Return to Freedom: Gone But Not Forgotten

Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary is home for the wild horses, wildlife, and other animals who have found refuge here. Their presence creates a transformative quality which touches all who visit. As our cherished friends and teachers move on to greener pastures, we celebrate and honor them and what they taught us.


Est. DOB 1984. Captured 1998. Died October 31, 2014.

As we approach the holiday I want to share some sad news, but also gratitude.

Mystic, one of our ambassador stallions left this world to run in the next. He was approximately 30 years old. It is painful to know he is no longer here in the hills, but many of us share 16 years of memories with him and for that time we are forever grateful.

Mystic was one of the first stallions to arrive at Return to Freedom in 1999. He was captured during the total removal of 279 horses from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in Oregon.

RIP, Mystic. I love you so much. You made this dream a reality. We see you. We honor you.

—Neda DeMayo, Founder, Return to Freedom

Pictures of Our Beloved Mystic


Jacobi is the first foal born to a young Choctaw mare named Francis Ma Con A Qua (Little Bear). Born premature in a torrential rainstorm, this tiny new foal was abandoned by his mother for a few hours after birth. Though new babies generally begin their lives with their herd, Jacobi was shaking with cold and so fragile that RTF staff decided to bring him and his mare into a deeply bedded stall in our vet barn.

We watched them closely and after 5 uncertain days, Jacobi showed signs of improvement and began to walk and run along side his mother. He enjoyed a short but happy life in the Choctaw herd pasture as a healthy and willful young colt. Like his ancestors, who carried the Choctaw and Cherokee people along the Trail of Tears, Jacobi had a strong heart and courageous spirit.


Comanche was a very special, paint mustang that came to the Return to Freedom Sanctuary in 2001. Rescued many years before that by a very special woman named Maggie Dumais, Comanche’s life was not always very happy. He endured many hardships before being rescued.

When Maggie brought him to live out his senior years at our sanctuary, he quickly became a beloved member of the RTF family of horses. He spent his summers grazing and enjoying the company of his herdmates in our south pasture. His incredible kindness and gentle demeanor with children made him the perfect horse for our youth at risk programs. Many young guests had an unforgettable experience grooming and bathing him, walking him or just stroking his soft muzzle.

In February of 2009, Comanche passed in the comfort of his winter paddock, with his best pal Marilyn at his side.


Sonora was one of the original horses discovered and gathered from the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch in Southern Arizona when it was sold in 1990. She was an extremely intelligent and cautious mare who displayed sophisticated leadership ability and was respected within her herd. She passed on her wise and discerning nature to her daughter, Isadora-Cruce.

Sonora died in a fluke lightning storm when Isadora was four years old. After some disorientation, the herd reorganized and Colorada (Ines’s mother) took on the leadership role for the small band.


Wilbur won the heart of everyone who met him, and as he meandered outside our ranch offices and barn area, he easily earned the honorary title of Mayor of RTF.

Wilbur, in younger days, with Cayuse and Cayuse’s mare, Millie.
Wilbur was over 30 years old and lived happily in the rolling hills at Return to Freedom’s Sanctuary since 1999. He was one of Return to Freedom’s first residents and arrived with a mare we named Dignity. Both mustangs were rescued from a feedlot where they were discarded after they had been adopted from the BLM. Just 12 hours before they would have been shipped from the filthy holding pen to the nightmare of a slaughterhouse death, we jumped in. We just wouldn’t let that happen.

Wilbur joined Cayuse’s harem band and was the stallion’s “right hand horse” for over a decade. He would gallantly escort mares to the water trough while Cayuse remained behind and holding court with his other mares.

About 4 years ago, Wilbur began to need more special care and feed, and we brought him to the main barn area where he was often seen free-grazing all day, never straying far from his beloved Antonia, a beautiful senior Spanish mustang mare. With only a few teeth left, Antonia needs to eat feed soaked in warm water.

Over the past two years, Wilbur had a few hard days when he needed some help getting up. Once up, though, he always rallied and would trot off to be near his friends. He stood outside the feed room door while our Equine Manager prepared the special feeds. While she pretended not to notice, he’d take a few bites from everyone’s buckets before heading over to eat his own! This little ritual helped him pick up more weight and he really seemed to enjoy the variety of the morning buffet!

Sadly, one recent Monday he just could not get up. We tried everything we could to get our old friend up one more time, but he just no longer had it in him. As heartbreaking as it was for us, Wilbur had a very peaceful send-off, while gazing at Antonia, standing watch over her soulmate from just a few feet away. All of us who loved him were quietly present as our kind vet helped him leave his failing body. He went instantly and easily, but the tears are still in our eyes.

R.I.P., beautiful boy.

Remembering Some of Our Other Friends, Too