Protecting America’s Wildhorses
A powerful symbol of strength, grace and freedom, wild horses have been revered throughout the ages. Possessing a spirit of unbridled liberty, these magnificent creatures hold a transcendent quality that is truly inspiring to anyone who sees them. Surviving and evolving in North America for over 60 million years, today wild horses are under threat due to human interference.
Only 200 years ago, the western landscape was home to a thriving population of over two million wild horses. Sadly, fewer than 32,000 wild horses roam the land freely today, while an additional 50,000 have been captured and live in government facilities. The dwindling numbers of these majestic creatures are largely due to aggressive wild horse removal policies that herd horses off their native grounds. Every year, the federal government uses low flying helicopters to stampede thousands of wild horses into pens to clear the public lands for commercial interests. These roundups are severely inhumane and sometimes result in injuries, abortion, trauma and death.
Outraged by the abhorrent treatment of these animals, a number of non-profit organizations advocate for change. Among them is Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary, which is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of wild horses through preservation, sanctuary and education.
Founded in 1997 by Neda DeMayo and her family, Return to Freedom was created as a model to explore non-invasive management solutions that could be implemented on the range. The sanctuary, located in Santa Barbara County, California, provides a safe haven to almost 400 wild horses and burros Conserving threatened genetic strains through its rare breed conservation program, as well as offering a wide array of experiential tours, programs and international volun-tourism, Return to Freedom has made an undeniable impact.
The first sanctuary to focus on rescuing entire family bands and relocating them intact to its refuge, Return to Freedom manages wild horses using a non-hormonal reversible wildlife contraception vaccine. The program, operated under the guidance of Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, Director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, MT, allows the horses to remain together in their social bands, relatively undisturbed, while still managing the population growth.
Featured in print and TV internationally, Return to Freedom has inspired high profile celebrities to help bring awareness to the issue.
In 2004, Return to Freedom consolidated support for its advocacy efforts by creating the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign as a vehicle for grassroots organizing and a unified voice for the wild horse issue. The Campaign is now supported by a coalition of more than 50 organizations and leads a dynamic grassroots advocacy movement.
“To date the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign has garnered support from over 70,000 Americans including Return To Freedom supporters, Robert Redford, Carole King, Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Wendie Malick, Ali MacGraw, Betty White and other luminaries. It generated ‘one of the largest citizen uprisings ever seen on Facebook,’ with thousands of messages in support of wild horses and burros posted on the Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) Facebook page,” said Suzanne Roy, Campaign Director.
Among the celebrities supporting Return To Freedom’s efforts, Noah Wyle is a prominent voice. Perhaps best known for his role as Dr. John Carter on ER, Wyle is a passionate advocate for animal causes, rescuing animals on his ranch in California and lending his voice to protection of our most vulnerable wildlife. In addition, Wyle is a longtime supporter of Return to Freedom. “I am profoundly impressed by the scope of Return To Freedom’s work. Founder Neda DeMayo’s passion for wild horses and tireless efforts are inspiring and moved me to get involved with the sanctuary by helping to publicize her cause.”
“The horse’s true nature runs deep, millions of years of natural instinct that 6,000 years of domestication cannot begin to erase. A social mammal, horses suffer when their family and social bands are separated and destroyed as a result of roundups and current management policies. The impacts can only be compared to the stress and upheavals that humans experience in families fractured and cultures devastated by war and natural disasters,” says Noah Wyle.
Return to Freedom is currently creating a larger, self-sustaining Wild Horse Preserve that will expand programs, protection and refuge for wildlife and wild horses maintained in their natural family bands. The preserve is the next step for inspiring a multi-faceted approach to humane solutions that can be applied both off and on the range in the American West. This approach could save millions of taxpayer dollars as well as minimize or even eliminate the need for devastating roundups.