The majority of the horses who range free at the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary are part of a herd or bachelor band. Some herds arrived together. Others formed after they arrived. Still others found new family members among horses already residing at the Sanctuary. But no matter how they formed, each herd is a closely-knit family or social group, with each member assuming specific duties and responsibilities, and all share a very deep bond.

CALICO HERD

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In 2010, almost 2000 wild horses were captured by the BLM in the Calico Mountain Complex in Northwestern Nevada. Approximately 140 horses died either during or as a result of this roundup. Return to Freedom gave sanctuary to twenty stallions and Seventy-four mares who endured this devastating roundup which shattered their family bands forever. These horses are a testimony to the enduring spirit of the diverse strains of the horses that helped develop our Great Basin Ranchos and mixed with breeds used for the Cavalry. They have adapted to the rugged and remote terrain and returned to a natural state over the last two hundred years.

CERBAT HERD

The presence of the Cerbat mustangs in Arizona goes back hundreds of years, predating white settlement in the area. These graceful horses, who have lived in near-complete isolation, are some of the purest descendents of the Spanish horses brought to North America in the 1500s. The Cerbats live in an inhospitable landscape of peaks, ridges, and canyons, dominated by desert scrub and chaparral, with temperatures ranging from zero degrees in winter to over 105 degrees in the summer and altitudes up to 7000 feet. This tough environment has caused these mustangs, like many others, to develop exceptional agility, endurance, and survival instincts. They display a very uniform conformation, as well as unique blood types, which contribute to their high value for conservation.

CHALLIS HERD

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The horses named after their home range, free range on 154,150 acres of public land in the Challis Herd Management Area in Idaho. The horses are diverse, strong and of good size descended from ranching and mining horses from the 1800s. Nearly 400 wild horses that had roamed this land for generations were chased for miles over rugged terrain by the relentless object in the sky. Driven to a trap site, the herd said goodbye to their home, family bands and freedom, forever. In the summer of 2012, Return to Freedom brought the Challis herd to the safety of the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary. Here they are safe and they are together.

CHOCTAW HERD

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The Choctaw Indian Pony was an integral part of Choctaw tribal culture, spirituality, and heritage. This tough, small horse lived through struggles and tragedies with the tribe, and some carried the ill and infirm on their backs along the Trail of Tears. Today, Return to Freedom manages this special herd with a non-hormonal, reversible birth control. The goal of the program is to steward a diverse and healthy genetic group and collaborate with others to ensure these ancient bloodlines have a place in the future. We have also recently facilitated the establishment of a Choctaw band at The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota.

COLD CREEK HERD

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Nearly 400 wild horses and burros roamed in the Spring Mountains near the small mountain village of Cold Creek, Nevada, only 40 minutes north of the bustling Las Vegas Strip. These horses are the descendants of escapees from the 1800s horse trade, horses apparently abandoned by Native Americans, and horses turned loose by ranchers in the mountains and the valleys of Southern Nevada. The horses are relatively small, but very hardy and have now been habituated to humans by grazing alongside the highway.

HART MOUNTAIN HERD

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Mystic came to us in 1999 from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon along with three other bachelor stallions. As luck would have it, nine mares also arrived at the ranch at about the same time and everyone was soon re-introduced. Herds are established when mares choose their stallions. And just to prove what a looker Mystic really is — all nine of the mares chose him! Now Mystic lives happily at the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary with his nine new wives.

SHELDON HERD

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In 2000, Return to Freedom collaborated with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to relocate more than 50 wild horses in their intact family herds from the the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, a 575,000-acre wilderness in the northeast corner of Nye County, Nevada. The horses, descendent from a combination of draft horses who worked hard to develop ranchos in Nevada’s Great Basin and cavalry horses raised in that region during the 1920s and 1930s, were threatened with a helicopter roundup. Due to pressure from Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary a far more humane horseback roundup was carried out instead.

SULPHUR SPRINGS HERD

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The Sulphur Springs Herd at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary is one of the few to be able to claim direct Spanish Heritage. The pure Sulphurs are of Spanish origin, based on phenotype and blood-typing. Many have distinctive dorsal and leg striping, and resemble the horses painted on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E., along with their Portuguese Sorraias, their Spanish cousins. These horses received their name for the area where they are found, the Sulphur Springs Herd Management Area in the Needle Mountain Range of southwestern Utah. Return to Freedom has two family bands in our Sulphur Springs herd.

VIRGINIA RANGE HERD

The Virginia Range wild horses (Northern Nevada) are the very horses that spurred Nevada’s Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston) on a long, grueling political journey, beginning in the 1950s, to stop cruel atrocities inflicted upon wild horses by unenlightened humans who saw them only as an easy cash crop for slaughter (mustanging) or as objects to satisfy their need for cruel excitement.

WILBUR-CRUCE SPANISH COLONIAL MISSION HERD

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No creature means so much to man as does the horse. The Spanish horses introduced to California and the American southwest are known as the finest in the world. These horses were the first to populate the new world, pre-dating all other breeds. Selective breeding produced three types: the proto-Andalusian, the Jinete, and the Gallego. These strong and reliable horses are direct descendants of Padre Kino’s original herd who arrived in America from Spain in the late 1600s. They are the only known rancher-strain of pure Spanish horses that persists in the southwest.