Earlier this year, during the deep biting cold of February, a group of twenty nine wild horses from the Twin Peaks area of California were bumping their way toward Michigan in a semi-enclosed stock trailer. The trip was 2184 miles from their homeland where they had lived as their ancestors had for centuries; free.
Although revered as symbols of freedom and the spirit of the American West, the horses now found themselves on a long journey taking them further and further away from home and freedom.
Their journey began with the Burns Amendment to the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The amendment allows any rounded up wild horse or burro over the age of 10 to be sold—not adopted—to anyone, anywhere for as little as $25. This amendment opened the door for the Twin Peaks horses to be bought by a woman in Michigan who had plans to sell them to private homes for a profit.
But when the horses arrived sick with strangles, and obviously untamed, the potential new owners backed out turning her plans for a profit into a nightmarish struggle to feed a lot of hungry mouths that included mares with foals.
The once majestic and freeborn horses, torn from their home and families, exposed to strangles and shipped to Michigan, were now confined in small pens in a converted hog barn and reduced to eating the wood of the barn walls in order to quell the pain of hunger.
Life for these treasured symbols of the west had become grim.
When the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition became aware of the horses condition they contacted law enforcement and then starting calling around to see where the horses could go if they were removed from their situation.
As soon as DreamCatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary - which is only 25 miles from the horses original Twin Peaks home - found out about the plight of the California wild horses, they teamed up with the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition and with a group of dedicated volunteers began working to do everything possible to bring as many of the horses back home to the west where they belong.
Getting possession of the horses was no easy task. Law enforcement proved to be ineffective and the owner did not cooperate, trying her best to off-load the horses to anyone—other than animal welfare groups— regardless of their intent, including to a horse trader in Florida who admits to sending horses to auction which means only one thing….slaughter. Fortunately the shipment to Florida was stalled giving the team more time to acquire horses and arrange transport.
But even transport posed a challenge for not many shippers were equipped to carry truly wild horses. Eventually Bob Hubbard Equine Transport offered to help and retrofitted one of their vans so the horses could ride home in comfort.
With transport in place the push was on to get as many of the horses as possible for this first trip. A week before the ship date of September 9th, 2011, the final count was three geldings, four mares and one mare/foal pair.
So once again the horses began a journey. This time they headed west. Back to the familiar sights and smells of sage, juniper and high desert grasses. And back to freedom, for DreamCatcher is a 2000 acre natural habitat sanctuary where wild horses get to be wild once again.
It seemed fitting that these symbols of freedom arrived back home on September 11th. As the horses burst out the trailer everyone who had gathered to welcome them home gasped with joy as they watched the horses do what they had not been able to do for over a year; run free.
As one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln once said “freedom is the last, best hope for earth”. Everyone could feel that hope as the horses thundered across the expanse of their new home.
DreamCatcher and the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition continue to work on bringing more of the Twin Peaks horses back from Michigan. Another shipment is planned for early spring.