‘Mustangs in Malibu’ benefit for wild horses

Thousands of the animals are rounded up on a regular basis for auction; many end up at slaughterhouses.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

“Mustangs in Malibu,” a benefit for Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, will bring together a number of agencies and artists this weekend at the Big Heart Ranch to help preserve an enduring symbol of the American frontier-the wild mustang.

The event Sunday opens the ranch to the public, inviting guests to explore and play with the ranch’s rescue animals, enjoy Native American dancing, food and wine donated by Sand Hill Winery, hear music provided by John Densmore (former drummer for The Doors) and folk musician Tony Gilkyson, and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film about the American West, “Dances With Wolves.” Author Michael Blake, who adapted his novel to the screenplay, will be on hand to sign copies of his book.

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that more than 38,000 wild horses and burros are roaming public rangelands in 10 western states. Because populations can double every four years or so, the BLM rounds up thousands of the animals on a regular basis for auction.

However, not all the animals are adopted. Jill Starr, president and founder of the nonprofit organization, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, pointed out that many of the horses are purchased for slaughter.

“We call them ‘Killer Buyers,’” Starr said. “They’ll show up and bid 10 cents a pound to buy a horse for forty or fifty dollars, then slaughter it and sell the meat for export. We try to buy as many horses as we can at auction and bring them to our ranch.”

Big Heart Ranch, set in the hills above Malibu, offers rescued animals for adoption, equine therapy and programs to help special needs children.

Suzi Landolphi is the vice president of Lifesavers and co-founder of Big Heart Ranch. She said that rescued animals provide a unique opportunity for children suffering from trauma, or who have developmental problems, to heal.

“We work with children struggling with addiction, autistic children and kids who’ve gone through major trauma,” Landolphi said. “Horses can inspire trust again. Connecting with an animal that has been abused and gaining its trust is life-changing for some of our guests.”

Landolphi, who had no equine background, became aware of the power of “horse-inspired healing” when she got into a pen with a wild horse. She waited till the horse had calmed and allowed her to touch him.

“The minute I saw that the horse trusted me enough to let me touch him, I unexpectedly burst into tears,” Landolphi said.

The experience was so cathartic that Landolphi returned to school for a master’s degree in clinical psychology and certification in Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. The ranch now offers therapeutic trail rides and games.

Guests arriving for the benefit are encouraged to interact with all the animals on the ranch, including a blind pony, alpacas, chickens and a deer that had been rescued after it escaped from a farm that was raising the animals for hunting purposes.

“We have five thoroughbred rescues, including the great-grandson of Secretariat (the legendary race horse),” Landolphi said. “You wouldn’t think they’d want to get rid of thoroughbreds, but sometimes the yearlings are thrown away because they just don’t make the grade.”

Blake, a former Topanga resident before he moved to a 36-acre spread in Arizona, has five of his own rescued wild horses. He believes passionately in preserving wild herds as part of our national character and a balance for the planet.

“Like the wolves, buffalo, mountain lions and many others, wild horses are being removed because they are in the way… of drilling, building and anything else that produces dollars for humanity,” Blake wrote in an e-mail. “Yet wild horses… live on this planet in ways that could be inspiring if people regarded them as having been produced by the Creator.”

Densmore was also spurred to contribute to the event because of the plight of wild herds. He recently adopted a seven-year-old Arabian gelding that can’t be ridden because of early abuse.

“I think everybody, no matter what political bent, would like to feel that there are still a few wild horses running around out there, representing the wildness inside us,” Densmore wrote. “If they’re gone, we too will have been completely tamed.”

Gilkyson agreed.

“Our American landscape has fallen victim to apathy, ignorance, predatory energy corporations, lack of information and a new generation of young whose focus is new technology, not the great outdoors,” he wrote. “The land suffers for it. Creating any wildlife corridor, whether for buffalo or wild horses, will help create a dialogue with America’s rural citizens and may well lead the way for further progress.”

“Mustangs in Malibu” takes place Sunday, Nov. 21 from 2 to 6 p.m. Advance tickets are $20; $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at wildhorserescue.org/ticketpurchase.htm. More information and directions can be obtained by contacting Suzi Landolphi at 818.470.2013 suzi@bigheartranch.org.

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