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Atsa was ripped from his home & family.

Atsa was beaten, abused, and starved.

Atsa's been through pain that we can't imagine.

But Atsa survived, and he's ready to go home.

We need your help getting him back where he belongs.

2022-12-03 20_20_29_edited.jpg


The first week of Feb 2023, we did not have the funds necessary to get Atsa home. He was strong and ready for the journey, but the money wasn't there. Steph faced a very difficult decision and had to make a tough call.

Steph decided to load up Atsa and make the journey, even if it meant paying the remaining thousands of dollars in expenses out of her own pocket. Hoping that donations would pull through, Atsa was loaded up and they made the 2000 mile journey home. Read the full story below, including the newest update on Atsa's return home!

  • In the Beginning...
    Atsa was born in the early to mid 90’s as a wild, free mustang. He had a mother, a father, siblings, and family. He roamed with his herd as a young colt, playing, running, and learning. He grew large and strong - at nearly 17 hh tall, he is one of the largest on record from his family lines. As a proud young stallion, Atsa was seen roaming with others, in a band of “bachelor stallions.” We don’t have a detailed record of Atsa’s time in the wild, but he was likely wild for at least 20 years. Wild horses form deep connections and bonds. In that much time, it’s likely Atsa had a vast family. In addition to his brothers and sisters, he likely had a herd of his own, filled with mares he loved and foals they raised together. The photos in this gallery were taken by Larry McFerrin Photography in April of 2009. Atsa can be see in the first one - he would have been about 12 years old.
  • Atsa's Capture...
    Atsa was around 21 years old in the fall of 2018, when he and his family were chased across rough terrain by low-flying helicopters. After running for miles, they reached the capture site. Mounted BLM crew members waited there, ready to chase, flag, and rope them into the trapping pens. The pictures in the following galleries were provided by the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), and show Atsa’s family during his capture. Many of the horses fought back and resisted capture. Some of them would run or evade the pens, but they would still linger nearby, unwilling to leave their captured family members behind. This made it easy for BLM crew members to rope the remaining horses and/or chase them into the pens. In the wild, horses have vast landscapes available, allowing them to create ample distance when conflict arises. For the first time in their lives, that wasn’t the case. Instead, they were squeezed tightly together in the cramped chutes leading from gathering, to sorting, to transportation, and to holding. All of the herds from Atsa’s homeland were crowded together, strangers being pushed into each other and families being torn apart. There is inevitable conflict and panic in this situation. Horses run into each other, run into the fencing, attempt to jump out of the corrals, and are injured or killed in the process. At the end of the three week long capture, 34 horses were reported dead. Over half of the deceased horses were under 5 years old, including several weanlings. Atsa watched horses die of broken necks and legs as they got tangled in the corral panels. Atsa watched suckling foals get torn from their mothers’ sides during sorting. Atsa saw members of his family for the last time. Atsa experienced all of this while being crushed by the panicked herds and chased through the maze of sorting pens. Despite his age, through all this trauma, Atsa survived. At 21 years old, he was processed - branded, castrated, tagged, and photographed, then went into holding to wait for adoption.
  • From BLM Adoption to SKE Surrender…
    Atsa was listed for adoption by BLM in 2020, at 23 years old, and was adopted to Missouri. He had been advertised as being significantly younger than he was, and his adopter was not prepared for a trauma case as severe as Atsa. The adopter reported spending hours sitting outside his pen, giving him countless handfuls of alfalfa and grain, and constantly searching and reading about different humane training options. Despite their efforts, Atsa remained unapproachable and untouchable. His adopter did not have a suitable long-term housing for a mustang, so he remained confined to a small holding pen. As time went on, manure built up, his condition worsened, and he remained unhandleable. By the time SKE was called, there was over 3 ft of manure buildup in his pen. One area was so deep with loose, muddy manure that he would sink to his knees when walking across it. He still had his tag on, was emaciated (body condition score of 2), and was completely unhandleable. He could not be approached nor touched. He would not take food from people, he wouldn't even eat if there were any humans in his line of sight. The following pictures are from the night Atsa came to SKE, this was after a period of refeeding on site, to ensure he was strong enough to handle the stress of transport. “Seeing a creature of his size, strength, and power confined and neglected… It was rough. It reminded me of the marine mammals and large birds I worked with in university - huge, powerful animals reduced to skin and bone, driven mad by confinement. Atsa once roamed wild and free, and we did this to him. We captured him, branded him, and left him to rot. And no one else was going to help him, so I felt I had to.” - Steph Bradshaw, Founder & Director, SKE Rescue
  • Rehabilitation at SKE...
    Once he arrived at SKE, Atsa’s condition immediately began to turn around. He began putting on weight very easily, his hooves began to self-trim on the varied terrain in his paddock, and he began to engage with the world around him - focusing on his surroundings with curiosity, rather than shutting down and zoning out like he had at his previous home. He had a respiratory infection, likely due to the poor air quality in his previous home’s enclosure, and it cleared up very quickly once he had fresh air, clean water, and good nutrition. Once he was strong enough for the veterinarian to feel comfortable with sedation, Atsa had his big day – sedation via tranquilizer dart, allowing him to safely receive the veterinary care he needed with the least stress possible. The appointment went very smoothly, he flinched at the dart but did not panic like he would have at a cute or other restraint-based handling procedure. He went down peacefully and stayed under nicely until given reversal, when he stood up smoothly on the first try. While he was under, the vet examined his teeth thoroughly, performed a full dental float, examined his body, and did x-rays of his hooves and legs. Steph & Jada trimmed his feet, though they were already beginning to improve with proper footing & movement. The vet checked for any injuries or problems, and everything came back impressively clean - there were no indications of anything other than mild arthritis and an old injury on one of his hind hooves, which had long since healed without any lasting detriment. Lastly, the veterinarian pulled bloodwork to check Atsa’s organ health, which also came back healthy. The gallery below shows Atsa's veterinary appointment: Note - physical restraints are placed in case of emergency situations, for vet & tech safety, and we are grateful that we did not have to use any physical restraint during this visit. It’s important to acknowledge why SKE performed such extensive diagnostics on Atsa during this appointment - especially once the vet confirmed his age (25+ years at this point), Steph wanted to be sure that there wasn’t any indication that Atsa had pain, injury, or illness that was negatively impacting his quality of life or would indicate special needs or care. Thanks to these diagnostics, we know definitively that Atsa is healthy and able to thrive, if given the proper conditions.
  • Atsa's Future...
    Since the vet appointment, Atsa has put on even more weight and grown even stronger. He trots around sound, engages with enrichment activities in his dry lot, and will follow humans from a distance when they bring him his food. He did take food by hand a few times, but only from Steph and only during the period of time during refeeding when he was restricted - since getting 24/7 access to plenty of food, he no longer takes food by hand from anyone. He will continue eating hay while humans are nearby, though, and Steph has successfully done a very small amount of training with him by tossing food into a bucket and/or tossing handfuls of alfalfa on the ground for him. “After working with him for several months, understanding his life history, and reviewing the vet’s findings, I do not see Atsa having any sort of future as a domesticated horse. He is healthy and strong, but pushing him to become domesticated would be traumatic and inhumane. At best, it would require confinement, isolation, and restriction from food, in order to coerce him into cooperation. At worst, it would require excessive force, restraint, and ingraining deep learned helplessness. In my professional opinion, Atsa needs sanctuary retirement, in a space where he has access to friends, forage, and freedom - and the ability to maintain his health naturally.” - Steph Bradshaw, Founder & Director, SKE Rescue SKE specializes in rehabilitating and rehoming high-risk and special needs rescue equines. Rescues typically stay for at least a year, completing rehabilitation (recovering mentally & physically from the trauma that brought them to the rescue), then learning life skills (haltering, leading, vet & farrier handling, trailer loading, etc.), and then getting connected with ideal long-term homes. This program is very successful within its scope, however, due to limited facilities, SKE can only accommodate so many equines at a time. As a result, long-term residents like Atsa reduce the number of horses that SKE can rescue. SKE also makes a commitment to do right by every equine that enters our program - meaning Atsa has a safe, forever home here, if needed. That said, it wouldn’t be ideal for Atsa, either - he deserves more space than SKE can provide and there are always going to be people at close proximity, meaning he will always have some level of stress. Luckily, Atsa has another, better option available to him - he has the opportunity to go home. SKE received confirmation that Atsa has a space waiting for him at one of the best sanctuaries in the US - Skydog Sanctuary. He has the opportunity for placement at their sanctuary in Oregon, in the same area as his original homeland - he will be able to return to his natural climate and roam thousands of acres. Even better, this sanctuary is already home to other rescued mustangs from Atsa’s original herd group - he will be able to see his family again. He will be able to live out the remainder of his life wild and free, with dignity, alongside his friends and family. The only thing in Atsa’s way - about 2,000 miles
  • The Logistics of Getting Atsa Home...
    Atsa’s sanctuary is located in his homeland, approx. 1,800 miles from SKE. Atsa is strong, healthy, and ready to make the journey home. There are several important factors to consider when arranging transport for Atsa: Atsa is nearly 17 hh of stocky mustang, meaning he needs an extra tall & extra wide trailer to accommodate him. Atsa is also a wild animal who is capable of panicking and attempting to escape, which can be dangerous for both him & the humans handling him. He needs a trailer that is safe for him & he can only be hauled by experienced, professional handlers. Atsa cannot be safely restrained with dividers/tying during travel, so he will need to haul loose in a box stall or stock trailer. Not many layover facilities have the necessary setup to accommodate unloading & reloading a wild horse of his size safely, and unloading also increases the chances of injury, escape, and disease transfer. This means that Atsa needs a trailer with enough space for him to rest overnight without needing to unload. Commercial horse hauling rates are currently about $3.50/mile, not including special accommodations, such as a large box stall, and most reputable commercial horse haulers are reluctant to haul a large, wild horse like Atsa. Based on the quotes we've gathered, it would likely be $7,000-$8,000+ to get Atsa hauled home safely by a commercial hauler. Luckily, SKE has a trailer that we know is safe & comfortable for him (the same one he already rode in to get to SKE when surrendered). We even have the ability to park it in his dry lot & feed him from it, allowing him to slowly acclimate to it, so loading & hauling will be less stressful. Steph has offered to volunteer her time and drive the 4,000 mi roundtrip to get Atsa home, meaning we have the truck, the trailer, and the driver! We just need your help to cover the costs of travel, as well as the cost of farm care here at SKE while Steph travels. At a minimum, it will be 4 days & 3 nights to get to the sanctuary, one night spent there, and then another 4 days & 3 nights to get back. That alone puts us at an 8-day journey, with a cost of around $5,500. Ideally, Steph would like to be able to stay at the sanctuary for an extra day or two, to visit the wild horses there and ensure Atsa settles in ok. **UPDATE** - Thanks to the wonderful support of our amazing donors, we have booked nearly an entire WEEK of clinics & private lessons along our return trip route, which all help cover our trip expenses! Though the "net" profit from these helps us cover costs, the extended trip timeline now has our expenses higher than before. We originally hoped to raise $6,000, to cover fuel/mileage, hotel, and farm care at SKE while Steph is away for up to 10 days. We now hope to raise at least $7,500 - which will cover bare-bones expenses with non-stop driving and without stopping to visit the sanctuary - and our total goal is $8,500 - which is enough to allow us to stop at the sanctuary for a day, and allow us to take several breaks during the return trip rather than driving non-stop. Any amount over our actual expenses will be donated directly to Atsa's sanctuary, to help them continue their amazing work helping horses like Atsa have safety and happiness.
  • Fundraising - Cross Country Clinics & Workshops
    As usual, SKE wants to use our educational programs to assist our rescue program with funding, while also getting to share knowledge & awareness about ethical horsemanship. Steph has offered to book half-day and full-day clinics, as well as private lessons, across the US. She'll be making stops during a trip to the east coast in January, as well as stopping on the return trip after taking Atsa home in February or March. View the full clinic details below, or on the clinic information page: The total cost listed below is for the entire booking - groups can split that cost as they wish, or hosts can book & then charge each participant/auditor. All funds will go directly to the #GetAtsaHome fundraiser. Full-Day Clinic ☆ 6-hour workshop ☆ Up to 8 equines ★ $525 total cost Half-Day Clinic ☆ 4-hour workshop ☆ Up to 5 equines ★ $275 total cost Private Lesson ☆ 90-minute session ☆ Up to 2 equines ★ $175 total cost Bookings are first-come, first-served & Steph won't be able to visit every state listed below, so please reach out ASAP for the best chance to get booked! Potential states in January: AL, AR, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MO, MS, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV Potential states in Feb/Mar: AR, AZ, CA, CO, IA, ID, KS, LA, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY This is an amazing opportunity to get hands-on training with Steph, at a fraction of the normal clinic cost, while also helping Atsa get back to his family! It’s a win, win, win situation 🎉 Steph is very excited to get Atsa home to his family, and also excited to see all of you at clinic days & lessons on the trip home! Fill the online booking request form to get booked for one of these clinic days: And of course, direct donations are also very welcome & encouraged! Use the form at the bottom of this page to make a secure, easy donation. Atsa is forever grateful for the opportunity to return home, and we are very grateful for your support as we work to help horses like Atsa.
  • Atsa's Return Home
    Atsa is home! As of Feb 10, 2023, Atsa is settling in at Skydog Sanctuary and Steph is headed to teach clinics over the next two weeks as she journeys back home. She is working hard to get the story of his journey documented, both in writing and by organizing the photos & videos from the trip! Once she gets that information back to us, we will post it here & on social media for everyone! For now, please continue to show your support for the #GetAtsaHome project by donating below. Once our trip expenses are covered, all extra funds go directly to Skydog, to support Atsa & his care for the rest of his life, as well as supporting their amazing mission & all the good they do!

Donate to Atsa's Journey Home

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