Return to Freedom joined other wild horse advocacy and rescue groups in the successful rehoming of 150 Spanish mustangs from Wyoming — including 30 that arrived at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary, near Lompoc, California, on Dec. 8.
The mustangs came from the Cayuse Ranch, founded in 1916 by Wyoming homesteader Bob Brislawn. For decades, the ranch near Oshoto, Wyo., was home to some of the original bloodlines of the horses brought to the Americas by early Spanish explorers.
Brislawn – nicknamed “Mr. Mustang” — made it his mission to preserve the dwindling number of Spanish mustangs on his ranch, helping create the Spanish Mustang Registry in 1957. At its peak in the late 80s, Brislawn maintained 12 family bands living on thousands of acres. The sudden death of Bob’s son, Emmett, in 2010, followed by Bob’s death in 2016, left the weight of the preservation project on the shoulders of Emmett’s daughter Josie.
When the ranch was sold in 2017, the Brislawns quietly put the call out to help find the herd a new place to roam, and several groups answered.
“Relocating hundreds of Mustangs from a large ranch is a monumental undertaking and every single member of this focused group did all they could to make it possible,” said Neda DeMayo, founder of RTF.
Adam Edwards of PaHa Ponies and The Spanish Mustang Foundation worked tirelessly with the Brislawns to undertake this effort throughout 2017. They were joined this year by RTF, CANA Foundation, Cranio-Connection, Reach Out to Horses, Spanish Mustang Preserve and Zuma’s Rescue Ranch to help rehome the herd in order to ensure that they would not be at risk.
Lorraine Campbell and Kelly Moore of Colorado made a series of trips to the Cayuse Ranch to provide Edwards with hands-on help. After two years, the herd has been relocated to new homes, including 25 that stayed with PaHa Ponies, 60 placed at the Spanish mustang preserve in Bayfield, Wisc., and the 30 that came to RTF’s sanctuary.
“We were asked to help because of RTF’s interest in preserving threatened strains of the American mustang,” DeMayo said. “The Brislawn herd, along with Gilbert Jones’s Spanish mustang conservation efforts, now overseen by Bryant Rickman, are the last stronghold for the legacy of the original Spanish horses that arrived to the continent in the 1500s. They represent the foundation of the mustang in America.”
RTF is committed to conserving the rare and diverse bloodlines that define the American mustang. RTF’s Rare Breed Program also includes, for example, a small number of Choctaw ponies: a 100% pure tribal strain that originally arrived with Hernando DeSoto in the 1500s and carried the Choctaw and Cherokee on the Trails of Tears. These early strains carry with them unique genetic markers.
The newly arrived mustangs in RTF’s care are mainly mares, some of which are pregnant, along with nursing and weanling fillies and colts, and two stallions. The group of Spanish mustangs – tough little horses, most measuring no more than about 14 hands — includes horses with roots tracing back to the wild horses of the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona and Choctaw ponies. They show a variety of colors, including grulla, true black, sabino, buckskin and dun.
Since arriving at RTFs sanctuary from Wyoming in their shaggy winter coats, the mustangs have been dewormed and are receiving top-quality hay grass and alfalfa, as well as salts and minerals. The group will be entered into the sanctuary’s database, and the mares will receive fertility control.
RTF has secured permanent pasture for the mustangs and their legacy.
In total, RTF cares for nearly 500 wild horses and 40 burros at four locations. That includes the Gila herd, now numbering about 120 horses, which arrived in 2017 as part of a 900-horse rescue.
RTF’s commitment to the rehoming of the Spanish mustangs from Wyoming prior to the U.S. Forest Service’s announcement that it would sell captured older animals captured during a helicopter roundup at the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California “without limitation” – without prohibitions against slaughter. The Forest Service made that announcement after the roundup had begun and years after the public comment period for the 2013 planning documents for the roundup.
RTF has joined a coalition of animal welfare advocates in a lawsuit to stop the Forest Service from selling captured wild horses without any restrictions which makes them vulnerable to suffering abuse and being sold for slaughter.
Although RTF has not been able to take horses from the recent Devil’s Garden roundup, RTF continues to provide assistance to supporters interested in purchasing or adopting horses from Devils Garden.