Animal rescue organization finds homes for mustangs and burros

Shawn and Kathy Waters operate the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary in Alhambra.
Shawn and Kathy Waters operate the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary in Alhambra.
Shawn and Kathy Waters operate the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary in Alhambra.

As iconic as mustang horses are in United States culture, few understand the background and the importance of the breed. The line is descended from horses brought to the Americas by the early Spanish explorers. Known for being surefooted and durable, free-roaming herds have populated the western United States for centuries. Capable of subsisting on a sparser diet than traditional domesticated horses, the animals can feed off grass and brush found in western environments, allowing them to survive in the wild.

In recent years, the United States Bureau of Land Management has determined what areas of land the horses can be sustained upon as free-roaming populations. As a consequence, thousands of the animals have been brought in from the wild and are in need of permanent homes.

Shawn and Kathy Lewis run the Legendary Mustang Sanctuary in Alhambra. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization rescues mustangs and burros and finds permanent homes for them. The 35-acre farm just outside of Alhambra is home for anywhere up to 50 animals at a time. Kathy Lewis says they find homes for 100 to 200 animals every year. She notes people are often interested in the burros as protection for their cattle.

“Mustangs are very misunderstood animals,” she explains. “People tend to think they are wild and unmanageable but the reality is they are extremely intelligent and can be trained to do just about anything. She says when they acquire an animal, the first thing they do is let it decompress, settle in and get to know them. She notes they heal any sickness or effects of abuse the animal may be experiencing and then once they have won the animals’ confidence and trust, they begin training them. “Once they feel at home, we take care of them and find them a home,” she says.

The sanctuary is a licensed horse rescue organization in the state of Illinois and is Bureau of Land Management approved. The Lewises are also humane investigators and are certified trainers through the bureau. The operation also provides college internships for students studying Equine Science and Veterinary Medicine. The sanctuary is staffed entirely by volunteers.

The Legendary Mustang Sanctuary conducts an ongoing program for veterans called the Sanctuary and Veterans Equine program (SAVE). The SAVE program allows veterans to come to the sanctuary and interact with the horses. Kathy Lewis says it serves as therapy for veterans and a place where they can connect with these remarkable animals. The program is free for any veteran.

Families interested in adopting an animal learn much about their horse and the ownership of these special animals before an adoption is approved. Lewis says participants are informed about the life of these magnificent animals and their resourcefulness and legendary historical significance. Lewis notes that because of the horses’ endurance and versatility, the Pony Express and Wells Fargo used the breed exclusively in the 1800s. The sanctuary offers educational seminars to groups such as 4-H, scouts and school classes.

Events are periodically hosted for the purpose of raising funds, educating people about the breed and raising awareness around the importance of these unique and historic animals. On October 27, a music trivia blast will be held at the Moose Lodge at 730 Wesley Drive in Wood River. Doors open at 6pm. The music trivia contest begins at 7pm. Portions of the proceeds from the event will be donated to support the SAVE program.

The sanctuary’s website contains pictures and information about the animals available for adoption. It also has an online store where items and apparel can be purchased. Lewis notes they are always interested in donations and volunteers to help the organization and its mission. Anyone interested in donating to the organization or in volunteering can find information on the website or call the sanctuary at 618-616-8875.

legendarymustangsanctuary.org

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