On the Central California coast, near a tiny beach called Jalama, is a 300-acre wild horse sanctuary called Return to Freedom. I visited this amazing sanctuary over the weekend with friends, and came away awed and moved by the wild horses that live freely in the hills there, protected for the rest of their lives.
Founded by Neda DeMayo in 1997, the non-profit Return to Freedom supports more than 275 horses in half-a-dozen distinct wild horse bands rescued from government roundups throughout the West.
Despite what many people believe, the American wild horse faces continued threats. Legislation meant to protect these horses has been diluted over the years and government roundups continue. Younger animals are sold, many to brokers who in turn sell them to slaughterhouses in Mexico. Older horses end up spending the rest of their lives in government holding pens. Many die of abuse or starvation. This program costs American taxpayers $100 million a year.
There are other wild horse rescue groups, but Return to Freedom is unique in that it strives to rescue genetically connected or bonded groups of horses. It is also a founding organization of The American Wild Horse Conservancy, which is raising money to buy larger plots of land to protect bands of wild horses for many generations to come.
You can visit Return to Freedom year-round (visit the website for information). The sanctuary also offers an experiential education program, works to change policies related to the wild horse population, and offers youth programs where kids can learn about the horses and volunteer. If you live anywhere nearby, I urge you to visit Return to Freedom. And if you can help support it (hay alone costs more than $30,000 per month), consider making a donation. (They also have an awesome gift shop!)
Special thanks to Connie Weinsoff, Return to Freedom’s director of education and programs, for taking us on an extraordinary and eye-opening tour of the sanctuary.