Finding Sanctuary: From Stylist to Wildlife Preservationist

Neda DeMayo built a refuge for horses from the ground up. Here, how the former Hollywood stylist is making a difference with her second act.

By Wendy Rodewald
Neda DeMayo and Sutter, a palomino mustang stallion (Photo: Kimmerlee Curryl)

These public outreach programs not only raise money for the organization, they bring much-needed attention to wild horse preservation issues, which has been DeMayo’s ultimate goal all along. The safe haven she founded now stands as a model among wildlife sanctuaries. "I wanted to do something a little different so that people, when they come for education, can see what herds are really like." To that end, Return to Freedom tries whenever possible to relocate herd families intact. Preserving family bonds maintains horse happiness and promotes genetic diversity between rare breeds, some dating back to those that arrived with Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

"There were times, before I started this thing, when I was praying, Please take this desire away, because it just looked like a huge endeavor…. If it wasn’t so strong in me, it would have been easy to walk away. But my passion drove me forward," DeMayo says. Her advice to others with a persistent, unfulfilled goal? Just get started. "I think when it’s a dream that won’t go away, you owe it to yourself to pursue it and be committed."

"As challenging as it is — and it’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever had — it’s the most rewarding experience of my life," she says.

Get Involved

Return to Freedom offers a variety of ways to support wild horse preservation, from sponsoring a single animal to getting your hands dirty as a ranch volunteer. As a donor, you can feed a single horse or burro for $45 a month, or sponsor an acre ($750) in the newly established Wild Horse Land Trust, which will expand the space available to house more rescued herds. The sanctuary also hosts periodic volunteer work days and weekends as well as youth programs and extended work-study volunteer projects. Educational tours, walks, and clinics round out the program schedule. Visit Return to Freedom’s Web site for more information.

Originally published on MORE.com, December 2007.

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