Nestled in the coastal foothills of Lompoc, California is Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary. Return to Freedom was established by Neda DeMayo over 20 years ago to protect America’s wild horses.When it was established, the sanctuary’s herd included 150 animals, both horses and burros.
Since their inception, Return to Freedom’s mission is “to preserve the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy, and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world” (returntofreedom.org).
Mission & Methods
Return to Freedom has now expanded to include four locations across California, over 550 animals, and countless volunteers. The sanctuary is an oasis and home, but also a research facility for safe on-range management techniques. Cory Golden, RTF’s Advocacy and Communications Coordinator, states the sanctuary “wants healthy, sustainable herds on healthy, sustainable lands” across the United States. The sanctuary works hard to promote both sustainable and safe methods of on-range management. They also work in conjunction with different social, scientific and political organizations to preserve America’s wild horses safely, naturally, and effectively.
Return to Freedom has also aided in pushing a new technique to the forefront of wild horse on-range management. The sanctuary is the 4th largest PZP (Porcine zona pellucida immunocontraceptive) active horse project in the world. PZP is a medication that effectively prevents mare’s pregnancy in 91-98% of horses, with no known side effects. However, since PZP is an injection, there are issues to administering to wild horses across open ranges.
Return to Freedom works with policy makers, bureaucratic institutions and activist organizations to test and consider PZP and other management techniques. Return to Freedom supports the livelihood of America’s wild horses in every way, and they will persist for many years to come.
Horses & Herds
Horses currently in the safe care of Return to Freedom enjoy a life on open pastures. Herd units are kept together and are able to enjoy a life of luxury with healthy grass, proper veterinary care and a few photograph opportunities from sanctuary visitors and volunteers. As Golden said, “we just want the horses to have the best life possible.”
Return to Freedom is not only home to feral horses, but also a few four legged celebrities. Two Return to Freedom horses are Equus Hall of Fame inductees. Sutter, a beloved RTF herd member was born on the Nevada range. He is the 2016 ASPCA Horse of the Year and the 2017 Horse Stars Hall of Fame. He is the “ambassador for mustangs.” Sutter was the first horse born in the wild to receive either award.
Spirit is another loved member of the Return to Freedom herd. Many horse lovers know Spirit from DreamWorks’ movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. He currently roams the foothills in Lompoc, California. He is also an Equus Hall of Fame inductee (2017). Slightly calmer than the rambunctious and quick witted wild horse he is portrayed as in the movie, Spirit still has star quality. Golden, who has worked along Spirit since 2002, says Spirit “is a diva personality, he has an uncanny ability to behave when he needs to and he knows exactly where the cameras are.”
Both of these horses have proven that America’s wild horses are much more than just a horse. They are ambassadors, friends, and a legacy of America. As founder DeMayo says, “mustang is a way of life.”
To learn more about Return to Freedom, their mission, and their herds visit returntofreedom.org.