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

Project Report | May 1, 2018
The Care You Help Us Give Everyday

By Jack Carone | Board Member

Cowboy, going strong
Cowboy, going strong

We often start our updates by commenting how busy it’s been at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc CA, at our satellite location in San Luis Obispo(SLO), and at our Gila Herd leased pasture.

This report is no exception. Whenever an organization’s mission includes caring for living beings, in this case over 500 of them, there is an additional sense of urgency and responsibility that doesn’t exist in an enterprise consisting mainly of an office of administrative staff working at their desks.

We have those too, and they are an essential element for to support and implement RTF’s mission, but the horses living safely here are totally dependent on us, and we are dependent on the generosity of our loyal supporters who have never failed us. Without public support projects like ours are not possible.

RTF is now in its 20th year, and many of our residents have been with us since the beginning. An aging population requires ever-increasing care, and we have learned over the years how to provide that. The seniors at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary are often complimented on their excellent condition. On average, they are living into their thirties, and some are now in their mid 30s.

Return to Freedom's equine management philosophy assesses quality of life after medical care taking into account age and condition. We give every horse, no matter their age, a chance.

In keeping with our philosophy, sometimes tough decisions must be made. Dolly, a mare from the herd from the Sheldon Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which has since removed all wild horses and burros from their lands, was born at RTF in March of 2011. Relatively young, she nevertheless began to show decline after joining another stallion’s harem band at our satellite sanctuary in San Luis Obispo.

In February, Dolly was brought back to our headquarter Sanctuary in Lompoc due to a general weakness and difficulty in eating. She clearly had been kicked in the jaw and developed an infection opened at the bottom of the left mandible. 

On February 20th, our longtime vet, Dr. Pankau, visited her. He examined her and floated her teeth (filing their teeth to make the chewing surfaces relatively flat or smooth). After administering antibiotics and vitamins, Dr. Pankau let us know she needed a surgery on her mouth. Transported to his clinic on February 23rd, x-rays showed a broken molar and a partial chip, which were extracted. Her blood test indicated some renal issues as well. She came back home March 1st.

While we were hopeful, at the end of March, Dolly’s condition kept deteriorating. One day, after a pleasant time eating grass in a green pasture, she laid down, unable to go on. It was sadly determined that a quality life was no longer possible. Dr. Pankau came and put Dolly down so she would no longer suffer. We will all miss her.

It’s very difficult to lose a friend, but often, there is happier news.

One favorite senior living at RTF is Cowboy, a 27-year-old domesticated gelding who found refuge at Return to Freedom in 2004. He arrived here with the name "Split" in reference to his split ear, a sign he was treated roughly in his past. We renamed him "Cowboy".

This past Fall, Cowboy suffered from severe colic and was taken to the vet for diagnosis, treatment, and observation. We opted to go through medical treatment instead of surgery and he came through after being hospitalized for seven days. He is now back with a diverse group of senior horses and doing well again. This shy fellow has been retired for the past five years with other senior horses who no longer do as well in the hills or competing for food in the larger herds. 

Last week KC, now 33 years old, began to colic. Concerned that he would not be a candidate for surgery at this age, our veterinary team gave him personal care and intravenous fluids round the clock. His sponsors who rescued him and sent him to the sanctuary over 10 years ago, remained in touch with RTF staff and veterinary team but were not expecting miracles. But a miracle occurred! Much to everyone’s surprise and relief, KC’s pain dissipated and he resumed normal functions by the second day!

We take every reasonable measure to support our horses as long as possible in a quality life. Older horses need some special care, and we recently changed the rations and schedule for their special feeding which not only improved their assimilation of nutrients but reduced costs by $500 a week! Of course, with the number of horses we have, we have also added a few more horses to the special feeding regimen. We recently created sandy areas in two more paddocks for horses to lay down comfortably, one for four older residents and one for our famous Sutter, a 32-year-old stallion (Return to Freedom ambassador Sutter is the first horse born wild on the range named to the Horse Stars Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was the ASPCA's first Horse of the Year honoree).

Imagine the wide range of experiences of a horse born in the wild and living his or her golden years here with us. If only we all spoke the same language, what a conversation that would be! Sara with the help of volunteers, makes sure that Sutter and KC and other domesticated seniors receive essential oil rubdowns and other pain management, grooming and attention.

In the last few months, we moved some of the older horses in the front paddock in order for them to live together, sort of an old timers’ club. We also transported 8 horses from the SLO satellite for special feeding and care, and relocated others within the sanctuary to more compatible locations.  130 horses also had their hooves trimmed in our padded hydraulic squeeze chute. If you’ve ever watched this process, you know it takes strength and patience. Imagine doing it 130 times!

Although we are a Sanctuary and not an adoption organization, there are occasionally some horses who are deemed to be good candidates for rehoming. Other work in recent months included training nine horses to prepare them for adoption, and carefully adopting out ten horses.

A large ranch needs constant attention, so the Sanctuary grounds got lots of attention too. The road into the ranch is long and winding, and got some needed repairs. This is the road used to bring hay, water, feed, veterinarians, volunteers, guests, and staff into the sanctuary, so the impact is significant! We also created some gravel roads along the fences for better access to the pastures. In preparation for our summer program season, volunteers and staff repaired and painted parts of barns and stalls, painted outside tables and benches, fixed the front paddocks and the back barn’s main entrance, and trimmed trees around the ranch. Whew! 

Just as we’re always busy, we are always grateful to our supporters, without whom all the work and care just described would be impossible. In our 20th year, we remain clear that the good people who make this work possible are beside us in spirit as we protect and care for our precious residents here at the American Wild Horse Sanctuary while we continue our advocacy work to protect wild horses and burros on the range. Thank you for caring so deeply and for following our progress down RTF’s long and important trail.

Until next time,

All of us at RTF


KC, Photo credit: Tony Stromberg
KC, Photo credit: Tony Stromberg
Dolly, Sheldon Refuge mare
Dolly, Sheldon Refuge mare


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Nov 22, 2017
Your Support Takes the Fight Beyond the Sanctuary

By Jack Carone | Board Member

Aug 23, 2017
We're Not Just Horsing Around - Look What You've Helped Us Achieve!

By Andrea Wogsland | Development

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Project Leader:
Jack Carone
Lompoc , CA United States
$377,841 raised of $1,000,000 goal
7,343 donations
$622,159 to go
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