Janesville horse rescue center helps save part of historic wild mustang herd

Spirit Horse took in 2 pregnant mares, 2 foals
Janesville horse rescue center helps save part of historic wild mustang herd

A horse rescue center in rural Janesville has added four new horses to its herd, with two on the way, after being part of a large rescue effort in South Dakota.

Spirit Horse Equine Rescue and Education Center went to Lantry, South Dakota, at the beginning of February to help save some of the wild mustangs from the historic White Sands Herd.

“These horses are actually living legends. They are mustangs whose roots can be traced back as far as Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid down in New Mexico,” DeeDee Golberg, president and founder of Spirit Horse, said.

The White Sands herd roamed freely until the start of World War II when the Army built the White Sands Missile Range and fenced in nearly 2 million acres. The horses continued to live on the land until the 1980s when the Army started collecting the horses and turning them over to the New Mexico Livestock Board for slaughter, according to the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros .

The group protested the killings and helped work out a plan to transport the horses, along with other herds, to South Dakota. The various herds lived there peacefully until last fall when the organization caring for the horses ran into financial problems.

“The horses were seized by the local authorities, and at that time there were close to 1,000 wild mustangs, some from the White Sands area like ours and some from other areas,” Golberg said. “So a couple other national groups stepped in and asked to take over.”

Those groups worked out a plan to find new homes for the South Dakota herd, nicknamed the “Hallelujah Horses.”

“The name ‘Hallelujah Horses’ came from the group who came in to save them from the peril of being seized by the authorities and then going to perhaps end up at auction or slaughter,” Golberg said. “So it was really quite a miracle to have that all come together.”

The group reached out to Spirit Horse and asked if the rescue could take in some of the herd.

“The whole thing came together in less than a week because it was a very urgent call,” Golberg said. “They were having a break in the weather out there. They had 15 foot snow drifts that were finally melting, and they said, ‘If you can get here now, now is the time.’ So we just scrambled and put it together and went out there.”

Janesville horse rescue center helps save part of historic wild mustang herdSpirit Horse planned to bring back two pregnant mares because there was concern about the horses having their foals in the harsh South Dakota winter.

“When we went out there and saw the pregnant mares that they had gathered for us, we noticed that the foals from last year were actually still nursing,” Golberg said. “So that would have been extremely traumatic for both the foals and the mares to separate them at that time. So we said that we would take the foals as well. So now we have four and two on the way.”

Golberg said the horses were a little thin but nothing too serious. She said they have been adapting well so far, but it will take some time.

“Every sound, every movement is new to them,” Golberg said. “So you have to just let them settle in, take the time that it takes and convince them that humans are OK, that we’re not going to hurt them. You just can’t push them.”

She said it’s hard to tell how old the horses are, but she would guess the brown mare is around 5 years old and the white mare is closer to 12. She said both the foals are under a year old.

Golberg said the plan is to wean the foals off their mothers, so they won’t be nursing when the mothers’ new foals are born. Once the new foals are weaned and doing well, Spirit Horse will decide what to do with the herd.

Golberg said the rescue can either adopt the herd out or keep them together as a way to preserve history.

“That would be an opportunity for people east of the Mississippi to see these horses that many would never probably have the opportunity to see in their life,” she said.

Golberg said the horses would eventually be named, and she wants to give them mineral names to go along with the concept of White Sands. She said the rescue might ask people on Facebook to help choose names for the six horses.

Spirit Horse is inviting the community to meet the wild mustangs. Golberg asked that people make an appointment and donation of any amount to Spirit Horse. Appointments can be made by calling Golberg at 608-774-2526, emailing her at spirithorsedeedee@gmail.com or messaging Spirit Horse Equine Rescue on Facebook .

Spirit Horse is a nonprofit that started in 2008. Its mission is to rehabilitate unwanted, abused neglected or slaughter-bound horses. People can make donations to the rescue through its website or by paying on its accounts at Jack & Dick’s Feed & Garden in Janesville or Janesville Animal Medical Center.