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 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 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.
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.