Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd

by Return to Freedom Inc. , (DBA) American Wild Horse Sanctuary
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Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Help Care for the Rescued Gila Herd
Strength in Gila Numbers
Strength in Gila Numbers

Dear Friend of the Gilas,

As someone who has helped care for the Gila herd, rescued by RTF in 2017, you are a permanent part of their herd history, and the reason they had somewhere to go when they lost their previous sanctuary home in 2017.

At present, there are 11 Gilas at our headquarters in Lompoc, CA. Four are here because they were not doing well in the larger herd, two are younger stallions and five were younger colts brought down to Lompoc for gentling and adoption-—Bandit, Nathani, Casey, Jaden and Seven are waiting for their forever safe homes. The 62 herd members who had been boarded at a satellite ranch in Northern California, where they had been cared for by our Ranch Manager, Jason, were recently moved for now to another boarding facility up north.

Although RTF uses a non-hormonal and reversible birth control regimen to keep our sanctuary population stable, a few mares prove to be non-responsive, and so there is the occasional beautiful foal who joins us. When these foals are no longer as dependent on their mothers, some of the friendly ones undergo some gentling and training to make them candidates for careful adoption. 

One of RTF's part time trainers, Thomas Smittle (Native Horseman), worked with five Gila boys consistently for a few weeks to this end, and they learned a lot very quickly. Haltering, tying, leading, picking up feet, and learning about saddle pads and ropes will allow them to interact safely with their eventual new guardians. They are far from trained, but they are on their way. 

As we just mentioned, we are pioneers in a form of birth control which does not change herd behavior and which obviates the necessity of most gelding to control the size of our horse population. 

Here is a short recent report from our RTF Biologist, Celeste—

"The 62 Gilas spent the winter in Northern California, in the sagebrush hills of a ranch south of Alturas. It was a mild winter, but snow did fall and the herd seemed to enjoy playing and rolling in patches of snow.  A week ago, I ventured to the ranch to administer an immuno-contraceptive vaccine to the mares (PZP), and to check in with the ranchers overseeing the day to day care of the horses.

"We started the work day with updates about the herd and which pastures they could utilize as the winter snows melt away and portions of the ranch difficult to access during winter become available again.  The horses had been brought down off the hill pasture to an area near the barn.  A happy crew of local ranchers helped me quietly move the horses through narrowing alleyways and into a livestock chute for thorough examinations and safe hand-injection of the vaccine...  

"The Gilas’ coats were fuzzy, but I expect soon they will be slick and shiny.  Everyone was energetic, alert, and had a healthy weight.  Some of the young colts were beginning to get a bit rowdy out in the pasture, playing and (play)"fighting" with one another, then chasing one another through the mares and older stallions.  A few of the foals from years ago, perfectly proportioned when they were born, were leggy and awkward looking.  They'll begin to fill out and mature this summer.

"After the horses had made their way through the chute, we let them stay in a large paddock with hay on the ground so that we could slowly walk through everyone and make certain all was well.  Some of the older stallions are showing their age, moving a bit slower than they used to, or choosing to stay out of a fracas, but all in all, the herd looks as they always do: vibrant and strong and together. "

This is good news, and more evidence of the excellent care we've been able to provide to this rescued herd, thanks to supporters like you.  We never expected the Gilas to remain in our family permanently, but we guess it was meant to be, and we're not sorry. What might have been a burden without so many caring people chipping in has instead been a rewarding experience for all of us, our sanctuary visitors and, of course, the Gilas themselves.

To the Wild Ones, and those who stand by them,

All of Us at RTF

Hanging Around Up North
Hanging Around Up North
Thomas and Student
Thomas and Student
A Snowy Roll
A Snowy Roll
The Three Gilateers
The Three Gilateers
Here Come The Gilas
Here Come The Gilas

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Clayson and friends keeping the beat
Clayson and friends keeping the beat

Dear Friend of the Gilas,

If you've been following the story of the Gila Herd, you know that Return to Freedom rescued 112 members, (several then pregnant!) of this herd in 2017 from a troubled living situation. This was an unexpected large expansion for our sanctuary, but fortunately you and our other supporters have come through consistently to help with their care. 

The horses have travelled as needed for space and care, between spacious boarding ranches and RTF Headquarters, and some finally journeyed to the sanctuary in South Dakota which had originally agreed to welcome them in 2017, and whose circumstances required a delay.

At present, there are 11 Gilas at our headquarters in Lompoc. The 63 herd members who had been boarded at a satellite ranch in Northern California, where they had been cared for by our great Ranch Manager Jason, were recently moved for now to another boarding facility up north. This fully staffed situation freed Jason to return to Lompoc where everyone is very happy have him back. He works very hard to enrich the lives of all the horses and burros here, including the Gilas on site.

Here in Lompoc and at our other location, the Gilas are safe and not at the mercy of outside forces—here, they are a priority, not seen as in the way of the competing interests of the outside world.

At the ranch, five of the Gilas have been readied for adoption:  Casey, Natahni, Bandit, Seven and Jaden.  We have started to work on haltering with Seven and Bandit. Time flies—they are all turning five years old in the Spring. Earlier this summer, Navajo horseman and musician, Clayson Benally, worked with this playful bunch, using a drum to keep them focused and on the beat. The horses seemed to really respond to this! More recently, Native Horseman Thomas Smittle continued to work on halter training.

We hope you can visit RTF one day for a tour during which you can see the horses you help in person. In the meantime, we've included recent pictures of pals Isabella, 11, Watcher, 7,  and Aragon, 5, having some lunch. It’s difficult to get a picture without Aragon photo-bombing because she is extremely curious and friendly!  There is no doubt that she is the leader of her little band. 

Check out the photos of Gilas Natahni, 6, Casey, 4, and Jaden, 4.  They are as rambunctious as ever!  

The Gila herd were unexpected guests who immediately became beloved residents. Your help enables us to give them the happy life they deserve.  There is no RTF without people like you,

To the Wild Ones and those who stand with them,

All of Us at Return to Freedom

left to right: Casey, Jaden (background), Natahni
left to right: Casey, Jaden (background), Natahni
left to right: Natahni, Casey
left to right: Natahni, Casey
Thomas works with Seven
Thomas works with Seven
background-foreground: Isabella, Watcher, Aragon
background-foreground: Isabella, Watcher, Aragon
Casey
Casey

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Aragon at Lompoc Headquarters
Aragon at Lompoc Headquarters

Life is Good for the Gila Herd...

Ever since Return to Freedom rescued 112 members of the Gila herd in 2017 from a troubled living situation, it has been an adventure for these beautiful horses. They have travelled as needed for space and care between spacious boarding ranches and RTF Headquarters, and some finally traveled to the sanctuary in South Dakota which had agreed to home them when they were first rescued.

RTF currently has members of the Gila herd in two locations. At RTF's Lompoc Headquarters, there are currently a total of 11 Gilas—one gelding, two mares and eight stallions. Several younger Gila studs are being gentled and trained to allow handling for their necessary husbandry and medical/farrier care. The older studs just get to hang out and... well, be studs!  

In addition, we have a very spunky Gila mare, Aragon, in the barn named who is refining her hoof trimming skills as well as providing company and friendship for another mare who injured herself several months ago, and is in the final stages of healing.  

Finally, there is a gelding, Watcher, and Isabella, a mare, who is integrated with a larger band. They tend to be the high-energy instigators of playtime out in one of RTF's front pastures. 

Meanwhile, at our satellite up north, Ranch Manager Jason's work never ends. He faithfully cares for 63 Gilas there. Among his recent projects were re-diking roughly 80 acres to improve flood irrigation while constantly rotating horses to new dry land pasture.

Thank you for beng an important  part of the Gila Herd's story—without the help of many caring people like you, they would never have had this new chance for a happy life. All of the Gilas, including those who have moved on to South Dakota, will always be a part of RTF's heart.

All of Us at Return to Freedom 

Coal in Lompoc
Coal in Lompoc
Little Ears in Lompoc
Little Ears in Lompoc
Shota, lead mare in Northern CA
Shota, lead mare in Northern CA
Gilas in No.CA. R-L Delilah, Soffel, friends
Gilas in No.CA. R-L Delilah, Soffel, friends

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Surprise!-Gila foal beat our birth control...
Surprise!-Gila foal beat our birth control...

RTF and the Gila Herd, rescued in 2017 from a collapsing living situation, made it through a tough 2020 and here we are, all on the other side of the calendar year.

With a number of Gilas migrating to our Lompoc Headquarters for special care, 52 finally making their delayed way to colleagues at the Black Hills Sanctuary in South Dakota and the rest enjoying the good life at our satellite location in northern California, we are keeping our promise to them for a good safe life after their close brush with auction sale and probable slaughter.

Although we did not expect the Gilas to be with us this long, we are not sorry it worked out this way. Watching them flourish in our two locations, under the watchful and expert care of our Equine and Ranch Managers, ranchhands and other staff, we are grateful to them and to all the supporters who have made this new good life possible for them. It could have ended badly for them, but together we have, and continue to, create a great resolution to a difficult situation.

Up north, Ranch Manager Jason works hard to maintain not only the herd but the facilities they call home. 

This Winter, Jason and Thomas worked in 18” of snow to set up sorting pens and the squeeze chute, and safely sorted four young Gila colts for gelding. The four colts  were safely transported by Thomas to our Lompoc headquarters. 

Jason is always busy repairing fences, solving problems and caring for horses. He continues to manage a private ranch set up exclusively for the 66 Gila horses, and we are all ready for him to come back to Lompoc!  The maintenance on a ranch is never-ending hard work, and we are lucky to have Jason on board with his many skills and his dedication to the horses.

Although all RTF mares are treated with native PZP, a non-hormonal fertility control, some mares don’t respond to it. We have had a 98% efficacy rate, but when one slips through the cracks, the whole herd celebrates! We welcomed one Gila filly (yet un-named) in December. 

This new filly is special in another way— in the middle of her head she has 3 whorls or cowlicks, which is very uncommon. According to cowboy folklore, this means she will be smart and have different personalities. We'll see!

Taking on the Gilas to save them from a tragic fate really added to RTF's load, but thanks to so many caring supporters, they have never lacked for anything, and with continued help from people like you, they will always have the great life they deserve.

For the wild ones, and those who stand with them,

All of Us at RTF

Setting up Panels in January
Setting up Panels in January
Chute for safe hoof trimming and medical attention
Chute for safe hoof trimming and medical attention
Repaired fence is sturdy and safe once more
Repaired fence is sturdy and safe once more
A tasty meal in the snow thanks to you...
A tasty meal in the snow thanks to you...
Paloma, a 4 year-old Gila filly
Paloma, a 4 year-old Gila filly

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Newly arrived Gilas explore Black Hills Sanctuary
Newly arrived Gilas explore Black Hills Sanctuary

Checking in on the RTF Gila Herd on the move...

Dear Friends,

In 2017, RTF rescued 117 members of the historic Gila Herd from a troubled living situation to keep them from the auction and the kill pen. This was just one herd that was part of a 900-horse rescue led by Fleet of Angels, who worked hard with RTF and many others to ensure that all horses found a safe home. 

The Gila herd is believed to be descended from the horses brought to Arizona in the 1600s from Spain by Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino. The Gila herd was originally captured by the BLM in 2003 from the Painted Rock Herd Area in Arizona.

Return to Freedom and The Black Hills Sanctuary in South Dakota pledged to share the responsibility of providing sanctuary for the Spanish Gila herd, in an effort to maintain their bonded families and unique 13-generation-long heritage. In 2017, the Black Hills Sanctuary was not yet able to take in the Gilas, so the entire herd made the journey to Return to Freedom’s leased pasture in Northern California, and has been protected and managed by RTF over the past three and a half years. 

In 2019, the large herd sorted itself into two large herds. A bonded group of sixty-five horses were moved to a pristine private ranch. The rest of the herd remained on the leased pasture until Black Hills Sanctuary was prepared to take them on permanently.

Just recently, our colleagues at Black Hills Sanctuary were in a position to take the 51 Gila horses living on the property in Alturas, CA, to their forever home on 14,000 acres in South Dakota! A three-year-old colt named Bandit, and Thor, an older Gila stallion, will remain in Lompoc with a handful of other Gilas who live in our special needs /senior pasture. Thor is also a mentor to younger males, to whom he is a calming influence. Bandit is a three-year-old colt who will be gentled and available for adoption with a buddy to an approved home.

Return to Freedom continues to care for the now-66 Gilas at our satellite on a private ranch in Northern CA, under the expert care of our Ranch Manager, Jason, in addition to their counterparts who remain with us in our Lompoc and San Luis Obispo sanctuary. These past few months at RTF’s far north satellite, a lot of work was done on Irrigation and irrigation system repairs, including pouring concrete and fixing broken valves to fix the irrigation system. Necessary improvements were also made to the chute used to hold horses for medical needs. 

Under Jason’s supervision, 58 tons of hay were cut, baled and stacked in the barn for winter. Four-plus acres of star thistles were removed and cleaned. Temporary fencing was continually moved in order to rotate the Gilas for grazing. Additionally, 1,600 feet of temporary fence was installed to improve grazing in another field. This ranch had no sunshine for nearly 40 days because of fires and smoke, creating very poor conditions for the pastures to grow grass, so we will have to begin to feed hay earlier than we did last year. The good news is we have already contracted the cutting and stacking of hay for the Gilas up there!

While we are so grateful to the Black Hills Sanctuary for being able to fulfill their pledge to provide refuge for half of the Gila herd after their rescue, it was bittersweet to see them leave. But seeing them kick up their heels as they unloaded at the Black Hills Sanctuary and galloped off to explore thousands of acres filled our hearts. Thankfully, we still have a total of 75 of our Gila friends in our RTF family, and with your help we will always ensure their safety and happiness. We at RTF are so grateful for your loyalty to the historic and beautiful Gila herd. 

All of us at RTF

Taking in the last days of California Dreaming
Taking in the last days of California Dreaming
Coggins tests and health certificates for travel
Coggins tests and health certificates for travel
Gilas arrive at Black Hills Sanctuary
Gilas arrive at Black Hills Sanctuary
Thor, senior mentor stallion with younger friend
Thor, senior mentor stallion with younger friend
Some of the 71 RTF Gilas living in Northern Calif.
Some of the 71 RTF Gilas living in Northern Calif.

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Organization Information

Return to Freedom Inc. , (DBA) American Wild Horse Sanctuary

Location: Lompoc, CA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @ReturnToFreedom
Project Leader:
Jack Carone
Lompoc, CA United States
$22,806 raised of $100,000 goal
 
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