A Conservation Program for Rare Strains of the Dwindling Spanish Mustang Breed
The Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary & Preservation is located in Lompoc, California where it helps rehome and preserve wild horses and burros. We spoke with Founder and President Neda DeMayo who helped us understand how this fascinating organization operates.
“In 1998, Return to Freedom was created as a model to explore alternatives to the way wild horses and burros are typically managed both in sanctuaries and on the range.” RTF does their best to maintain natural family and social groups in all of the horses brought to the reservation. These horses are typically caught on US Fish and Wildlife Ranges by the Bureau of Land Management.
RTF is more than just a ‘rescue’ organization for these wild equines. They also act as advocates for the animals and help to educate the public. Neda shared, “Since Return to Freedom opened our Sanctuary gates in 1998, we have pioneered innovative wild horse management and education programs. As an organization, we opted to focus on a solutions-based approach to the issue of wild horse management. The general public, youth organizations and lawmakers learn directly from sensitive observation of natural herds and also participate in a variety of experiential workshops.”
“Aside from a few quarter horses, the horses at Return to Freedom’s Wild Horse Sanctuary are wild horses and burros who have been captured from Federal lands by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Fish and Wildlife. Some are wild horses and Burros who have fallen through the cracks through failed adoptions and/or were heading to slaughter.” One of the unique aspects of this organization is their desire to help conserve the rare strains of the dwindling Spanish Mustang breed in the western United States.
Neda continued, “RTF has horses of different ages and metabolic needs. Whether we are providing care for an individual special needs horse or working closely with local government agencies on large scale animal starvation cases- we use variety of quality hay, special feeds, homeopathy, pro-biotics and a range of natural and allopathic remedies. We strive to stay as close to natural feed as possible, preferring less sugar and carbs.
“We advertise on social media and word of mouth. Adoption is not a focus for RTF, although we do have well-adjusted horses who like human interaction available for adoption, our focus is more on Sanctuary, Education and Advocacy. We have a strict application process starting with a Terms and Conditions document. We have mandatory site visits and horses cannot be re-homed, sold or slaughtered.”
Funding remains RTF’s biggest ongoing challenge and need. Despite this all-to-familiar struggle for equine rescue groups in our country, RTF can boast of some great successes over the years. For example, in 1998, they were able to preserve intact family and bachelor stallion bands for 25 wild horses that were caught on horseback in the Hart Mountain Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. In 2003, Dreamworks selected their facilities for the permanent home of Spirit (The Kiger Mustang stallion used as the muse for the 2002 animated feature film, “Spirt, Stallion of Cimarron”).
Neda shared, “In 2004- after an independent investigation, RTF launched a national Campaign and a coalition of 50 organizations nationwide to create a more unified effort and messaging on wild horse and burro issues. In 2016 the Campaign became a separate 501C3 organization.” Finally, in 2014, RTF welcomed actor and activist Robert Redford as a Director in the organization.
We salute the Return to Freedom organization for their work in preserving our nation’s wild horses and burros. Their work is vitally important to preserve an important part of our national heritage. Neda concluded, “There are so many amazing stories about the horses and burros themselves as well as the people who visit us here at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse sanctuary. After 18 years we have marveled at children who have visited through the Make A Wish Foundation to fulfill their dream to meet “the real Spirit” and wild horses, visitors who in spite of various handicaps or age, journey out to spend time immersed in the herd surrounded by wild horse families, youth who choose to give up their birthday presents and instead ask that their families and friends donate to the animals.”
To learn how you can help, see below:
Wild Horse Sanctuary, Education, Advocacy and Conservation
Location: Lompoc, California
Donate: P.O. Box 926 Lompoc, CA 93438