Neda DeMayo received the EQUUS Foundation Humanitarian Award at the Pegasus Awards Dinner on January 14, 2024, during the US Equestrian Federation (USEF) Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The EQUUS Foundation and the USEF established the Humanitarian Award in 2009 to honor a member of the equestrian world who has devoted considerable personal time to making the quality of life of our equine partners paramount.
Recognized as one of the most informed and respected voices in the United States on the subject of wild horses and burros, Neda DeMayo acquired her expertise over 25 years by managing multiple intact herd groups on the sanctuary she founded. Combined with her knack for diplomacy in dealing with government agencies and competing stakeholders, DeMayo has earned her place at the table in the national conversation about improving the management of wild equines on public lands.
As the founder and president of Return to Freedom (RTF) she has dedicated her life’s work to solving wild horse and burro issues since 1997. DeMayo began RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary on a 300-acre ranch in Lompoc, California.
With the help of family, friends, and volunteers, she was able to launch a model for minimally intrusive wild horse management and ecotourism. The once rundown facility was transformed into a humble but enchanting sanctuary and educational center, hosting over 500 guests annually and reaching hundreds of thousands of people a year through advocacy, programs, events and media. Today, Return to Freedom (RTF) provides care and refuge in four locations for over 400 wild horses and 50 burros that have been captured and removed from state or federal lands.
RTF has pioneered minimally intrusive, natural management of wild horses utilizing native PZP fertility control, a method that has allowed the sanctuary to maintain horses in their natural social bands. RTF, under DeMayo’s leadership, actively works with a diverse group of public land stakeholders to find common ground solutions to replace costly and traumatic roundups and the warehousing of captured wild horses and burros with minimally intrusive, proven, safe and humane management strategies to better protect the American Mustangs and burros both on and off the range.
In accepting the award, DeMayo, said, “RTF is committed to ending the suffering and slaughter of America’s wild and domestic equines. The number of American horses, both wild and domestic, exported for slaughter has plummeted from over 166,000 in 2012 to just under 20,000 in 2022 — and the number of quality organizations dedicated to rescue and re-homing continues to grow. Currently, we’re lobbying to have the SAFE Act included in the Farm Bill. This legislation prohibits the sale and transport of our equines for the purpose of slaughter.”
“We need the help of your formidable leadership to ensure that America’s horses are better understood, well cared for, responsibly managed and when the time comes, receive a dignified death and to ensure that the equestrian community’s social license to operate is not compromised by horse slaughter,” continued DeMayo.
In closing, DeMayo said, “We truly are a Horse Nation, and I am hopeful for the next generation of horse lovers to embrace the value of America’s wild free ranging equines on our public lands and create equine environments for domestic horses with their nature and enrichment in mind.”
Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, politician, author, and diplomat, said of Neda, before his passing – “Generations from now, if America’s iconic wild horses still roam the West, as I hope that they will, it will be in no small part because of the tireless efforts of Neda DeMayo and those her work has inspired.”
“America’s Wild Horses have been icons of our freedom. We applaud the efforts of Neda DeMayo and Return to Freedom to help ensure their survival,” said Lynn Coakley, EQUUS Foundation President. In recognition of DeMayo’s humanitarian efforts, the EQUUS Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant to Return to Freedom.
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ABOUT EQUUS FOUNDATION: The EQUUS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity established in 2002, is the only national animal welfare charity in the United States 100% dedicated to protecting America’s horses from peril and strengthening the bond between people and horses. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Contact the EQUUS Foundation, Inc., at 168 Long Lots Road, Westport, CT 06880, Tele: (203) 259-1550, E-Mail: [email protected], Website: equusfoundation.org.
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