In 1998, I started Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary with a focus on keeping bonded social and family bands together. Utilizing a non-hormonal and reversible fertility control vaccine, we were able to maintain stallion harem bands while controlling population growth. The sanctuary has served as a model to explore minimally intrusive management that has been the foundation of our educational and advocacy platform for the past 24 years. To say “home is where the herd is,” could not be truer for these sensitive social, sentient mammals. Horses live in large herd communities which are made up of smaller family bands and bachelor bands of younger and older stallions without a harem of mares.
That’s why at Return to Freedom fights to keep them together whenever possible. We work hard to reunite those who have had their families torn apart during government roundups. Our role in the recent reunion of three foals taken from their range and families, is strong in our thoughts and hearts right now.
Starting in August 2018 and resuming in October 2020, 1,799 wild and free horses were captured and taken from their home on the range in the Red Desert Complex in Wyoming. Among these hundreds of nameless horses were three sibling foals running for their lives with their family band.
Once trapped, all foals were heartlessly separated from their family and sent to the BLM’s Rock Springs, Wyo., corrals. The adults were sent far away to a Canon City, Colo., facility. A long-time photographer friend of RTF, Meg, had contacted us to see if we could give sanctuary to any of the Red Desert horses if she was successful in keeping some of the beloved family bands together. We said that if there was an opportunity to protect the bonded horses from separation, we would.
The siblings waited in corrals until an adoption event that would seal their fate a few months later. Rosie was just 3 months old when the helicopter chased her family into the traps that would separate them forever. Taken away from their mothers too soon, she and all the other young foals were trying to nurse on each other in the corrals, a sad sight indeed.
In February, sibling fillies Isabelle and Rose and their brother Romeo were among 80 other young horses waiting for the adoption event at BLM’s corrals in Rock Springs Wyoming. Knowing this adoption was a “first-come, first-served” event, photographer Angelique, who has been photographing this herd on the range for years, stood in line from 4 a.m. in 10-degree weather to have the best chance of adopting them together.
Her heart was in her throat with fear that Isabelle, who had become popular in the online horse community, would be adopted alone, dashing her hopes of keeping the siblings together.
But fate was on her side when, after about 30 minutes of paperwork, the two sisters were adopted to her!
But what about Little Romeo?
Isabelle and Rose’s brother had just been gelded, so he was not available for adoption that day. It was painful to imagine leaving him behind. But again, fate stepped in — a kind BLM staffer recognized Romeo from Angelique’s description and pointed him out to her. Another BLM employee let her know that Romeo would be ready for adoption later the next week. On Feb. 25 Romeo was adopted and would soon be reunited with his siblings!
As he left the trailer and made his way to the corral, Romeo began to whinny up a storm…Rose instantly answered him — she knew his greeting and she was so excited to greet her brother!
Thanks to photographers Angelique and Meg, these three siblings, who have walked together since their birth on the range, will find comfort in their bond and safety at the sanctuary.
As you are reading this, we are working hard to find the mares and stallion of this bonded family band and reunite them at the sanctuary. We will know more next week!
We at RTF continue to do everything possible to give back what we can to these horses who have lost so much. The reunited foal family is a well-loved addition to our larger one.
We know you share our sadness at the tragedy that brought this little family to us, but we hope you also share our joy that they are together again, safe at the sanctuary. With every day that passes, their spirits are returning and their confidence is growing.
Only with Your Support can RTF be ready to help.
With gratitude for the wild ones, and those who stand with them…
Neda DeMayo and the RTF Team