When we think about a horse sanctuary, we picture large numbers of horses roaming the pastures in groups, living naturally and peacefully within their bonded bands, cared for by loving hands.
While this is very true, we can never forget that these herds and family bands are made up of individuals of various ages, each with their own personalities and needs, especially as they get older. This brings to mind our treasured Amante, a senior Cerbat stallion at Return to Freedom, a real visitor favorite, who is also getting up there in age. We’ll say more about him in a minute…
RTF’s challenges increase with time. Now in our 25th year, with many of our residents here since the beginning, we have a growing population of older horses like Amante. We have over 100 horses in their mid-20s to early 30s. Our burro Fuzzy lived to be 38, and the beloved Peru lived to 42. As horses age, they need increasing levels of care. Many are at that stage right now.
RTF is about living a good life for as long as possible. We give these older horses every reasonable and kind chance to do that, as long as we can keep them comfortable and happy, but we won’t prolong suffering without a chance for recovery. We do say goodbye reluctantly when that is the kindest thing to do, but we don’t give up on any life prematurely. After the loss and tears, empty ground is soon walked upon by new life or new rescues, and the work continues.
But it’s understandable for those not standing right here on the ground to forget that once the cheering has faded, the rescue of a horse—or often, an entire herd—doesn’t end when the headlines do. Taking on an animal who may live for another two decades—or more— is a lifetime commitment, and we have done it hundreds of times. Unless the strong flame which ignited the rescue in the first place continues to burn, the rescue is an illusion, nothing but ashes. These rescued horses need to stay rescued, and we’ve worked very hard for 25 years to make it happen—but only with the help of many others, like you, who feel as we do.
In 25 years, we have never been this worried—no one saw this coming. We have been hit hard by a huge unprecedented rise in hay prices. Our cost has exploded from $250 per ton to $450 per ton in one year! On top of that, suppliers can’t even keep up with demand. Finding good hay has become like searching for gold—green gold. Having the cash in hand is the best way to find it and make the best deal we can under these tough circumstances. Money talks, but after two devastating years for everyone, we are short of it.
Let’s go back to our friend, Amante. Most likely a remnant of Spanish horses brought to the New World in the 1800s, he was captured from a wooded range behind Kingsman, AZ. The enterprising Amante had been stealing mares from nearby ranches! At the behest of the exasperated ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) captured him, and tried to train this rare stallion to be a mascot. But the independent stallion had other ideas, and eventually put three wranglers in the hospital. They could not bend his will to theirs, and he let them know it!
Then, a kind RTF donor adopted Amante, who was now labeled “dangerous,” from BLM’s online auction. Our founder Neda DeMayo picked him up and hauled him home to Return to Freedom’s sanctuary, where he has been a truly amazing band stallion for a small harem of mares since 2003.
Amante, as he relaxed into his new environment, proved to be friendly and kind at RTF, and has become a favorite for thousands of visitors to RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary. Amante is a great dad and teacher to his offspring.
But the calm was shaken—Amante had always been very strong and robust—a stallion’s stallion—but last winter he had a sudden alarming decline. Amante began to lose mobility, and we were horrified to see the mighty stallion begin to stumble and fall... We moved him with one of his mares, Sasha, for emotional support, to a small corral near our handling chute where we did a series of blood panels.
We feared it may be a contagious disease like equine herpes but were relieved when he tested positive for West Nile, for which he had been vaccinated and which is treatable. Still, we had to get our great Amante back to health, and so with constant special care, feed and supplements, Amante is now back with his band of mares and his filly, little Harlowe. But we now know he is not invulnerable, and like a number of our other older residents, he will need special attention and care for the rest of his life.
Amante is so worth it—they all are—but we can’t swing his care and that of the many other precious seniors here without your help—
We have 450 stories to tell, and you can be part of them.
We have faith that the world will spin properly in time and that we will weather any storm in the meantime, but right now, we need help from many people to chip in—anything—so that the hay truck will arrive with nutritious life-sustaining hay, and that the nearly 450 rescued wild horses and burros here will stay rescued, with full bellies, to live out those long happy lives roaming contentedly among their friends and families.
Over the years Return to Freedom has stepped up when emergency rescues were needed. We have taken on large numbers of horses in need each time—12, 30, 70, 116 at a time. Once these horses in need arrive to our sanctuary, that is just the beginning of our responsibility, and we have to work hard each day to provide care and to raise the funds for their feed and care!
Can you please chip in—anything—to make this all possible? We just can’t do it alone.
Thank you for continuing to help us come to their rescue,
To the Wild Ones, and those who stand with (and help feed) them,