When Kathy Lewis wanted to buy a couple wild mustangs more than eight years ago, her husband, Shawn, wasn’t too enthralled with the idea. You might say it wasn’t love at first sight.
“I’m not going to lie,” Shawn said. “I told her, ‘No! Hell no! Mustangs can not only hurt you, but they can kill you!’”
But push came to shove, and Kathy bought the two mustangs, which the Lewis’ trained.
Shawn quickly found an affection with the animals, which are often misunderstood, he said.
Eight years ago, Shawn and Kathy started Legendary Mustang Sanctuary in rural Alhambra. The sanctuary adopts, on average, 10 mustangs annually to enthusiasts across the U.S.
The sanctuary is now one of only five licensed mustang sanctuaries left in the U.S., according to Shawn. The other licensed-mustang sanctuaries are in California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, he said.
Kathy, who grew up near Collinsville, and Shawn, who was raised in rural Edwardsville, have always enjoyed being around horses as long as they can remember.
But Shawn, who drives trucks for a living, has found mustangs act a lot like people — each has its own unique personality.
“Some of these personalities are easier to handle than others,” he laughed.
But Kathy recalled after she got her first two mustangs, people started to dump their wild horses off with them, because they could not handle the horse’s personality.
Today, the Lewises are temporarily no longer accepting any wild mustangs at their sanctuary, which is located on a 35-acre farm they now lease.
In the past, they have rescued the mustangs from government holding pens. Most of the horses they get are three-strike horses. These horses have been moved to three different adoption sites. At the end of their third location, if they are not adopted, they are sent to long-term holding facilities, according to Shawn.
“At that point, some of them are auctioned off to the highest bidder in mass quantities and are headed for their final destination,” he said. “Once rescued, we gentle them through healing, learning to trust, building their confidence and training. We prepare them for adoption to a permanent loving home.”
The sanctuary became a non-for-profit organization in 2011 and is a licensed horse rescue in the state of Illinois. It is staffed exclusively by volunteers, who range in age from as young as 15 and as old as 80.
They help to take care of six mustangs and one burro that now make the sanctuary their home. But only one of the mustangs and the burro are available for adoption at this time, Kathy said.
They said they would like to rescue more mustangs in the future.
But Shawn said they will not get any additional horses until they can acquire a newer rescue trailer. Their current horse trailer is more than 45 years old and is no longer safe, he said.
The Lewises are now seeking donations to help offset the trailers’ cost.
The sanctuary operates solely on donations. All donations are spent strictly on the care and maintenance of the mustangs and burros, and are tax deductible, Kathy said.
To make a contribution or find out more about the mustangs or burrow adoptions, people are encouraged to call the Lewises at (618) 616-8875. You can also visit www.legendarymustangsanctuary.org for more information.
On June 13, country singer Moe Bandy will be holding a concert at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City to benefit the sanctuary. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased by contacting Ron Young at (618) 973-7799 or visiting the sanctuary’s website.
Shawn has found it very rewarding sparing a mustang’s life.
“It’s our labor of love,” he said and smiled.
Kathy added: “To see these horses that have been abused and neglected turn into happy, healthy animals again — there is nothing better than that.”