Spirit

Photo courtesy of Kimerlee Curyl
Mycah with her hero Spirit at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse sanctuary, 2008.
(1995 – )
Owned by Return To Freedom
Inducted: 2018

Photos

Photo courtesy of Carol J. Walker
Photo courtesy of Carol J. Walker
Photo courtesy of Carol J. Walker
Photo courtesy of Carol J. Walker
Photo courtesy of Carol J. Walker
A Star is Born! When Spirit was born on May 8, 1995, he seemed like any other colt born to born to wild horses who were captured off of federal lands. Seven years later, Spirit became an ambassador for wild horses and a recognizable "spirit" worldwide thanks to the power of film.

Children and adults alike were drawn in by DreamWorks Pictures animated film, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, in 2002. The movie connected countless numbers of people to wild horses and the challenges they face.

To create the movie, filmmakers had to find a horse that best embodied the characteristics of the wild mustang. Spirit was selected as a young colt born to a stallion and mare who were captured from the Kiger Herd Management Area in Oregon because of his beautiful conformation, wide-set eyes, and thick wavy multi-colored mane and tail. Spirit was the perfect example of genetically and historically rare 15th-century Spanish Barb horses, and animators observed his movement to create the most accurate and realistic movement on the screen.

Following the film's release, DreamWorks selected Return to Freedom (RTF) as Spirit's permanent home. RTF provided the ideal environment for the domesticated stallion to receive the right handling and care while still being available as an ambassador to help educate youth and adults about the American Mustang.

In 2017, Spirit's legacy continues in the Netflix series, Spirit: Riding Free. Both the movie and series have introduced an untold number of children and their parents around the world to the history, plight and cultural contribution of America’s wild horses and to the freedom that they embody.

RTF Founder and President Neda DeMayo describes Spirit as "a curious, smart, and mischievous stallion. Like most film actors, Spirit enjoys attention, which is a good thing because Spirit attracts hundreds of visitors to the sanctuary each year. As spunky as he can be, he can also be almost like a big dog around children, allowing them to feed and pet him while being very careful around them. He helps us to engage children and tell the stories of the wild horses at our sanctuary, on the range, and in government facilities."

Spirit is an inspiration for people nationwide to become advocates for the wild horse. One specific visit, recalled by DeMayo, exemplifies Spirit's impact on those who come to see him. In 2008, five-year old Mykah traveled from Texas to see Spirit at the ranch. The trip, made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, fulfilled Mykah's dream to meet her movie hero. That afternoon, she sat with him, bathed him and shared a picnic lunch. Mykah has since made a full recovery, owns her own horse, and visits Spirit when she can. Her last visit was in 2016 and will be returning this summer, and Spirit never fails to recognize her. They share a special bond to this day.

From one-on-one visits like those with Mykah to outreach events with large crowds, Spirit captures the hearts of all who meet him. He fills the role of wild horse ambassador with ease, and he seems to know that his life helps to serve a greater purpose.

In a world where the urban-rural divide seems to grow daily, fewer and fewer people have firsthand. Most Americans don't know that there are wild horses living on the range, at all, much less their history or the threat to their existence today. Spirit the horse, the movie, and the TV series have served as the gateway to the world of horses for children and adults and specifically wild horses who embody a uniquely American sense of freedom and a key place in our country's history and culture.