The Phantom Runs Free

For years he roamed the hills near Dayton and the pages of a series of popular books. Today, a wild stallion named Phantom is settling into a new life at a Northern California sanctuary and his new role as ambassador.

It was a happy, yet bittersweet ending to a story that combines fact and fiction, and says a lot about these animals,and the people who love them.

The setting may have been the green hills of Shasta County in northern California, the atmosphere was not unlike a Hollywood premiere. These people are fans in the truest sense. Some had driven hundreds of miles to be here. And there, working the fence like it was a rope line on a red carpet, the star of the moment, a stallion called Phantom. Wild horses have their advocates, but few ever have names. Even fewer have a fan base, this guy has 2, and they reach literally around the world.

It's an unusual story. For years local author Terri Farley has turned out a series of books about wild horses, books eagerly followed by a following of passionate readers. A central character in her story is a white stallion: The Phantom.

Little did she know that a real life counterpart was roaming the hills near Dayton. It wasn't until last November the author and her fans learned of the real life Phantom.

It's a perfect blend of fact and fiction. This stallion, who had been dubbed the Phantom by people living there, looks as if he stepped right off the front cover of one of Farley's books. By then, the stallion, his remaining mare and a foal were were no longer roaming free, but waiting out their fate in Shirley Allen's corral in Dayton.

He had long been a closely held secret among wild horse advocates who had watched him and his band roam the Dayton area. But his range was becoming a suburban neighborhood. Houses and wild horses don't mix. Capture and relocation had been tried twice and had failed. Next stop could have been the BLM corrals in Palomino Valley, and adoption or sale for slaughter. That was not going to happen.

Funds were quickly raised to sponsor he and his mare to the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown. He's been in a corral here ever since and this week, it was time to release him into a 5,000 acre reserve, and not surprisingly Phantom had drawn a crowd. When the moment came, he lived up to his billing: Regarding the open gate, the trail of hay cautiously, holding his newly expanded harem as his new foal in the corral until sensing all was well. the hero of our tale as heros should, chose freedom. There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd.

The Phantom and his band share that reserve with 300 other wild horses, and yes, you can visit them at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown.