Knowing 900 wild mustangs were headed for slaughter just wasn’t acceptable to Patricia Soffel. This was the spark that set founder of Sweetbeau Horses in motion. Horses are a treasure to her soul; Patricia knew she had to do something. So, she and her husband, Michael Soffel, joined forces with Neda DeMayo of Return to Freedom. Together they gathered help and funds ensuring the adoption of these 900 mustangs from one failing rescue in South Dakota back in October of 2016.
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No Horse Left Behind
“No horse left behind,” became the driving mantra behind the movement to save the 900 mustangs from slaughter and find homes for each one. “It took us a full year to see them all adopted out. It took a village. Central to the effort was Elaine Nash, founder of Fleet of Angels. She gave a year of her time to ensure all had forever homes.” explains Patricia. The Soffels personally took on 25 Stallions – with NO ranch to house them on!
This did raise Michael’s eyebrows, but he willingly got to the business of seeing this vision through. Neda provided the actionable plan and experience while the Soffels contributed significant funds from a recent sale of their software company. Additionally, matching funds came from donors and eventually all 900 mustangs found new homes. The Soffels grew in their understanding of the wild mustang plight and the vision for the role they would play.
The Creation of Sweetbeau Horses – Saving Wild Mustangs
Ensuring a home for the 25 Mustangs now in their charge, began with the Soffels setting up a non-profit 501C3 and a ranch in Creston, CA. The couple called their new endeavor, Sweetbeau Horses in remembrance of their once-in-a-lifetime sweet Golden Retriever dog, Beaudacious. In 2017 the Sweetbeau Horses ranch and non-profit became the home for the 25 stallions, now gelded, and their new life from rescue to adoption began.
The ranch in Creston California proved to be ideal. Patricia describes choosing the ranch: “The location and horse culture was perfect, the acreage and horse facilities were more than we had hoped for, but most importantly, the piece of property had plentiful water and that is essential with 20 horses.”
Producing Adoptable Mustangs
These 25 geldings were the first crop of wild mustangs to go through the Sweetbeau rehoming program and find a new life in forever homes. The success stories of these first 25 paved the way for a fresh gather of wild mustangs to find a new life in a forever home through Sweetbeau Horses.
These wild mustangs find themselves rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management all around the country, many times a year, affecting tens of thousands of horses. These unfortunate horses are put into crowded holding pens with a ticking clock marking the time for: best case – adoption; not so good – life long term in inadequate holding pens. Far too many wild horses find themselves heading to a kill pen. This is where Sweetbeau steps in.
The last gather was about a year ago, where eight wild mustangs joined the Sweetbeau Horses program. The program keeps 20 horses moving through the rehoming process.
Successfully Adopting Out Wild Mustangs
“In the last five years we have adopted out 24 horses,” explains Patricia. “All are in amazing homes and four are in Horse Therapy or kid’s riding programs.”
One special guy remains on the ranch as Patricia’s trail riding horse. “The very first one that I connected with was Tango. He is a shiny chestnut, with one wild eye and he had an attitude of gratitude immediately. He bursts with playful energy, curiosity, and is a constant instigator. He’s the one who is addicted to the large horse balls and can pop one in one session. Not surprisingly, I adopted him and he is my trail buddy.”
Looking back at the success of the first 25 mustangs to go through the Sweetbeau Horses program, there is no doubt, they paved the way for future success. Those first 25 did not have sponsors. “Not one!” exclaims Patricia. “We took a leap of faith and decided we would have to build awareness and develop relationships with people who felt the same passion we did about rescuing mustangs to hopefully one day, make the non-profit self-sustaining.”
Today, Many Sweetbeau Mustangs Have Sponsors
Today, wild mustangs coming into the Sweetbeau Horses program can be sponsored. Patricia explains, “We have been very fortunate to have attracted sponsors for some of the horses and have had dedicated donors but it’s a slow process. Sponsors are usually parents of horse loving kids. We create and send a customized book for every sponsored horse telling the horse’s story with descriptions and many photos. These things make it special and help us continue to grow in our fund-raising efforts.”
Trust is the Heart of the Rehoming Program for Wild Mustangs
Trust is the heart of the program. Patricia adamantly makes sure each horse coming through their ranch has only positive interactions with humans. The focus is on building a relationship that listens to what the horse has to say and only moves forward when the horse is ready. That’s why it’s not unusual for a horse to take 12 to 24 months to completely finish. And finished they are. No horse is adopted unless they have been tested in riding safely at beaches, taking camping trips and on trails. Currently, three horses are ready for their forever home, two are coming up and the rest continue on their re-homing journey.
Finding the Perfect Home: Connecting Adopter with Adoptee
With so much invested into these beautiful creatures, Patricia is the one who personally approves the right home for each horse. She is quite mindful of the drastic life change these beautiful horses have been through. Her focus is to honor the horse and provide the best match in a new home.
Patricia explains her connection with each horse that enables her to connect an adoptable mustang with a new home and owner: “I personally spend time with each and every horse that comes to Sweetbeau. Usually, I am the first one to touch them. Often, I am the one to halter them for the first time.
It Takes a Team
The everyday training is carried out by our our fantastic team of trainers, led by Roberto Flores and India Penner. I also spend my happiest hours teaching a horse trust through first touch, haltering and ground work.
I personally interview, test, and reference check anyone who will be training them in the future. This has come from making mistakes in the past and it unfairly set our horses back. Our team today, is amazing and I have no concerns about the horses being taught to trust humans before anything is asked of them.”
Patricia is key to Sweetbeau’s adoption process, yet she relies on the team for input. “When a mustang is ready for adoption, Roberto, India and I scrutinize them from every angle. We start with the comprehensive application required, then references checks, and interviews. Next, the adopter actually needs to spend two days at the ranch working with us and the horse. This process helps us decide if it’s a match when the proposed adopter comes to meet the horse,” explains Patricia. “When each mustang finds the perfect match, my anxiety of losing a horse we have all loved and transformed, is replaced by nothing but joy.”
Each Mustang Tells His Own Story
The Sweetbeau Horse program has rescued 44 horses and adopted out 24. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like many considering the many thousands of wild mustangs that are at risk each year. However, each wild mustang Sweetbeau adopts out tells his own story and helps educate our communities to take a stand for the horse’s freedom.
Want to know more? Check out the Sweetbeau Horses website. Also be on the lookout for the two open houses Sweetbeau organizes each year. These are great days to come see the facility and the horses in person.
Perhaps you will come alongside and support a mustang through sponsorship. Or maybe even one of these beautiful creatures will be your next riding partner.
Cover photo: Michael and Patricia Soffel at Sweetbeau Horses
Picture credit, unless otherwise noted, from Patricia Soffel files
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