“There is nothing more important than a good, safe, secure home.”–Rosalynn Carter
Freedom is precious and often comes at a price. But losing it is the highest price one can pay. That’s why more than 20 years ago I named our mission to protect America’s wild horses and burros Return to Freedom, to do what we can to give back some of what these wild-and-free herd communities lose when captured, even as we work to protect those still on the range and in government holding facilities.
Each of our sanctuary residents has a story. Today, I’m missing Sutter, a longtime RTF resident—and my best friend. His story represents tens of thousands of nameless wild horses—especially stallions—who suffer during and after their tragic capture.
Sadly, on the morning of Oct. 8, 2018, we said goodbye to our palomino stallion with a heart of pure gold. Sutter was 32 years old when he took his last breath.
In 1987, Sutter was ripped from his herd and his range on the Calico Mountain Complex in Nevada when he was not even two years old—just a baby, really. After a year of severe mistreatment, falsely labeled “dangerous,” he was returned to the BLM to be destroyed.
Thankfully, a hero stepped between Sutter and death. In 2002, Sutter came to live at RTF’s Sanctuary where he educated thousands of people about our misunderstood wild mustangs, and particularly stallions.
It’s important to understand the role and basic nature of the stallion, wild or domestic, because their bold and strong hormone-driven behaviors often target them for abuse. At RTF, we love all of our residents, but today, the stallions are especially in my mind and heart.
In 2010, after the infamous Calico roundup of nearly 2,000 horses, RTF rescued 74 mares and 20 stallions. These horses came from the very Herd Management Area where Sutter was born and captured, and they would not have been saved but for our loyal supporters.
Then, in 2016, the ASPCA chose 30-year-old Sutter as the recipient of their 2016 Horse of The Year Award. The following year, the EQUUS Horse Stars Hall of Fame inducted Sutter, along with four other horses, for their “inspirational and life-changing impact on people.”
And although you have many challenges of your own, you unselfishly have helped us avert many tragedies for thousands of wild horses. Taking on this mission alone would be impossible. But, you found Return to Freedom and the dream became bigger. We grew stronger together.
Over the past three years, RTF has engaged in discussions with a diverse group of public land stakeholders (all with divergent opinions), to build support for non-lethal, humane management methods and steer BLM away from almost 50 years of tragic, costly roundups as the primary tool to manage wild horse and burro population. Already, this long-overdue dialogue has helped shift BLM towards fertility control and away from mass euthanasia and unrestricted sales (to slaughter).
These are only first steps. There is more work to do.
We battle in the halls of Congress to end horse slaughter and unrestricted sales, inhumane surgical sterilization of mares, and other catastrophic management choices. We have been working to educate legislators on non-lethal alternatives to BLM’s wild horse and burro management and steer the agency away from unending roundups. Our public lands are managed under a multiple-use mandate, under the law. We continue to oppose the fact that our wild horses and burros are considered last and consistently scapegoated for negative impact to rangelands while refusing to consider the harm caused by the other uses such as private livestock grazing, energy exploration, and public recreation.
We will never give up the fight to secure a fairer share of the range and a more reasonable population target for wild horses and burros.
As always, we invite you, our dedicated donors and supporters, to contact us directly if you have any questions or concerns. Even though our shared goal is simple and straightforward, the challenges our wild horse nation faces on our public lands involve a complex web of laws and politics. The horses need us to stand up for them, their freedom and their herd communities.
Despite the cruelty he endured at the hands of humans at the beginning of his life, Sutter remained to the end a stallion whose curiosity about the world around him and strength of spirit allowed him to see the goodness in people. He taught the thousands of adults and children he met about forgiveness and about trust. He embodied a lesson I am holding close to my heart, now more than ever: With time, love — not anger — wins out.
With you on our team, we will see the day when these living symbols of freedom, like Sutter, have their own freedom assured, now and into a brighter future. We will never abandon them.
In honor of Sutter please make the most generous gift you can today to care for the 465 wild horses and 51 burros who live at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary and to continue our work to protect our nation’s wild and domestic horses from slaughter
Thank you for being there and caring so deeply. Without you, there would be no us.
For my dear friend Sutter, his wild horse nation, and those who stand with them.
Founder and President, Return to Freedom