’s grittiest older horses don’t have to be put out to pasture.

RJ
Renée Jean

January 07, 20249 min read

Wyndy and Jack are a pair of the older horses at the Davissa Ranch near Cheyenne.
Wyndy and Jack are a pair of the older horses at the Davissa Ranch near Cheyenne. (Courtesy Photo)

Gus the Bus is a sweetheart of a horse. But at 1,300 pounds, he’s also an animal that knows how to eat. And he knows just what he likes to eat.

It’s not what you think. Carrots are just OK.

What Gus really craves on a windy Wyoming winter day are sweet and spicy Doritos.

“The minute you pull out the bag and he sees the Doritos, he just starts licking and chewing,” Davissa Ranch co-owner David Wilson told Cowboy State Daily. “You can just tell it’s his favorite snack on the planet.”

David won’t give Gus more than one or two Doritos from the bag. After all, they’re not really even good for people, much less a retired horse that spends most of his day at leisure, sunning in the pasture.

Gus is one of six to eight working horses that have found a unique refuge in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s a place where horses can go and just be horses, with all of their fun quirks, whatever they may be.

All of the horses at the ranch have their unique pursuits.

Jack, for example, has earned himself several nicknames. At first, David called him Fabio for his habit of running out to the middle of a field, as if he is some sort of model striking a romance novel pose.

“Jack’s mane is really beautiful,” David said. “It’s a long, flowing mane and he loves to walk out here in the Wyoming wind. He’ll catch the wind direction and then he flips his head to the wind, and he’ll just stand there and look at you as if to say, ‘Aren’t I beautiful? Let’s just agree that I am.’”

Come a little closer, though, and you’ll find out what Jack’s really all about.

“If you walk up to Jack and have a jacket on with a zipper, he will immediately reach over and find the pull tab on your zipper,” David said. “And he will go up and down with your zipper.”

He’ll keep doing that little trick as long as anyone will stand still for it.

“My wife Melissa calls him Jack the Zipper,” David said, laughing. “He’s just such a joy.”

Sunset at the Davissa Ranch.
Sunset at the Davissa Ranch. (Courtesy Photo)

Still Has A Purpose

Jack was a Western pleasure show horse whose career ended after he got caught in a cattle guard.

“He injured his back legs and was no longer able to perform in the show ring the way he needed to,” David said. “For a time, he did some trail riding for a family, but arthritis caught up to him, and he’s not rideable anymore.”

Jack, like the other six horses he shares the Davissa Ranch with, may not be rideable anymore, but he’s spent a lifetime working hard. David balks at the idea that just because Jack can’t do those things anymore he doesn’t have a purpose.

David and Melissa have made a home for Jack and horses like him, a place where horses can be wild and free. They also invite cancer patients, people who work in hospice, ministers, or really anyone who could use a peaceful moment with horse refugees, to come out and spend a little time just being in the moment.

“We let them be horses,” David said. “We don’t ask anything of them. We don’t ride them. We don’t push them to do anything. We don’t re-home them. We just let them come out here and be a horse, and they get a lot of wonderful feed and love.”

For David, this mission hits home for a few personal reasons. First, he’s 60 years old himself and wrestling with retirement.

“Society says that just because these horses are old and retired, they’re useless,” David said. “But that’s not the case. I’m almost 60 years old, so believe me, I’m nowhere near what I used to be, and I can’t do what I used to do. But it doesn’t mean I’m useless.”

That’s part of a whole mindset in society, and David hopes to be part of changing it, one horse at a time.

“These horses embody Wyoming,” he said. “Wyoming is a state full of a lot of good, gritty people. And these horses are like that, too. They’re still of very sound mind, and very solid and strong. They go through these winters here, and I’m like how in the world do they do that? And they just look at me like is that all you got? They’re just so hearty and strong.”

Shared Adventure Continues

Melissa and David bought their ranch at the end of 2020. It was a shared adventure for a new chapter in their lives, and they wanted a name to reflect that.

They settled on Davissa as a memorable and fun mashup of their names.

“Melissa and I’ve been married for 27 years, and we knew that this ranch would be a commitment not unlike that,” David said. “That it would take us both, that we have to be evenly yoked in this thing. We are a team, we’re doing this together, and that’s how the name came about.”

The horse refuge mission came along a bit after they bought the ranch.

The couple had brought in a couple of older, retired horses to have around for pictures and for petting. It was something of an afterthought. They just liked horses.

But their purpose soon became more.

One day, David’s mother, Scottie, became suddenly ill. There was an emergency trip to the hospital and there were tests, lots of tests.

Eventually it was learned that Grammy, as David sometimes calls her, had end-stage cancer. Doctors gave her six weeks to live. As hard as that was to hear, David and Melissa were determined they would do everything they could to make the most of that time.

They didn’t know it then, but it would take the horses to show them just how to do that.

How To Have 30 Minutes Last Forever

“My mother was also very much an animal person,” David told Cowboy State Daily. “And about a week before we lost her, she called me back to her room and said she would really like to see the horses one more time.”

“Yes ma’am,” David told her. “We will absolutely make that happen.”

David took Scottie out to the back porch in her wheelchair and brought the two old, retired horses up into the yard.

“I left them unhaltered to just be with her,” David said. “And, as horses do — because horses are some of the most intuitive animals that a human will ever be around — they knew Grammy, and they knew something was wrong.”

The horses stayed right by her side, laying their heads on her shoulder, standing uncharacteristically still. This wasn’t a time for running and jumping about. And somehow they knew it.

They were still as a whisper for as long as Scottie needed them to be.

“This went on for about 30 minutes, until she was tired,” David said. “But for those 30 minutes, these two horses that had been cast aside and called useless because they weren’t ridable anymore helped my mother when she was dying.

“For that 30 minutes, she wasn’t thinking about her cancer. She wasn’t thinking that I have days to live. She was able to just be in the moment, and the love and the grace of those horses made it very clear to me that just because society says they’re old and retired and useless, that’s not the case. They can still have a purpose.”

That’s when David and Melissa decided the ranch was more than just a place to live out their golden years. It was also going to be a refuge for horses living out their golden years, too.

  • The Davissa Ranch is a labor of love for Melissa and David Wilson.
    The Davissa Ranch is a labor of love for Melissa and David Wilson. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Jack, Wendy and Faith enjoy a snack at the Davissa Ranch near Cheyenne.
    Jack, Wendy and Faith enjoy a snack at the Davissa Ranch near Cheyenne. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Jack and Wyndy.
    Jack and Wyndy. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Close-up shots of Faith, left, and Gus the Bus.
    Close-up shots of Faith, left, and Gus the Bus. (Courtesy Photo)
  • When she's not taking care of the horses, Melissa Wilson likes to bake cookies.
    When she's not taking care of the horses, Melissa Wilson likes to bake cookies. (Courtesy Photo)

Setting Up The Mission

This newfound mission has brought new activities for the couple. Melissa, who is not quite retired yet, has been baking thousands of her Grandma Mamie’s Swedish cookies. She takes these delightful morsels to farmers markets to sell.

David, meanwhile, has reactivated his photography as a side hustle to retirement. He’s taking things at a slower pace, specializing in quirky portraits of people and, let’s be honest — horses — whenever he gets a chance.

The proceeds from both activities help the couple afford all the special diets and vet care that these older horses require.

They’ve also learned how to create a nonprofit so they can accept donations for the horses at their ranch.

“We know that we can only have so many horses,” David said. “We know that we can’t save them all. We’re just trying to help as many as we can.”

One of the things David loves about the horses is how they give just as much as they get every day, often without even realizing it.

“Faith is one of our little mares, and she got the zoomies yesterday,” David said. “And we just stood there for the longest time watching her. She was in one of the upper corrals, and she was literally running around and around in that corral, and she was doing it simply because it was a beautiful day. She felt good. The wind felt good to her. And she was happy.”

So, too, were David and Melissa, just watching her go.

“It just made my heart sing to see that from them,” David said. “These horses are not on the job. They’re not doing any task. They can just really relax and settle in.”

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter