Most history students know that when Spaniard Hernando DeSoto and his Conquistadors landed in the New World, they brought with them the first horses to travel the continent. During this period, many of the Spanish horses were acquired by the Native Americans in southeast Oklahoma. In the centuries that followed, the Native Americans protected and maintained the blood lines of these horses within their families for many generations. Today, carefully bred descendants of these Spanish horses are being cared for in Pushmataha County by a retired Hugo High School Agriculture teacher, Bryant Rickman. Rickman feeds approximately 300 horses with donations made by a few dedicated donors and his retirement income.
In 2014, the Oklahoma Legislature recognized the genetic significance of these horses by passing Resolution #34. Sponsored by State Representative Curtis McDaniel, Senator Jerry Ellis, and State Representative and Chickasaw Lisa Billy, the resolution officially named the Colonial Spanish Mustang of southeast Oklahoma the “Heritage Horse of Oklahoma”. The Oklahoma Heritage Horse Sanctuary and The Friends of the Heritage Horse Foundation Herds organization (both 501c3s, non-profit organizations) were recently established to help sustain these horses, and both give supporters the opportunity to make tax deductible donations to help feed the horses. Although the 501c3s give their administrators the opportunity to request grants to help with the care and feeding of the horses, grants will not be available in the near future.
At this time, the financial burden is especially harsh, as Oklahoma is experiencing extreme drought and winter weather. Daily feeding consists of an 80-mile round trip, as well as the cost of feed. In addition, the horses lost two of their major donors this year when the donors’ personal circumstances changed. Rickman estimates that, in order to fully fund the horses’ nutritional requirements this winter, significantly more funds must be made available.
It is out of pure love for these horses that Rickman has chosen to dedicate his life to their care. He is so attentive to them that he has named each horse and knows each one’s history. In the past, some of the horses have found their way back to their original home in the mountains, where they once ran wild and free. Some were gone as long as three years, but, when they made their way back to Rickman, the horses remembered and responded to him as if they had never been gone.
You may send your donation payable to: OK Heritage Horse Sanctuary, c/o The Hungry Horse Café, 101 W. Main St., Antlers, OK 74523, or make your donation to The Friends of the Heritage Horse Foundation Herds at www.thespiritofblackjackmountain.com. Tours of the horse sanctuary are available for up to three people in your party with your donation of $200 or more. For tour/donation information, call Libby Chambers at (405) 850-4343. All donations are tax deductible and will go toward providing feed and physical care for one of Oklahoma’s most beloved treasures – the Colonial Spanish Mustang, our Heritage Horse.