Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year

by Return to Freedom Inc. , (DBA) American Wild Horse Sanctuary
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Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Run RTFs American Wild Horse Sanctuary for a Year
Spirit
Spirit

Dear Friend of RTF,

Thanks for looking in with us at life at Return to Freedom over the past few months.

Both our care of over 450 displaced wild horses and burros, and our advocacy on the national stage to assure the future of America's symbols of freedom have, as always, kept us more than busy.

Ranch

RTF Ranch Manager Jason Buckingham directed a number of recent facility improvement, maintenance, and preservation projects at RTF, including repair work on the front hill pasture’s fence, replacing fencing and posts gate reinstallation. The hay barn and maintenance yard have undergone significant clean-ups, with the collected scrap metal removed and recycled.  Mustard overgrowth removal is ongoing. Not glamorous, but a necessary part of ranch life.  And another long-awaited upgrade— a nice new surface was laid next to our outdoor kitchen area for the enjoyment and safety of volunteers and event guests. 

In our mission to always improve ranch practices, Founder Neda DeMayo continued to consult with Rodger Savory, both at our Lompoc headquarters and our San Luis Obispo satellite, to design a regenerative holistic grazing approach for healthier and more sustainable land. Healthy land equals healthy herds and wildlife! Neda and our Equine Manager, Sarah Romberger, and Ranch Manager Jason Buckingham also met with a Professor of Ecology and Rangeland management at Cal Poly university, along with three summer volunteer students. Cal Poly students will help monitor the herds and the progress of the grazing program. 

In May, we celebrated Spirit's Birthday on our traditional Opening Day.

DreamWorks Animation selected RTF’s sanctuary as Spirit’s home following his time as the animators’ model for the Oscar-nominated “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” That movie spawned a popular Emmy Award-winning spinoff series for younger children, “Spirit: Riding Free” on Netflix, and the 2021 movie “Spirit: Untamed.” 

62 friends of RTF attended, including 50 adults and 12 children. As usual, a good time was had by all, including birthday boy, Spirit.

The Opening Day event featured a Native American blessing of the horses and land, staff-led walking tours with time for herd observation, eclectic food, and wine from Beckmen Vineyards in Los Olivos and Lompoc’s Flying Goat Cellars— including “Celebrate Freedom”, a pinot noir label created to help benefit the Sanctuary! Visitors at Saturday’s event also posed with big smiles for personal photos with Spirit.  

Advocacy

Progress has been made in Return to Freedom’s effort to end horse slaughter.

The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act recently took a step forward in the House of Representatives. H.R. 3355 would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States as well as the sale and export of American horses for slaughter. 

The House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce held an informational hearing on the bill on May 26. On June 23, the subcommittee advanced the bill on a voice vote with no opposition heard after positive comments from representatives on both sides of the aisle. 

RTF is now pushing for a full Energy and Commerce Committee vote on the SAFE Act as soon as possible.

In a separate but related effort, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Fiscal Year 2023 Ag. appropriations bill that includes an effort to make horse slaughter defund language permanent. The bill now moves to the House floor.

Each year since 2006, RTF has lobbied successfully for the inclusion of language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using tax dollars to hire horsemeat inspectors. The year-to-year ban has kept horse slaughter plants closed in the United States since 2007.

This year, working with RTF, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) submitted evergreen language that would keep the defund language in place every year. 

The Ag. funding bill is likely to pass the House without the horse slaughter defund being a point of contention, so our focus on this effort turns to urging Senators to accept the evergreen defund language.

To be clear: The defund language effectively bars horse slaughter in the United States but it does not address the export of American horses for slaughter. That’s why we’re also working so hard on the SAFE Act, which would ban both.

As of this writing, the House and Senate Interior appropriations language affecting the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program has not been released. RTF continues to push for the funding and implementation of proven, safe and humane fertility control that can end roundups.

RTF is grateful to its advocacy team, including its Washington, D.C., lobbyist, Chris Heyde, for their effort to move legislation that benefits wild horses and domestic horses alike. We’re also grateful to the thousands of RTF supporters who’ve sent letters or called Congress on these and other issues.

For ways that you can take action for wild horses and burros, see 8 Ways to Help America’s Horses at https://returntofreedom.org/take-action/

RTF has, at every turn, resisted and called attention to the BLM’s plan to zero-out three wild horse Herd Management Areas in southwest Wyoming and slash the herd population on a fourth. The plan, which would effectively remove about 2 million acres, is set to be finalized in early July. Dating back to last year, RTF has been preparing for possible litigation, published an op-ed in Wyoming’s largest newspaper, sent out press releases and generated thousands of letters of opposition to the plan.

The BLM has already set the stage for the changes. Starting last October, the agency spent more than $1.1 million to capture and remove 3,502 wild horses from their southwest Wyoming home ranges during a three-month-long helicopter roundup in which 37 horses died.

The BLM says that it is amending a Resource Management Plan to comply with a 2013 consent decree that the agency entered into with the Rock Springs Grazing Association. The ranching group sued for the removal of all of the wild horses from the 2-million-acre Checkerboard region, an unfenced area of alternating, one-mile-square blocks of public and private land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad. BLM’s lone reason for its planned changes, which we believe would violate the law, is that creating a barrier between public and private lands is difficult.

We wish that all our supporters here could join us at RTF Headquarters in Lompoc, CA, or at our satellite in San Luis Obispo to visit the horses and burros we all love and respect. Until you can, we hope that these updates help, and that you will visit our website to see more detail on our operations and mission.

To the Wild Ones, and Those who stand with them...

All of Us at Return to Freedom

Neda  DeMayo welcomes guests-photo Irene Vejar
Neda DeMayo welcomes guests-photo Irene Vejar
A Visit with the Star-photo Irene Vejar
A Visit with the Star-photo Irene Vejar
Happy Mom & Daughter meet Spirit-photo Irene Vejar
Happy Mom & Daughter meet Spirit-photo Irene Vejar
Cutting the Mustard
Cutting the Mustard
New surface laid adjacent to the gazebo kitchen
New surface laid adjacent to the gazebo kitchen

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Rosebud and Fig-photo Irene Vejar
Rosebud and Fig-photo Irene Vejar

Dear Friend of RTF,

There's nothing cuter than a baby horse

As we've explained previously, RTF has been a pioneer in the use of non-hormonal, reversible birth control as a humane alternative to endless family-shattering traumatic roundups on our public lands. Maintaining natural family bands and behaviors is a priority for us. 

Although this mode of population control is very effective, some mares do not respond and some births occur. This is a welcome "failure", as the loss of elderly horses, while sad, creates a void joyfully filled by the occasional new foal.

Fig was born Jan. 27 at our Lompoc, Calif., headquarters sanctuary. He is the first foal for his mother, Rosebud, who did very well during the birth despite Fig’s large size. She’s quickly proved to be a good mom and is very protective.

Rosebud, a beautiful strawberry bay roan, and Fig’s father, Jack, also a roan, are members of our Brislawn herd, a group of Spanish mustangs who arrived at our sanctuary in December 2018.

With the addition of a staff vet, Dr. Nicole Eller, Equine Staff and the horses have a consistent presence to oversee the health of the horses and herds. Thanks to a grant from Nature’s Defense Foundation, we were able to purchase portable ultrasound equipment and an autoclave to sterilize veterinary equipment. Dr Eller was also able to secure vaccine donations for a number of the horses! Having regular dentistry has helped many of the senior horses this winter.

Also, eight rescued colts have been gelded and are ready for training and adoption! Dr. Eller has also been able to review adoption and equine safety protocol, get genetic testing done on our Spanish Brislawn and Choctaw herd and get the Brislawn horses registered with the Horses of America registry. Dr. Eller updated our adoption page and we have found a wonderful home for a young mare and foal and two other Spanish mustangs, with interest in a few others as well. Thomas Smittle has gentled a number of horses to prepare them for adoption. He is currently working with five 5- year-old recently-gelded Gila horses and 2 recently-gelded Spanish Brislawn colts.

There is so much that happens at the sanctuary each and every day, but this is a glimpse into some of what has been happening!

Ranch—

With RTF Ranch Manager Jason back onsite, a number of ranch projects have been in the works since we last wrote. From ongoing fence repair, completing the re-fencing of the perimeter of the oak forest, to reseeding 40 acres of flat pasture for grazing, clearing out the equipment and supply area and maintaining equipment, Jason keeps ranch staff organized to complete daily ranch operations and projects.

Previously, a number of Choctaws were brought to RTF’s Jalama headquarters, due to a fire evacuation at Sindisa Sanctuary in Northern California. Jason transported them back recently after fire season, and into a newly cleared area up at Sindisa.

We received a very large donation of cedar fencing from Home Depot, some of which will go up at our San Luis Obispo satellite location.  RTF is grateful for these in-kind donations of needed materials.

***

As well as caring every day for nearly 500 wild horses and burros, RTF is a strong voice on the national stage working to protect whe Wild Ones still roaming freely on the range, to protect those rounded up and vulnerable to a failed adoption program, and to stop the brutal transport and slaughter of America's horses.

Advocacy

In early January, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would remove “at least” a record 19,000 wild horses and burros from the range during Fiscal Year 2022, which began in October, while treating just 2,300 wild horses and burros with what it described only as “various forms of fertility control.”

This comes on the heels of BLM removing 13,666 wild horses and burros from their home ranges while treating with fertility control just 1,160 in Fiscal Year 2021. The agency estimated there were about 86,000 horses on BLM-managed public lands in March 2021.

RTF believes these removals are excessive and irresponsible -- not least because BLM is not equipped or prepared to care for another 19,000 captive wild horses and burros. The agency’s short-term holding corrals are already overcrowded. As of December, 59,007 wild horses and burros were in off-range holding, including 20,097 in overcrowded off-range corrals, 37,760 on pastureland and 1,150 on public pastures.

BLM is following an aggressive removal plan put forward to Congress in 2020, a plan focused on reaching an arbitrarily low “Appropriate Management Level” of fewer than 27,000 wild horses and burros across 10 states before implementing fertility in a real way.

RTF holds that the immediate use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to phase out future removals is long overdue. We continue to lobby Congress to hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its implementation. Otherwise, the agency will continue throwing good money after bad, removing wild horses and burros from their home ranges while failing to address reproduction.

In addition to engaging lawmakers and congressional and White House staff, RTF continues to meet with top agency officials and with other rangeland stakeholders in an effort to build support for immediate of fertility control. If mares are not treated with fertility control to slow reproduction on the range and released, these roundups will be followed by the increases to the herd populations, and then, as usual, BLM returning to remove and place more wild horses in off-range holding.

RTF remains active on a number of related issues, including calling for an outside investigation of BLM’s $1,000-per-horse Adoption Incentive Program. Under pressure from RTF and others, the BLM has made some changes intended to better protect wild horses and burros from ending up in bad homes or being sold into the foreign slaughter pipeline. More needs to be done, however – including replacing cash incentives with vouchers for veterinary care and training.

RTF also remains a leader in the fight to end horse slaughter. As of this writing, the SAFE Act to ban horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter has amassed 211 bipartisan cosponsors in the House -- just seven shy of a majority -- but has not yet been voted out of committee. Last year, 23,431 American horses were shipped to slaughter in Mexico and Canada.

RTF supporters have sent thousands of letters to Congress on topics ranging from fertility control implementation to calling for improved humane handling standards and greater transparency regarding the handling of wild horses and burros. To join them in taking action, see “8 ways to help America’s horses” on our homepage, http://returntofreedom.org.

***
None of the work you have read here or over the years, whether on the ranch or in the halls of government, would have been possible without you and our other our loyal supporters. When you support RTF, you are really supporting the wild horses and burros we all love and respect, and we are so grateful. 

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

All of Us at RTF

Filling a deep ravine from erosion caused by storm
Filling a deep ravine from erosion caused by storm
RTF Lompoc burros say hello-photo Meg Frederick
RTF Lompoc burros say hello-photo Meg Frederick
Choctaw horse fire refugees head home
Choctaw horse fire refugees head home
New autoclave in the vet room!
New autoclave in the vet room!
RTF SLO horses relax-photo Patti Walsh
RTF SLO horses relax-photo Patti Walsh

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Mariah and Chahta Tushka
Mariah and Chahta Tushka

Time seems to pass so quickly. In the several months since we last wrote to you, we have dealt with a number of events over and above the daily routine of hard work and care for our resident horses and burros.

To our great concern, our rambunctious little Eros fractured his leg somehow, a potentially life-ending event for a horse. However, we don’t give up on our precious residents easily, and because of his youth we decided to do everything possible to save him. Eros was at the clinic for almost a month recovering from surgery, transitioning from a cast to heavy bandage to a regular wrap, at which point he came home to RTF for further recovery.  He and his mom, Reina, hung out in the barn while he healed and took his supplements for bone growth, and he recently got a follow-up x-ray that showed he is healing well!  We are now allowing him outside in a larger area for increasing amounts of time, and have recently put Kimmimila with her young filly Solstice with Eros and Reina in a larger space outside, so the young foals can have some much-needed play time. This was an expensive journey, but your support helped to save this precious little horse, and we are so thankful.

RTF has many moving parts—all the Spanish Mustangs we previously rescued are now registered with the Horse of the Americas, Inc., and the young Spanish Mustangs and Gilas are getting ready for adoption.  

Something big is brewing—we are continuing the process of reuniting family/social bands that were separated during the Red Desert round-up in Wyoming last year. They will join several others who have been in transit, as well as three youngsters, Rosie, Isabelle, and Romeo, who have been with us at Lompoc since March. We’ll tell—and show you—more about this next time, when the reunion is complete. Keeping herds and families together, and reuniting families and family members shattered by heartless roundups has been a theme here at RTF since our founding. This is a big one, and the amazing and impossible story of how it happened is what you’ll hear next time.

Although RTF uses a non-hormonal and reversible birth control agent to keep our population stable, there is an occasional mare who is a non-responder to the program. These are happy “accidents”—however, no one could be sorry to see Choctaw mare Mariah’s new colt "Chahta Tushka appear! He is super curious and already attached to his older brother Talako, who is very sweet and patient with him. The Choctaw ponies are a threatened strain of horses who arrived to America in the 1500’s and carried the infirm on the tragic Trail of Tears.

We also transported Hart Mountain herd-member Maverick from our San Luis Obispo satellite to Lompoc headquarters for more hands-on care.  He is 25 years old and is no longer able to keep on enough weight traversing the SLO hills, so he came to Lompoc to have his teeth done and be put on a special diet.  He has rejoined members of his herd who have returned previously for special care (“the retirees”).  He immediately reunited with Serena, a 28-year-old Hart Mountain mare, who he has known since they were free on the range.

We are also all very happy that our Ranch Manager, Jason, has returned to his post at RTF headquarters in Lompoc, CA, after his long deploymenton a project up north caring for members of the Gila Herd during their stay there. 

Since his much-welcomed return, he has been catching up with the maintenance, repair and acquisition of ranch equipment. As a result, we now have a new-to-us used feed truck, have new tires on two ranch pickups and our side-by-side utility vehicle and Kubota tractor, and got our ailing water truck back to health. Jason also continues to address fencing needs and preparation for winter rains!

Our Sanctuary Director and founder recruited a small crew to work with RTF alumni Merced Tagle to repair 2500’ of perimeter fencing in our Oak Forest (where the RTF burros like to hang out), and had sand hauled into both of our barns for the comfort and safety of horses and people.

If you’ve ever cared for one horse, you can imagine the challenge of giving a high standard of care to 500. We are aware—every day— that we can’t do it alone, and your support is such an important part of us having done this large and life-preserving job successfully for the past 24 years.

Program—

This summer we hosted many people happy to get back out after long limited activity.  A lot of these private tours were for kids who were primarily excited to meet Spirit.  Many of them wore their favorite Spirit t-shirts to meet the movie star.  Public tours were also busy with the generally relaxed restrictions. To accommodate this demand, we have doubled our number of sanctuary tours for the 2022 Program Season.  

Safaris and Photo Clinics this summer were also a hit with a lot of returning photographers.  The RTF horses living at our San Luis Obispo satellite location recognized a lot of the photographers, which was very enlightening to see. 

Our volunteers have been such a big help on Saturdays, and some have even made it a point to get out to the ranch and help on weekdays.  Our volunteers are invaluable and we cannot thank them enough!

Advocacy—

If you’ve been following RTF, you know that as well as providing sanctuary for approximately 500 displaced wild horses and burros, we work on the national stage to protect and preserve the wild equines still running free on our public lands. This is a long-standing battle, as these lands are used by multiple stakeholders, and most see the horses as an obstacle to their interests. 

The Bureau of Land Management continues to pursue an aggressive roundup schedule, warehousing wild horses and burros by the thousands in already overcrowded holding facilities despite lawmakers appropriating millions of dollars for safe, proven and humane fertility control. Wholesale change cannot happen overnight -- but there’s little sign it’s happening at all.

In June, BLM’s roundup calendar called for only 2,405 mares to be treated with fertility control this year, out of the agency-estimated 86,000 wild horses and burros on the range. By Aug. 30, the number of mares that the agency planned to treat had been cut to just 1,172. 

At the same time, BLM plans to capture almost 17,000 wild horses and burros this year. That includes an additional 6,000 that in August the agency announced it would remove from the range due to climate change-driven drought across the West.

Neither climate change nor drought are new to the West’s fragile rangelands, yet BLM has failed to be proactive by treating mares with fertility control in order to slow herd growth or even by putting into place contingency plans for emergency conditions.

In almost all instances, BLM has removed the additional wild horses from their home ranges without treating mares with fertility control then releasing them – all but guaranteeing that helicopters will soon return to the same places to remove more wild horses at taxpayer expense, and put more captured horses at risk of falling into the foreign slaughter pipeline through failed adoptions and sales. Congress must hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its implementation now. Otherwise, the agency will continue throwing good money after bad, removing wild horses and burros from their home ranges while failing to address reproduction.

On the horse slaughter issue: the Senate version of the Save America's Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act (S. 2732), which would ban horse slaughter and the export of American horses for slaughter, was reintroduced on Sept. 14. The Senate version has three cosponsors, while the House version (H.R. 3355) has amassed 119.

The tens of thousands of horses shipped abroad for slaughter each year include an unknown number of wild horses.

Under a 2004 sale authority law, commonly called the “Burns Amendment,” the BLM is directed to sell “without limitation” wild horses age 10 and older or younger horses who have not been adopted after three tries. BLM has sold more than 6,455 wild horses and burros since 2012. Once title is passed, wild horses lose their federal protections and are no longer tracked by BLM.

Congress has made clear that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are not to sell wild horses to known kill buyers; however, even if the agency abides by the law, the threat of slaughter looms. Once title is passed to the wild horse’s new owner, it loses its protected status. Likewise, after an adopter receives title after one year, a wild horse or burro can be sold and end up auctioned off to a kill buyer. 

Earlier this year, a New York Times report found that wild horses adopted through a BLM program were being shipped to slaughter after their adopters received a $1,000 incentive. BLM has since altered the program in ways that fall short of real change. RTF is among those that have called for the program to be suspended pending a thorough investigation of the program. Last year, BLM adopted out 4,741 wild horses and burros. 

---------

We hope that you enjoy these little periodic updates about the wild horses and burros who sadly lost their homes on the range, but found a safe and happy life here at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary.  We wish that you all were here to meet the horses about which we write. If you can, you are most welcome to join in our scheduled programs, which will gradually resume a more normal routine. You can check them out at www.returntofreedom.org

Our deepest thanks for your part in making life so good for our residents. There is no RTF without people like you.

All of Us at Return to Freedom

Spanish Mustangs at RTF
Spanish Mustangs at RTF
Eros
Eros
A family makes a new friend on an RTF tour
A family makes a new friend on an RTF tour
Fencing RTF's Oak Forest
Fencing RTF's Oak Forest
Maverick
Maverick

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Dear RTF Sanctuary Supporters,

It's trite but true—it's hard to believe we're halfway through 2021, but we are!

Sanctuary

Thanks to your support, things are running smoothly. We did have one big scare, which has resolved happily.

One of our beloved burros, Freya, disappeared deep into the brush alone for two weeks, as we frantically searched for her. Rejected by her mother as a young foal, and therefore lacking in socialization, Freya has been alternately amusing and difficult—but when she didn't show up first in line one morning for the feed truck, we knew something was very wrong.

Then, after our long intense-but-fruitless search, one day she just reappeared. But she was not braying and running to the feed truck. She was disoriented, dehydrated, shocked and had body trauma. She could not move her tail and fur was missing. What had happened to her? 

We immediately began intensive veterinary care at the clinic. Freya’s survival was still uncertain, but fortunately her relative youth was on her side, and after two weeks of dedicated state-of-the-art care, she came home!

Happily, we have Freya back and under the watchful eye of our equine staff and vet, but we are still struggling to cover her vet expenses. This is important even beyond Freya's case—our vet bills must be honored to maintain access to the equine medical clinic should Freya or any other of our horse and burro residents need their life-saving expertise. This is not optional at a sanctuary with hundreds of horses and burros. We do have faith that we'll find the funds.

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

Advocacy

Return to Freedom was victorious in our efforts to stop barbaric surgeries and illegal research on wild mares rounded up from the Confusion Herd in Utah. When the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced its plans in 2020, RTF was the first group to sue the BLM, which was trying to take this illegal action for the third time.

In April, RTF was contacted by lawyers for the BLM who stated that the BLM would not be proceeding with the surgeries.  The controversial and dangerous surgery, known as ovariectomy via colpotomy, involves the blind grasping of female horses’ ovaries, twisting and pulling them out of their bodies. RTF was not willing to stand by and let this happen, and filed suit in December.

RTF has been involved with actions on multiple fronts to stop the surgical sterilization of wild horses, which violates the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and subjects these majestic animals to inhumane and unwarranted procedures. RTF has long been a proponent of the use of non-hormonal, reversible contraception for wild horses, to slow population growth and stabilize herds. RTF hopes that this decision suggests the administration will be taking RTF’s extensive lobbying in this area to heart.

In May, a New York Times story exposed the misuse of BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program, through which adopters are to receive $1,000 apiece. The Times story found that at least one family pocketed the money and then sold horses to slaughter. In response, RTF called for an Interior Department investigation. RTF also created a targeted letter to Congress allowing supporters to call for changes in the program, such as the use of vouchers for adopters to use pay trainers and veterinarians instead of cash.

Also in May, members of the House of Representatives reintroduced the SAFE Act, which would ban horse slaughter and the export of American horses for purposes of slaughter. RTF continues to lobby lawmakers to finally push this important bipartisan bill toward becoming law.

Finally, in May, President Biden announced a budget proposal that included a $35 million increase, to $152.6 million, for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. In response, RTF issued a statement calling on the agency to use the funding to implement safe, proven and humane fertility control to slow on-range reproduction so that BLM can phase out its decades-old practice of shattering wild horses and burro families in heartless and dangerous roundups.

 “The Bureau of Land Management needs to stop kicking the can down the road. It can no longer use the excuse that it lacks the resources needed to implement available, proven safe and humane fertility control immediately, so that the agency’s decades-long practice of capture, removal and warehousing of America’s wild horses can be brought to an end,” said Neda DeMayo, president of RTF, in a press release. “Congress must hold the agency accountable for doing so.”

Running a large sanctuary while fighting for the future of free-roaming horses and burros is quite a challenge, but amazingly, we've been here doing just that for nearly 25 years. And we're only here because of people like you who respect and love America's wild equines. We're so grateful for and to you.

All of Us at Return to Freedom

Field work at RTF's northern CA satellite ranch
Field work at RTF's northern CA satellite ranch
Horses rotating to new dry land pasture
Horses rotating to new dry land pasture
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Eros, RTF Lompoc's new resident with Mom
Eros, RTF Lompoc's new resident with Mom

Dear Friend of the Wild Ones,

Like it did for everyone, last year presented extra challenges to Return to Freedom. Our programs, like tours and other events offered to the public, had to be postponed, modified or conducted virtually, online. This was the case with our Spirit birthday celebration. (Spirit was the animation muse and model for the DreamWorks animated feature, "Spirit; Stallion of the Cimarron") But the Birthday Spirit was strong nevertheless, and many friends of RTF took part in the extended Celebration for Spirit.

Work at Return to Freedom's Lompoc headquarters and at our several satellite locations is a constant, but with occasional twists.

At the end of January, the ranch in Lompoc received almost 10” of rain in 4 days. The adobe clay mud here is very hard on the horses and for staff to get around in. Thanks to a generous and compassionate person, we were able to evacuate 16 horses to her empty ranch in Santa Ynez which had shelter and dry ground for the horses. During an intense hailstorm we were able to relocate some of our halterable horses to her empty facility, which made room for other horses here at our headquarters to come in out of the unrelenting storms. 

Our farrier and part time superhero, Brian, continued supplemental feeding for the horses living in the rolling hills at our San Luis Obispo (SLO) satellite sanctuary as weather conditions allowed. We did have to relocate two seniors from SLO to our Lompoc facility so that they can receive more individual care now, in keeping with their age.

83 horses were taken off our pasture lease in Alturas and relocated to Dreamcatcher ranch for the Winter. At our Northern CA satellite, Thomas and Jason 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 along with two special-needs senior mares from the Calico herd who need vet attention were safely transported by Thomas to our Lompoc headquarters. 

Our ranch manager, 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.

Two foals have been born in 2021. 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 or two slip through the cracks, the whole herd celebrates! We welcomed one Gila filly (still un-named) in December, and a Spanish Brislawn colt just before Valentine’s day. His name is Eros!

Advocacy

As you know, Return to Freedom also works on the national level for the wild horses still running free on the range. There is always a lot of activity to report in this area of Return to Freedom's mission.

Since our last report, Return to Freedom scored a legislative win and has filed a lawsuit opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to surgically sterilize wild mares. 

On Dec. 21, Congress approved a $14.2 million increase in the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, in part to fund “a robust expansion” of “proven, safe, effective, and humane” fertility control. Altogether, the wild horse program received $115.8 million, part of a $1.4 trillion spending package to fund the government through September.

The additional funds from Congress come in response to a May 15 BLM proposal to “institute an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy to address the current unsustainable trajectory of on-range wild horse and burro population growth.” RTF found BLM’s report to be vague and often self-contradictory.

Fertility control and on-range gathers are to be “maximized,” the committees wrote, “even if Appropriate Management Levels (the number of horses the government believes can be supported in a given Herd Management Area) are not immediately achievable.”

RTF has serious issues with maximizing removals, although BLM has been clear since 2017 that that is how it would handle cumulative population growth. However, the language about maximizing fertility control is critically important because BLM has for years insisted on capturing and removing wild horses down to its population target before implementing any fertility control, so that is a positive step forward.

The committees wrote that in Fiscal Year 2021 BLM must also continue to abide by its Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a humane-handling protocol, during roundups, transportation, holding, and adoptions, as well as restrictions against selling wild horses or burros without restriction (to slaughter) or killing healthy animals, both requirements for which RTF has lobbied.

The final bill also included language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from hiring horsemeat inspectors. The bill did not include specific language barring surgical sterilization of wild mares.

Near year's end, RTF filed suit in federal court in California to halt a Bureau of Land Management plan to surgically sterilize wild mares using a procedure that is dangerous, inhumane, and an unnecessary risk especially when proven, well-studied and previously utilized modes of alternative fertility control exist. 

The BLM, in December, completed a helicopter roundup on the Confusion Herd Management Area in Utah. The agency plans to hire presently unknown veterinarians to perform on 17 mares a painful and invasive surgical procedure in which a mare’s ovaries are crushed then pulled out with a looped chain instrument. The mares would later be released onto the range.

The BLM continued to move forward with its plan despite 58 members of Congress sending a letter to the Secretary of the Interior calling on BLM to drop its plan. The letter came as a result of lobbying by RTF and colleagues.

RTF's management of hundreds of horses and burros in multiple locations, and our campaign to replace traumatic roundups with safe birth control are difficult tasks, but with the help of so many caring supporters we have and will continue to provide a great life for our sanctuary residents and fight for the lives of the mustangs and burros on our public lands.

We're so grateful for your help in this important work for America's wild equines and we hope you'll continue to be an important part of it.

For the Wild Ones, and those who stand with them,

All of Us at RTF 

RTF Gilas in No. CA enjoy a winter meal
RTF Gilas in No. CA enjoy a winter meal
Setting up panels to get entire herd into a corral
Setting up panels to get entire herd into a corral
Fence repairs in progress
Fence repairs in progress
RTF Alturas horses ready for their Winter move
RTF Alturas horses ready for their Winter move
December surprise-Gila foal beats birth control...
December surprise-Gila foal beats birth control...
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Organization Information

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

Location: Lompoc, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ReturnToFreedom
Project Leader:
Jack Carone
Lompoc, CA United States
$243,564 raised of $1,000,000 goal
 
4,946 donations
$756,436 to go
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