Animal Stories from

From Return to Freedom

July 2013

In 1998 the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed all of the wild horses that ranged on the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. While their decision was irreversible, Return to Freedom was able to at least offer a safe haven to many of them, and brought entire family bands in tact to the sanctuary.

Cayuse stallion wild horse

Cayuse was a proud and capable young stallion at the time, in the prime of his life. He leadhis herd with wisdom and measured strength. One of my earliest memories of my 8 years with Return to Freedom is of Cayuse. I was leading a group of visitors on a hike to see the herds. Cayuse and his band, who shared the hillsides with other family bands, were among the herds we visited. I recall explaining that there were several stallions living relatively peacefully along side one another, due in part because there was enough space to work out their differences and respect boundaries, but also due to the incredible leadership of the lead stallions that roamed that hillside. That day Cayuse illustrated my point. (Above: Cayuse, a handsome bay stallion, grooming Millie - one of the mares in his band)
While I was talking, Cayuse's young colt Samir was busying himself by trying to lure a mare away from another nearby stallion. Samir was young - and not at all ready for the role he was trying to claim. Cayuse watched his son and for a while did nothing. There was a lesson to be learned here and one day Samir would need to be able to win over mares if he would have a herd of his own. Cayuse watched until finally the older stallion named Kabir had had enough of the youngster and engaged him in a challenge. In that moment Cayuse swiftly and purposefully broke into a gallop across the hill. In beautiful precision of motion and purpose, Cayuse placed himself between the standoff and herded his young son back to his own band. He expended no more or no less energy than he needed to end the fight that was about to happen. A fight his son would surely have lost and paid for in flesh. It was leadership personified, a father telling a son "today is not your day".  

Now, 15 years after Cayuse's arrival at Return to Freedom, command of his herd has been passed on to Samir. Time and age have left their mark on the once powerful stallion, and today his days are spent gently grazing with a couple of old friends, enjoying the senior mash we give him to compensate for teeth that are no longer as adept at grinding down their forage. (Right: His glossy coat and muscular build have given way to grey hairs and a tired gaze, but Cayuse still enjoys nibbling the grass in spring and time spent with his herd mates).

Cayuse stallion wild horse
In the wild, Cayuse would likely already be dead. Nature offers no handouts when age and weakness set in. The loss of his freedom and his wild home is something we could never give back to Cayuse, but we gave him a life as close to it as possible, and now that his body is old and tired, our one last gift - - a small offering in exchange for what he lost - - is the gift of a comfortable life for the rest of his days.
Cayuse is only one of our mighty herd leaders who is reaching the sunset of their lives. It has been an honor to watch them live out the roles they were born to live. But their care, now that they require special feeds, vet care and daily attention is a cost that has taken a huge toll on Return to Freedom. We rarely dip below $20,000 in our debt to our equine vet, and our special feeds bill is tripling as so many of our earliest residents age. The cost to care for our seniors is astronomical but how can we not do everything we can to make their final chapter a good one?
Will you help us care for our most vulnerable horses? They gave their all to their families for years. Now it is time for someone to take care of them. Will you help us do that?
I ask for your support for horses that not only deserve the best care we can provide, but horses that all of us here care for deeply. I ask for your compassion and generosity on behalf of Cayuse, and the others here like him so that we can provide for them while they live out their days free of suffering or fear.

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