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
Lumpy with trainer Angi Murray
Lumpy with trainer Angi Murray

We’ve been keeping you up-to-date on the progress of the Gila herd, from their rescue from danger, their preparation for their move to California, and how they arrived and reunited with their precious families.

If you just joined our Gila story, at this time last year Return to Freedom was working with colleagues and volunteers against all odds to find solutions for 907 hungry wild horses standing without shelter in below-freezing, blizzard conditions in South Dakota. The horses had been impounded by the state and scheduled for a public auction where most would have been sold to be slaughtered. Because of the generosity of people like you, and the determined work of our team and fellow animal-welfare groups, all those horses are now safe. RTF then took responsibility for the 120-strong Gila herd, presently living on beautiful leased Northern California pastures with their foals, as we work to ensure a future for that historic herd.

A favorite Gila youngster is Lumpy. He got his nick-name due to a growth on his face we saw when we first met him. Born in a winter storm, knee-deep in snow, he was transported to Nevada with his mother and the rest of the herd to be stabilized and brought to good health. Along with five other colts under 11/2 years of age, he came to RTF in May. We have removed the lump, but his nick name has stuck! Lumpy is now making great progress with our trainer, who is getting him ready for a great adoption. Lumpy is setting a good example for his other young Gila friends, also learning to trust humans in preparation for their adoptive homes.

When we asked his trainer to describe him, her observations made us smile— 

“He is SO cute and very friendly but just a tiny bit baby sassy wiggly—we are starting to take him for walks around the ranch and he is still a little worried about new places …

He is a funny horse­He seems to think he should be a human, not a horse. He likes to be out playing with us and doesn't even mind leaving his friends behind—he prefers you take him out when you are trying to take his friends! He is goofy silly baby, happy and playful, not scared at all, just tricky…he thinks he can outsmart you, and he probably can!

He is cocky…he learns everything and then is looking for what’s next, kind of like a child genius! He is the smartest and he knows it…” 

We’re excited that these rescued horses are doing so well, and we’ll make sure that Lumpy and all these Gila youngsters are adopted to great homes. 

Every day brings new challenges. We recently learned that the current pasture property in Northern California has been sold, and that we will have to find a new location by September, 2018. We’ll need your help to secure another great one for the resident Gilas once we’ve found it, so we hope you will continue to follow our progress as the herd marches proudly into the future.

In addition to the young weanling colts, we also brought 17 gelded colts 1-5 years of age to our Lompoc facility for socialization and preparation for adoption to qualified and safe homes!

RTF is committed to the entire Gila herd, and, with your help, will do what it takes to make sure their important bloodlines are conserved and that they all have a safe permanent home in the near future. We hope you will continue to be a part of this historic rescue and to help us write this inspiring story.

Thank you!

Lumpy navigates the obstacle course
Lumpy navigates the obstacle course
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Gila horses grazing together
Gila horses grazing together

What Your Support of The Gila Herd Has Meant to the Horses and Their Human Friends

We’ve been keeping you up to date of the steps we’ve taken to rescue the Gila herd, prepare them for their move to California, and how they arrived and reformed their families.

At a recent conference sponsored by The Homes For Horses Coalition, RTF Founder Neda DeMayo was given strong recognition by Fleet of Angels Founder, Elaine Nash. Nash expressed profound thanks to DeMayo and RTF as a driving force in getting this rescue, believed to be the largest in US history, off the ground and galvanizing support from organizations and a private foundation who, together with many generous donors like you, saved over 900 horses from auction and probable slaughter.

Only with the help of caring people like you has this rescue and the work ahead been possible. THANK YOU!


RTF’s Director of Development, Andrea Wogsland, recently went to visit the horses in September, and here she describes what she found at their current home in Lassen County, CA— 

“Upon our arrival to the 1,800 acre property in Lassen County, we found the entire herd grazing at the bottom of the valley. All 120+ heads lifted and ears perked forward when we entered.

Slowly, the horses began to return to their activities, one by one cautiously coming to investigate us.

While each stallion has formed its own band, all the bands stay very close together. The stallions work together with a combination of vocalizations, behaviors, and posturing that moves the herd at a meandering pace.

The Gilas have settled into a routine. Every morning, they leave the lake and move in a circular direction around the property, although choosing not to venture into the hills. Like clockwork, around 6 o’clock each evening, they have made their way back to the lake. Along the way, they use the trees to scratch themselves, foals buddy up and lay down to rest, stallions exert their dominance intermittently and use a snaking motion to herd their mares if they are drifting away. There are countless moments when the horses nuzzle and groom each other.

Foals stay close to their mothers, and their fathers dote on them as well. One of the stallions was ousted by the group during their time in Fallon, NV, and still stays on the outskirts. We supply additional feed to him to improve his health. In addition to the grass available, we continue to throw hay to improve the health of the herd.

The entire herd is looking great and has come a long way from when they first came into RTF’s care at the end of February.”


Up till now, we have focused on how we humans have affected the horses, but as we become more acquainted with them, these impressive beings begin to affect us as well.

We asked RTF's In-Residence Volunteer Paloma Ianes, recent University of Cincinnati journalism graduate, to describe her favorite experiences and horses during her stay. We thought you'd enjoy her thoughts as someone who spent time with the Gila Herd as they lived through their big move and transition as part of RTF's rescue.

"Last but certainly not least is Uno who was part of a large rescue effort involving hundreds of horses in South Dakota including the Gila herd. He became very special to me and my experience. He is a beautiful chestnut horse with the sweetest temperament. He is very curious and inquisitive.  From the first time I met him, I’ve known he is a horse that will create deep bonds with the people in his life. I can’t put into words what it is about him, but immediately he had an effect on me.  At the rescue where he was living he was living amongst a mix of other horses, most of whom wanted very little to do with people. Not until he arrived at RTF was he given the attention he deserved.

Uno taught me to always take the time to appreciate each individual (whether it be horse, person or other) for what they are. Don’t judge and assume you know someone based on a few facts from their background. Uno reminded me why we fight for animals and people to have peace and freedom. He reminded me that every being has a purpose and a journey, which, if given the chance, can inspire others to follow their calling. He is a very special horse.

One of the many things my experience at RTF allowed me to do is observe natural wild horse behavior. I think one of the most fascinating experiences I had in this regard was my time in Lassen County, where RTF has leased land for the rescued Gila herd. I got to witness the stallions, brought from a temporary facility in Nevada, be reintroduced to their mares and foals, who had already been living at the Bieber ranch for four months.

The entire reintroduction was action-packed. Due to the four-month separation between them, the stallions jumped in to reestablish the hierarchy and reclaim their bands. We watched them fight, and reorganize their bands by herding the mares and foals into separate groups. It was absolutely fascinating to watch from a behavioral point of view. I never had such a clear display of natural horse behavior, as they would act in the wild."


If you would like to experience the Gila Herd firsthand, email to add yourself to the interest list. 

Generations of Gila
Generations of Gila


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First off the trailer
First off the trailer

As we’ve shared previously, with your help, Return to Freedom has come forward to take in the 112-strong Gila herd, (including pregnant mares ready to give birth in the coming weeks), some of approximately 900 horses that the State of South Dakota found neglected on a property in Lantry, S.D. After traveling more than 1,200 miles from South Dakota to a temporary staging area in Nevada, they received a thorough health assessment and care before beginning their additional 219-mile journey to CA.

On May 1, 2017, a beautiful spring day, 59 mares, weanlings and yearlings travelled four hours to a private pasture in Lassen County, CA, ringed with ponds, wild flowers and juniper trees. Hooves clattered on the metal ramp as each thin, shaggy mare descended to new and unfamiliar ground. Nine foals scrambled from a stock trailer, greeting their mothers, extended herd and a new life with high-pitched whinnies. Click here to watch--be sure your speakers are turned up!

On June 15th, 25 geldings and seven stallions have also finally made the journey from the temporary staging facility in Fallon, NV to these pastures, where they have rejoined their mares and foals. It had been weeks since they had seen each other. 

The first few off the trailer bolted up toward the trees while the rest ran toward the mares and the foals. Perhaps surprised by their arrival, the mares and foals ran from them until the herd circled around the lake and then rested back at the grassy area near where the unloading had taken place. 

A physically charged scene ensued with the stallions squaring off, challenging and chasing each other, while reforming their harem bands. Click here to watch.

The following day, 16 males -12 gelded colts and 4 stallions – arrived to RTF’s headquarters in Lompoc, CA and joined the 7 ungelded youngsters who have been settling in since May. We’d like to thank you by having you be the first to see these photos by Irene Vejar of the horses arriving to Lompoc and a well-deserved and appreciated first meal at RTF! These horses are the first to be ready for adoption. To learn more about adoption, go to

RTF is now assessing the Gila herd's viability for a conservation program and identifying the bonded horses and harem bands eligible for adoption to forever homes.

None of this reuniting of shattered families would have been possible without the support of caring people like you. We are grateful every time we see the Gilas living now in safety, but the work is far from done.

Our remaining task is long, intensive and expensive. To ensure a happy life for the horses, RTF and the Gila herd will still rely on the continued support of the many people who have followed their rescue, and the generosity of those who are just now learning the story of their long trail to their permanent homes which lie ahead of them.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being part of the #watchoverme #jointhegilaherd project!

Exclusive photos of the first adoptable Gila horses unloading in Lompoc for your eyes first below!

Rounding the corner
Rounding the corner
Time for supper
Time for supper


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Organization Information

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

Location: Lompoc, CA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ReturnToFreedom
Project Leader:
Jack Carone
Lompoc, CA United States
$23,148 raised of $100,000 goal
460 donations
$76,852 to go
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