Equine enthusiasts dominate the 380 corridor area and that’s why many would share my appreciation of the stunning view of mountains, the Pacific Ocean and a wild herd of horses that literally took my breath away. This beautiful location is home to Return to Freedom (RTF) Wild Horse Sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, California. Neda DeMayo founded RTF to explore alternatives to the way wild horses are typically managed both in sanctuaries and on open ranges. An additional objective is to preserve the historical bloodlines of these magnificent creatures, including some dating as far back as the early Spanish horses of the late 1500’s. What struck me initially is how, without the restrictions of controlled breeding, wild horses are distinctly different from domestic horses. Their markings and colors are quite unique, and these majestic horses are extremely alert and keen.
I went to RTF with my husband Bob and we stood and observed the intricate herd dynamics and learned that they have families called bands. The male stallions each have a group of mares called a harem. After a brief time we were fortunate to see a stallion encounter between two horses named Silver King and Galahad. After squealing, rearing, kicking, and a few bites, Silver King “stole” one of Galahad’s mares. It was with a chuckle the next day that we saw Galahad had stolen his mare back from Silver King! Contrary to common belief we discovered that it is the lead mare that manages and runs the herd and not the stallion.
The reason for our visit to RTF was so that I could attend a Carolyn Resnick clinic with Neda DeMayo and a few of RTF’s wild horses. There were a total of eight women in attendance for this. Carolyn’s career began by spending a year focused solely on observing wild horses and has spanned over 40 years as a world-renowned trainer. She worked with us hands-on with selected wild horses (aka mustangs) and incorporated her language of the herd techniques to connect and train. Carolyn completely transitioned my thinking on how I interact with horses and I was fascinated. If this type of technique appeals to you I am organizing a Carolyn Resnick clinic locally, please contact me at Karen@380Guide.com for more information.
During the clinic, when the late afternoon light hit the warm tones of sunset, we headed up the mountain for enlightening teachings from Carolyn and Neda, photographing and observing herd interactions as they were highlighted for us. RTF is now one of my favorite places and this experience was phenomenal. I was thrilled I had come.
One dynamic horse who commanded my attention was a gorgeous stallion named Amante. The sanctuary rescued him after he notoriously jumped the fence into multiple corrals to steal the domestic mares that willingly came with him. After multiple successes with several mares the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) captured Amante in a helicopter roundup. Shortly thereafter, RTF rescued and relocated him to the sanctuary.
RTF is more than just a “rescue” organization. They also act as advocates for the animals and help educate the public. For example, proven scientific methods of fertility control exist for on the range herd management and are funded under the BLM budget. However, the BLM chooses to capture horses in terrifying helicopter round ups instead of advancing the fertility control option. The horses who are removed live on public lands specifically granted to them in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. As stated in the act: “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” The Act further states that these magnificent creatures “shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death.” Unfortunately, the BLM is now pursuing policies that will grant livestock grazing rights to ranchers on land that is legally designated to protect the wild horses.
Congress is voting on the fate of over 46,000 wild horses currently held in federal holding pens. A large portion of these horses were captured during helicopter roundups. You can help protect these living American icons by contacting your congressional representatives and senators to ask them to: (1) Oppose any provision allowing BLM to kill wild horses or sell them to someone that will, (2) Oppose any attempt to remove sale restrictions on wild horses, and (3) Support the SAFE Act and seek alternative proven methods of herd management.
Most Americans are not aware of the plight of wild horses. Visit ReturntoFreedom.org to obtain more detailed information. A sanctuary tour including a photo safari, that I would highly recommend, can also be booked. A horse can be sponsored via contributions or a lifetime dream can be realized as well by adopting a wild horse, with training, from RTF. Our family did both and we are actively campaigning for the wild horses as a much needed voice.