Meet Morning Bird
In 2006, before they came to Return to Freedom’s Sanctuary, Morning Bird gave birth to Yellow Knife. She is still close to Yellow Knife. The generational bonds within the Choctaw herd are strong and deep — the education and nurturing is very visible and active between the horses throughout the herd.
The Choctaw Indian Pony was an integral part of Choctaw tribal culture, spirituality, and heritage. This tough, small horse lived through struggles and tragedies with the tribe, including the forced relocation of the Choctaw and Cherokee peoples known as the “Trail of Tears.” The sturdy Choctaw pony carried the ill and infirm on their backs along the Trail of Tears. For decades the tribal people would hide these treasured ponies in the hills to prevent their extermination.
Today, their pure descendants are part of a conservation program founded by the late Gilbert Jones on Black Jack Mountain, Oklahoma in an effort to preserve their unique color genetics, temperament and heritage. Since the 1950’s, Gilbert Jones pioneered a conservation program for Spanish mustangs including the ‘Hidalgo horses” and the Choctaw horses.
In 2005, Return to Freedom collaborated with screenwriter John Fusco to launch the Choctaw Horse Conservation Program. Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, who considers this a genetic rescue effort, chose a band of seven mares from Blackjack Mountain to join varnished grey roan tobiano stallion, Chief Iktinike, to form a foundation group to send to Fusco’s Red Road Farm in Vermont. These horses made the trip to Return to Freedom’s Sanctuary in 2008.
Bryant Rickman continues Gilbert Jones’s legacy in Oklahoma. And private conservator programs like Return to Freedom’s also continue this important work.