The majority of the horses who range free at the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary are part of a herd or bachelor band. Some herds arrived together. Others formed after they arrived. Still others found new family members among horses already residing at the Sanctuary. But no matter how they formed, each herd is a closely-knit family or social group, with each member assuming specific duties and responsibilities, and all share a very deep bond.


In 2010, almost 2000 wild horses were captured by the BLM in the Calico Mountain Complex in Northwestern Nevada. Approximately 140 horses died either during or as a result of this roundup. Return to Freedom gave sanctuary to twenty stallions and Seventy-four mares who endured this devastating roundup which shattered their family bands forever. These horses are a testimony to the enduring spirit of the diverse strains of the horses that helped develop our Great Basin Ranchos and mixed with breeds used for the Cavalry. They have adapted to the rugged and remote terrain and returned to a natural state over the last two hundred years.


In 2017, Return to Freedom rescued 112 Spanish mustangs from impoundment due to neglect and starvation during sub-zero blizzard conditions. Known as “The Gila herd”, the horses were originally captured from the Painted Rock Herd Management Area in Arizona in 2003. In February 2017, in an effort to maintain this herd intact and to reorganize the herd now made of 13 generations, RTF was asked to take 112 Gila horses (including pregnant mares). RTF leased 1000 acres of pasture in Northern California while we: established a database for the horses, provide immediate vet care, hoof care, parasite treatment, vaccines, analyze phenotyping for each horse by Dr. Sponenberg (Pathology, Virginia Tech.), provide DNA to Dr. Gus Cothran (Equine Genetic, Texas A&M) for analysis, geld 50 stallions (maintaining some for possible conservation program), vaccinate 62 mares with non-hormonal fertility control (proven safe and 98% effective after use at our sanctuary for 19 years and on range projects for over 25 years) and move gelded males 1-5 years old to RTF’s Lompoc location for adoption.


The presence of the Cerbat mustangs in Arizona goes back hundreds of years, predating white settlement in the area. These graceful horses, who have lived in near-complete isolation, are some of the purest descendents of the Spanish horses brought to North America in the 1500s. The Cerbats live in an inhospitable landscape of peaks, ridges, and canyons, dominated by desert scrub and chaparral, with temperatures ranging from zero degrees in winter to over 105 degrees in the summer and altitudes up to 7000 feet. This tough environment has caused these mustangs, like many others, to develop exceptional agility, endurance, and survival instincts. They display a very uniform conformation, as well as unique blood types, which contribute to their high value for conservation.


The horses named after their home range, free range on 154,150 acres of public land in the Challis Herd Management Area in Idaho. The horses are diverse, strong and of good size descended from ranching and mining horses from the 1800s. Nearly 400 wild horses that had roamed this land for generations were chased for miles over rugged terrain by the relentless object in the sky. Driven to a trap site, the herd said goodbye to their home, family bands and freedom, forever. In the summer of 2012, Return to Freedom brought the Challis herd to the safety of the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary. Here they are safe and they are together.


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, and some carried the ill and infirm on their backs along the Trail of Tears. Today, Return to Freedom manages this special herd with a non-hormonal, reversible birth control. The goal of the program is to steward a diverse and healthy genetic group and collaborate with others to ensure these ancient bloodlines have a place in the future. We have also recently facilitated the establishment of a Choctaw band at The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota.


Nearly 400 wild horses and burros roamed in the Spring Mountains near the small mountain village of Cold Creek, Nevada, only 40 minutes north of the bustling Las Vegas Strip. These horses are the descendants of escapees from the 1800s horse trade, horses apparently abandoned by Native Americans, and horses turned loose by ranchers in the mountains and the valleys of Southern Nevada. The horses are relatively small, but very hardy and have now been habituated to humans by grazing alongside the highway.


Mystic came to us in 1999 from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon along with three other bachelor stallions. As luck would have it, nine mares also arrived at the ranch at about the same time and everyone was soon re-introduced. Herds are established when mares choose their stallions. And just to prove what a looker Mystic really is — all nine of the mares chose him! Now Mystic lives happily at the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary with his nine new wives.


In 2000, Return to Freedom collaborated with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to relocate more than 50 wild horses in their intact family herds from the the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, a 575,000-acre wilderness in the northeast corner of Nye County, Nevada. The horses are descendants of draft horses who worked hard to develop ranchos in Nevada’s Great Basin and cavalry horses raised in that region during the 1920s and 1930s.


The Sulphur Springs Herd at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary is one of the few to be able to claim direct Spanish Heritage. The pure Sulphurs are of Spanish origin, based on phenotype and blood-typing. Many have distinctive dorsal and leg striping, and resemble the horses painted on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E., along with their Portuguese Sorraias, their Spanish cousins. These horses received their name for the area where they are found, the Sulphur Springs Herd Management Area in the Needle Mountain Range of southwestern Utah. Return to Freedom has two family bands in our Sulphur Springs herd.


The Virginia Range wild horses (Northern Nevada) are the very horses that spurred Nevada’s Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston) on a long, grueling political journey, beginning in the 1950s, to stop cruel atrocities inflicted upon wild horses by unenlightened humans who saw them only as an easy cash crop for slaughter (mustanging) or as objects to satisfy their need for cruel excitement.


No creature means so much to man as does the horse. The Spanish horses introduced to California and the American southwest are known as the finest in the world. These horses were the first to populate the new world, pre-dating all other breeds. Selective breeding produced three types: the proto-Andalusian, the Jinete, and the Gallego. These strong and reliable horses are direct descendants of Padre Kino’s original herd who arrived in America from Spain in the late 1600s. They are the only known rancher-strain of pure Spanish horses that persists in the southwest.


Captured in June 2015, from the Black Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) in Arizona, 12 burros arrived to Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary in July 2015.

Once the adults arrived, four “jennies” had babies born here at the sanctuary! These lucky burros will be able to live out their natural lives, in the safety of their herd and protected at Return to Freedom’s preserve.

This elusive and magical herd enjoy grazing the upper regions of Return to Freedom’s 2000 acre satellite sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, California and fully explore the entire sanctuary which they share with 70 mustangs.

The burros living in the Black Mountain HMA in Arizona are the largest burro herd still remaining in America.

The burros of Black Mountain are treasured and enjoyed by millions of tourists and the local community as they range along the historic route 66 and explore the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona.

At 1.1 million acres, the Black Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) is one of the largest burro HMAs in the U.S. The BLM estimates that the burro population reached more than 2,000 in this area.

In 1996, the BLM’s Black Mountain Ecosystem Plan authorized livestock grazing in the area and established an Appropriate Management Level (AML) for burros of a mere 382-478.

Currently, the BLM estimates the number of burros in Black Mountain to be about 1600 so it is currently a genetically viable healthy wild burro population. Sadly, the BLM wants to reduce the population by 73%, within AML.