By Wendy Wilkinson Photographs by Ken Amorosano
Through his mane and tail the high wind sings,
fanning the hairs who wave like feather’d wings
~ William Shakespeare
Although sanctuary and preservation are the primary focus of Return to Freedom, education is high on founder Neda DeMayo’s agenda. The Sanctuary was created as a model to explore natural herd management solutions that can be applied on the range to preserve threatened populations of the American mustang, and is also an environment where youth can directly experience America’s wild horses in a natural setting. Within nature’s classroom, the wild horse herds educate young people about our cultural and national heritage through the story of America’s wild horses.
RTF is open at two locations: in Lompoc (Northern Santa Barbara County) and San Luis Obispo, California, offering guided tours and Photo Safaris for individuals or small groups. Guests are invited to photograph and observe the diverse strains of the American mustang living in natural family “bands” and meet “ambassador” horses like Spirit, the Kiger mustang stallion who was the muse for Dreamwork’s 2002 animated feature film Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, and Isadora-Cruce, Breyer Model Horses,’ 2010 Mustang model.
“Our education is based on letting visitors learn from non-intrusive herd observations and immersion,” DeMayo explains. “Visitors are more than welcome to roll up their sleeves, jump on the feed truck and help the staff throw hay and help out with ranch projects. Or you can spend an entire afternoon on a private ‘Journey Herd Immersion’ learning directly from wild horses. You’ll be invited to deepen your understanding of natural horse behavior and herd social dynamics and get acquainted with herd histories, wild horse management, new research, and other preservation issues.
“The programs at the Sanctuary are designed to awaken our instinctual intelligence and connection to the natural world so that we may all participate in restoring balance to ourselves, those around us and the environment that sustains us all,” she says. “For things to change, a new human being must emerge. Stories of each horse at the sanctuary are emblematic of tens of thousands more; a testimony to why we remain committed to working on solutions to protect America’s remaining wild horses.
“As stewards of the world, I believe we have a responsibility to maintain a healthy balance between our desires and the needs of other creatures and the environment.”
“We have a responsibility to maintain a healthy balance between our desires and the needs of other creatures and the environment.”
~Neda DeMayo, Founder of Return to Freedom