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On a sunny Sunday, Bridlewood Winery welcomed guests to a fundraiser for the Return to Freedom, Wild Horse Sanctuary. Guests were checked in by Michelle Rosch and Karen Descamps, at tables which also held beautiful photographs of vineyards and winemakers in a book by Mark Robert Halper, titled Sunlight and Water. He also sponsored this event.

There were the lilting sounds of Joe Cano’s guitar music in the air, and Chris Knox provided refreshment to go with the Bridlewood wines. Sigi McCormack put together an elegant silent auction and also transported the famous stallion, Spirit, to be on display.

Neda DeMayo, executive director of Return to Freedom, has become a local celebrity as she has thrown her heart and soul into saving wild horses and providing them with a haven in a ranch on the outskirts of Lompoc. She is hoping to buy a new property, so that she may obtain 110 or more horses that were captured last year and are still in holding corrals in Nevada. Return to Freedom has a viable program of birth control with the mares; in that way, the stallion can retain his personality and be the leader of his band of mares that comprise his family. Celeste Carlisle, manager of the contraception program, was there, and also Neda’s father, Bill DeMayo.

Tatjana Patitz is a beautiful fashion model and an avid horsewoman, who was born in Germany, raised in Sweden and is now an American citizen. She helps with the Sanctuary’s information outreach in Europe. She said, “I contact fashion magazines and also Swiss Air in-flight magazines, which have more than a million readers. They fly to over 74 different nations, so Return to Freedom’s story is all over the world.”

Kathy Hauenstein, a Cutting Horse rider, told us, “Friends in Australia have trained wild horses to compete in Cutting competitions there. The wild horses in Australia are called brumbys and they bred them to Cutting horses and developed a very successful line. They are called ‘Duck horses’ and they really do very well!”

On Bridlewood’s lower level, near the famous racetrack from past days when this was Mandysland Thoroughbred Farm, there are spacious corrals holding the famous film stallion Spirit and his mares Inez and Isadora.

There we find Nicolette Birnie, who is a well-known Valley Natural Horsemanship trainer and clinician, who also gentles and trains wild Mustangs. “My hat is off to Neda DeMayo,” she says. “It’s not easy to manage and care for hundreds or thousands of wild horses. You’ve got to be tough physically and emotionally, and Neda really understands these horses. She also has worked her way into negotiations for the management of thousands of wild horses, which are now being rounded up and mismanaged by the BLM. It is unbelievable and unconscionable what this government agency is doing.

“I had my first taste of working with Mustangs at Return to Freedom, in the spring of 2003. My first day there, I was in a corral with a magnificent 17+ hand bay stallion, a throwback to the Remount horses that were impeccably bred for the U.S. Cavalry. Neda had rescued him from a BLM corral, where he had a broken knee that was never attended to. (The BLM is notorious for not treating injuries). I swear, on three legs this guy could outmaneuver about 98% of healthy horses. He was as athletic and gorgeous as any high-priced race horse that I have ever worked with.

“Anyway, my job was to try to get a halter on him and teach him to lead. I made a slow little move and quick as a wink, he turned and jumped on top of a 7-foot gate leading to a larger corral. He didn’t seem really frightened, he just saw a place he thought he’d rather be. I worked with him very slowly, and within two hours he put his head down for me to put his halter on him. Of course, he didn’t trust me completely yet and I couldn’t touch his sides, but he was OK with the halter. I must say, with Mustangs you will learn to respect them.”

To add to the fun, one could go on a ride around the beautiful grounds in a handsome carriage, drawn by two black horses. The driver, Laura Finley, tells us that they are two mares named Oprah and Charlie.

They are half-Percheron and half-Morgan. Charlie was named for a female stage coach driver who disguised herself as a boy, because in those early days a woman would not have been hired as a driver. Passengers included Sharon Price, her daughter Cheryl, and grandchildren Chase and Savannah and their friend Casey.