The Return to Freedom Team
Founder and President
Neda DeMayo, president and founder of Return to Freedom, has worked for over twenty years on wild horse and burro issues with a focus on solutions, and is a recognized authority on wild horse behavior. Neda works nationally to elevate the status of America’s wild horse and burros through advocacy, education, media, programs, and events.
With a vision to create a sanctuary model to explore minimally invasive wild horse management that could be viable on the range, she founded Return to Freedom in 1997. She speaks at national press conferences, educational venues, rotary clubs, public and private venues, and she has held government contracts to remove horses on horseback to sanctuary so they would not be dispersed or slaughtered.
Neda has also been a hired consultant for a feasibility study for a large preserve in the state of New Mexico. In 2004, after a trek into some of Nevada’s public land Herd Management Areas (HMAs), Neda founded the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) to protect the free-ranging lifestyle of America’s wild horses on the range for generations to come as part of our national heritage.
She recruited attorney Virginie Parant to help her create a coalition of a diverse range of public interest groups, animal welfare and environmental organizations, to share a unified voice and coalition to support America’s wild horses and burros on federal and state lands. The AWHPC was conceived, not as a new group nor a fundraising entity, but as a united platform to engage a firm grassroots base.
In 1998, Neda began developing Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary on a 300-acre ranch located in the rolling, coastal hills of Lompoc, California. With the help of family, friends, and volunteers, she was able to launch a model for minimally intrusive wild horse management and ecotourism to build a small support base. After a few years, Return to Freedom was able to hire staff and, with limited funding, maintain a high standard of equine care and ranch management. The facility, once run down and used for chicken breeding and cattle, has been transformed into a humble but enchanting sanctuary and educational center hosting over 1,000 guests annually and reaching tens of thousands of people every year through advocacy, programs, and events.natural management of wild horses utilizing Native PZP fertility control, a method that has allowed the sanctuary to maintain horses in their natural social bands.
Neda is currently focused on strengthening Return to Freedom’s educational programs on and off the range, and establishing a self-sustaining Wild Horse and Burro Conservancy and Wilderness Preserve with the support of the RTF Board of Directors and friend and actor Robert Redford.
Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator
Cory Golden is a Nebraska native with more than 20 years of experience as a reporter. For the Bellevue Leader (NB), The Lincoln Journal Star (NB), and The Davis Enterprise (CA) newspapers and other publications, he wrote about a wide range of subjects, including environmental issues, politics, courts, education, agriculture, public safety, and sports. He later spent two years working both as a policy analyst and in member services for the League of California Cities.
Andrea is thrilled to further the work of Return to Freedom’s astounding mission and champion its transformative approach. With 12 years of experience in her field in California and New York, Andrea conducts planning for environmental projects. While living in San Francisco, she joined The Nature Conservancy’s Philanthropy department, which raises the largest amount of funds for the CA chapter and other states. She continued her environmental work by performing conservation planning services for an 166 acre equestrian facility and led Design Management Institute’s research program quantifying the strategic value of design in the land conservation industry.
Andrea worked in New York for a conservation driven investing firm where she managed the activities of the Nassau Land Trust, a non profit who manages the closest organic farm to New York City. A member of the International Association of Facilitators, she has expertise and significant involvement working with boards of directors on issues such as land conservation, environmental projects, research, community outreach, branding, succession planning, and investment management.
Andrea attended Parsons the New School for Design in NYC for Business Administration in Design & Management. She is a Project Partner with Southwest Strategies LLC, a Top Public Affairs firm in California. Presently she serves on the board of Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, a cooperative agency with CA State Parks. In 2016 she received an award for her contributions to restoration projects from Earth Discovery Institute. On her days away, she enjoys sharing her love of the outdoors with others.
Equine Management Consultant
Shelly comes to RTF with a strong background in the equine competitive world. An accomplished Equine Specialist with over 35 years training horses and humans. Shelly is a nationally recognized trainer in multiple diciplines including; cutting, cow horse, eventing and jumping. For the past 10 years her focus has been on allowing horses to live in as natural an environment as possible. She understands that while physical health and wellness is important for horses, mental and emotional health is key.
Shelly is well rounded in education, experience and understanding in all aspects of the horse industry and project management.
Shelly is a Certified Reiki Master, equine massage and soft tissue therapist, Shelly has facilitated seminars based on Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals and is also Certified in Equine Facilitated Learning and Coaching.
Paulin and his brother, Merced, have been the rock of maintaining the daily operations of the sanctuary for over 10 years. They make it look easy. They know the horses and pace themselves with confidence and good humor.
Celeste is a biologist who started her career studying marine ecology at University of California, Santa Cruz. She spent years working with marine mammals and invertebrates along the California and Oregon coasts. Environmental outreach and science education were a large part of her focus while working for one of the National Estuary Research Reserve and Oregon State Parks. Her passion for horses eventually outweighed her love of marine mammals and she returned to Oregon State University to acquire a post-baccalaureate degree in Animal Science with an equine emphasis.
Celeste first joined Return to Freedom’s team in 2005 as our Equine and Program Coordinator. In 2010, she was trained by the late Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick at the Science and Conservation Center and has managed Return to Freedom’s PZP program ever since.
Celeste enjoys the combination of education, horses, and meaningful scientific work towards the best in-the-wild management we have available today. With one foot squarely planted in the world of science and another in the world of horse conservation, she keeps Einstein’s definition of insanity at the forefront of her work:
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? It just doesn’t cut it. We have to keep the adage in mind that science stands upon the shoulders of giants: What have we learned, what information is new, what options are truly on the table, and where do we go from there?”
Donor Database Management
Karen worked on horse ranches and farms in her younger years. As an adult she enjoyed a long career in banking. A few years ago, Karen began her relationship with Return to Freedom as an office volunteer.
She joined the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary staff as Office Manager in 2011. Karen has a profound love for all animals and enjoys working with them. She is particularly devoted to the ranch cats and at any given time you will see a few of them lounging on various perches around her office!
Farrier and Asst. to Ranch Foreman
Return to Freedom welcomed Elric Glover to our ranch and equine team in December 2015. Elric was born and raised in Arkansas. Shortly after high school, he joined the Marines where he served five years of honorable service. Upon his discharge, he moved to Santa Barbara.
Elric’s passion for horses and hard work led him to attend Bob Smith’s Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School. There he worked with some of the industry’s top farriers and horsemen. After graduation, he completed a year of apprenticeship and is now working at Return to Freedom.
Elric is continuing to develop his skill in natural barefoot trimming. Elric assists in managing daily operations to ensure the success of Return to Freedom’s Mission.
Webmaster and Social Media
From an undercover agent for the New Jersey SPCA, to a lobbyist for animal protective legislation in every state she has ever lived in, to hands-on rescue of wild and slaughter-bound horses, to magazine and web site publishing, to serving on the board and advisory boards of various organizations (including Return to Freedom), Laura has been an activist for animals for 45-plus years.
In 1986, Laura founded The Animals Voice, an international animal rights magazine still in print today, and designs and maintains its web site. She currently holds positions with The Animals Voice, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary, and Animal Guardians (as an International Ambassador).
Laura was inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame in 2004. Together with her then husband and friend of 30 years, Jim Clapp, she rescued 236 wild horses in 1998 from the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Thirty of the horses they rescued found their way (with Neda DeMayo’s help and insistence) to Return to Freedom in their original family bands. Click here to learn about RTF’s Hart Mountain Herd.
To read more about Laura, visit The Animals Voice.