Between the Lines

With columnist Anna Marie Lux.
Anthony Wahl
DeeDee Golberg describes the trip to South Dakota to pick up four neglected mustangs.

WATCH: Equine rescue preserves 'small part' of mustang history

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, February 18, 2017

JANESVILLE—DeeDee Golberg understands that being in the horse-rescue business means making tough choices.

“We say 'no' way more often than we say 'yes' because we don't have the resources,” said Golberg, the founder of Spirit Horse Equine Rescue and Education Center in rural Janesville.

She and others who make up the nonprofit group pride themselves in taking in old horses, injured horses and horses other rescues turn away.

A week ago, they opened their hearts to historic mustangs of the West.

When Golberg learned of wild horses in trouble in South Dakota, she could not turn away.

Late last year, a South Dakota veterinarian determined that more than 800 horses at the cash-strapped International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros were neglected. Some were thin. Others had physical ailments.

“We don't want to disparage the group,” Golberg said. “It did a wonderful job for a long time. Like any group that depends on donations, it is only as good as what people are willing to give.”

Authorities impounded the animals at the society's small and overgrazed ranch near Lantry, South Dakota.

Earlier this year, a Colorado-based nonprofit known as Fleet of Angels took ownership of the animals. The group is finding suitable placement for the horses at approved homes, sanctuaries and rescue facilities.

Golberg and two board members—Carol Wellnitz and Brenda Fitzmaurice—traveled to South Dakota to pick up two pregnant mares and their foals.

The women transported the animals safely to Spirit Horse, where Golberg said the horses are adjusting well.

Golberg does not know how old the foals are. She guesses between 4 months and 8 months.

“They are still nursing,” Golberg said. “Our original intent was to make sure that the mares did not have their babies in the middle of a harsh South Dakota snowstorm.”

Both mares are underweight and being fed highly nutritious diets.

Spirit Horse can take one of two directions with the animals, Golberg said: The rescue can adopt them to qualified homes when they are ready, or it can keep them together as a herd so people can “see this piece of American history."

The horses are descended from wild mustangs of White Sands, New Mexico, where the animals roamed untouched and unrestricted until World War II.

In 1945, the Manhattan Project changed their lives.

The Army took over and fenced almost 2 million acres of White Sands, where most of the mustangs lived. The fence was meant to keep the public out as scientists developed and detonated the first atom bomb—but it also kept the animals inside.

The horses did OK until the 1980s when the food supply and water sources began to dry up. Eventually, the Army sold some of the rugged horses to an unknown future, but the public objected.

“The band of horses (in South Dakota) are descendants of a group rescued from White Sands,” Golberg said. “Everyone tells us they are calm, inquisitive and cooperative.”

Susan Peterson, also of Spirit Horse Rescue, said she is amazed at how fearless the animals are.

“They want to be touched,” she said. “We have had wild horses before, and DeeDee has brought them around to accepting and trusting human contact. It is amazing what can be done with these horses because they are intelligent and willing.”

Peterson said she does not know what went wrong at the South Dakota sanctuary, but the animals are innocent.

“We are honored to be part of the effort to save these horses," she said. "They are symbols of our country and our freedom.”

Golberg agreed.

“We don't really need any more horses (at the rescue),” she said. “But it does my heart good to preserve a small part of this country's history.”

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