Anna, my seven-year-old daughter loves horses. When a family weekend trip included a visit to the “Return to Freedom” sanctuary for wild horses and burros she was ecstatic.
Return to Freedom is a non-profit, 300-acre sanctuary near Santa Barbara, California, where families and young people can directly experience America’s remaining wild horses in a natural setting. Wild horses are a living symbol of our country’s heritage.
We jumped out of the car and readied our GlyphGuy backpack with water for the warm day. Suddenly a burro appeared, startling us with his stealth. Anna giggled. “Hello, donkey.” The greeting was returned with a soft nuzzle. The burro’s name was Jasper.
Several other families soon arrived and were also greeted by Jasper. A guide for the sanctuary welcomed everyone and after a few ground rules, we began to meet the horses and burros. We began to learn for ourselves why this place is important.
Many of the horse family groups found refuge at Return to Freedom after being displaced from public lands in the west. The Sanctuary provides a safe haven for wild horses, herds, and burros who might otherwise be separated, slaughtered, abused, or left to roam without food or water. Anna met several horses, Flicka and Ginger, who were only minutes from being destroyed before finding refuge at Return to Freedom.
In the afternoon a visit near a herd of about forty wild horses allowed us to rest and let the horses approach us.
A Kiger Mustang stallion is the most famous resident at Return to Freedom. ‘Spirit” was the inspiration for the animated DreamWorks film, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”.
Jasper always made sure no one got too far away from the group. When it was time to leave it was Jasper who led Anna up to the visitors center.
Anna said goodbye to the horses she had met; she gave Jasper a big hug around his neck, “Thank you, Jasper, for being such a great host.” This inquisitive and gentle donkey had become one of Anna’s new best friends.
All of us left with a deeper appreciation for why places are needed for free-ranging horses and burros. This place was more than a sanctuary; it is a reminder of our own heritage and freedom.
Learn more about Return to Freedom: www.returntofreedom.org.