Conserving Rare Breeds
Among the horses residing at the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary, several have been proven — through DNA blood testing and pheno typing — to be genetically rare breeds from the early Colonial Spanish horses that re-entered north America in the 1500-1600s.
These horse populations are pretty much gone from our rangelands and those that remain total a few hundred. We work to ensure that these original Old World horses, the foundation of America’s mustangs, are conserved in strategic locations and diverse healthy bands as part of a collaborative “genetic rescue” effort.
Return to Freedom is not breeding these Spanish Barb horses for sale. We are a conservatory, a genetic rescue, if you will, ensuring that there is a small, diverse, and healthy population of what little remains of America’s early Colonial Spanish mustangs, which currently includes our possession of the Choctaw Pony, the Sulphur Springs/Sorria horse, and the Wilbur-Cruce horse and Cerbat.
The conservation of a viable genetic population of Spanish Barb horses depends on the long-term vision of those devoted to these animals, and to this end, RTF has established a small conservation effort managed with immuno-contraception. Once RTF expands to a larger facility, we can discuss whether it is necessary to remove some mares from the contraception to avoid infertility or, if there are horses from these strains needing rescue or adoption, adding to our small bands in that manner.
These bands are managed with Native PZP, a non-hormonal immuno-contraception. A mare may contribute one time to the gene pool and then be maintained on birth control. Data shows that after six consecutive years on the vaccine, mares become infertile, so it may be that a few mares come off the vaccine in order to maintain fertility if necessary. Most mares at RTF have been maintained on the vaccine and are now infertile. (As some mares do not respond to the vaccine, they may be removed from a stallion band. Currently, all mares are on the contraception.)
Return to Freedom is affiliated with the Choctaw Horse Conservation Program, a collaborative project with Dr. Philip Sponenberg, The Rickman Family, and conservationist and screenwriter John Fusco. This project, which is designed to conserve the almost extinct Choctaw horse, is a harmonious relationship with Return to Freedom’s rare breeds conservation program. The foundation band is currently not reproducing and has been stabilized with two generations of mares.
Currently, the horses in our Conservation Program include:
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.
Sulphur Springs Herd
The Sulphur Springs Herd is one of the few to claim direct Spanish Heritage. They are of Spanish origin, have distinctive dorsal and leg striping, and resemble the horses painted on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E.
Wilbur Cruce Spanish Colonial Mission Horses
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.