Horse News

A Cowboy Fights to Protect the Wilderness, and Our Nation’s Wild Horses

Source: by as published in the AARP Blog

“Wild horses are a great joy. Like my own freedom, I understood and cherished the spirit of freedom those animals have.”

311Dayton O. Hyde describes the 13,000 acres of land in South Dakota that is home to his Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, along with the wild horses that live there, as “a national treasure.” Hyde himself, an 88-year-old cowboy conservationist, is as precious a national treasure, a hero fighting to the end to protect the land, the water and the wildlife of the American West.

Hyde grew up in Michigan, where his family spent summers on a wilderness lake. “I spent a lot of time by myself when I was young,” Hyde says, his voice gravelly and thick, “and the wildlife became my friends. I determined that wild animals are afraid of people because of their energy fields. I got so that I could make myself into a pack of wet noodles, totally relaxed, and the wildlife was no longer afraid.”

Hyde’s solitary nature led him to write early on, and, in part to experience more adventures that he could write about, he left home at the age of 13 and hopped a freight train to Oregon, where he lived with his uncle on a cattle ranch. It was there that he learned to ride the wild stallions that roamed the area. Today, he says, “Writing is my favorite thing, outside of being on a horse.”

He served in World War II, then worked as a photographer and rodeo clown, before returning to Oregon, where he raised a family while stewarding the waterways and forests of his Yamsi Ranch. He is credited with saving the sandhill Crane from extinction, and has written many books about his efforts to protect the environment.

Like any hero, Hyde is flawed. At the age of 64, he left the ranch and his family behind to set out for new adventure, a move he now realizes caused his children a great deal of pain. “I felt, at age 64, I wasn’t doing anything with the talents I’d been given,” he explains. While riding cattle in Nevada, he came upon a corral of 2000 wild stallions that had been captured by the Bureau of Land Management. “They were a pretty sad bunch,” he says. “Wild horses are a great joy. Like my own freedom, I understood and cherished the spirit of freedom those animals have.”

52With just $14 in his pocket, Hyde headed to South Dakota, where he managed to convince others to “believe in my dream” to launch a nonprofit. With a BLM loan, he purchased a large plot of land near Mount Rushmore for wild horses to range. “I’ve travelled thousands of miles across this country and never found anything comparable to the beauty and isolation of the sanctuary land,” Hyde says. “It’s a startling beautiful place, full of canyons and Indian petroglyphs and sacred places.” He started with 300 mustangs; today, nearly 25 years later, the Sanctuary is home to 600 of them. “I try not to have favorites,” says Hyde, “but when I was putting these horses together years ago in Nevada a little blue yearling just came out of the herd and adopted me, followed me along the fence and just fell in love with me. She’s still alive, 27 years old now, still looks great. She comes up to me and nuzzles. That’s a better relationship than I’ve ever had with humans.”

Hyde himself no longer rides. “I quit riding a few years ago because I realized that if I fell off and got hurt, it would be a triumph for the uranium people.” He is referring to a conglomerate that he is fighting in court that is trying to mine for uranium in South Dakota’s Black Hills by pumping millions of water along with uranium from the aquifer that feeds the Sanctuary’s horses. “Once they take the uranium out,” Hyde explains, “they’re going to pump water polluted with arsenic, heavy metals and selenium back into the aquifer. Once the water is polluted, there’s no other water. I can’t stand the thought of people doing that to the land—all in the name of money.

“I don’t know how we’ll win, but win we will,” Hyde continues. “You can’t quit. Those horses are there for their lives, and you become partners with them in preserving the land. As long as they live, you’re committed.”

In the meantime, he continues to manage the Sanctuary, repairing fences and feeding and watering his horses. “When I approach them,” Hyde says, “they smell me a half a mile long. They sniff the wind, and here they come.”

Hyde’s story—including his battle to stop the proposed uranium mining project—is the subject of “Running Wild,” an inspiring, beautifully shot documentary by the award-winner director, Suzanne Mitchell. It will premiere on Oct. 4 in theaters and Video On Demand.

28 replies »

  1. Truly a great inspiration for us all. His passion is contagious and we should all accept and share it with others.

    There are so few blessings in this life…it would be a shame to not pay heed when one comes knocking.


  2. I tip my hat to you sir. Generosity to those who face an unkind world such as the animals do is appreciated. Its a legacy for all the US. Sacrifice and compassion are a sweet heartbreaking obsession that are only rivaled by truth and true love! People r not perfect or we wouldnt be fighting for each others protection. In the end the end we all battle the greed of a few women and men.


  3. Awesome we need more people to stand up or they will destroy this earth , they already are in the name of money , they have taken out all the agriculture , no more anything where I live except stupid housing developments and buildings its discusting and now they are tearing down our house we live in , in the name of money , we need a place to go and there isn’t a place , so like they are doing to the horses they are also doing to people this needs to stop , Jesus come back now .


  4. We are all born with special gifts of which to give back to this world to make it a better place. One person can make a big difference; especially when their focus and intent is as strong as their drive and will. We should all be doing what Mr. Hyde has and is doing with their lives. It is both a life and spiritual necessity!


  5. Kudos to this far sighted man. What a legacy that continues to the present . I hope his family appreciates his work some day. Regarding uranium , Einstein stated that using nuclear power was a hell of a way to boil water. After all it is just steam that turns those turbines to make electricity. Perhaps we can be wise and see that Fukishima is not working out so well.


  6. This is where I first learned about Dayton Hyde. He understands what the rest of the world desperately needs to learn.
    DON COYOTE by author Dayton O. Hyde has been re-released by Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado. Originally written in 1986, is was the winner of the 1989 American Library Association Ten Best Books of the Decade
    There’s a stubborn myth perpetuated by sheepmen of the old school that coyotes live only to kill sheep, and should be shot on sight. This heart-warming true story of a rancher (The book’s author, Dayton O. Hyde) who befriends not just one coyote (The Don), but all the coyotes that live on his land, bears witness to a different truth.

    The Don snaps up Hyde’s offerings of bologna sandwiches, teaches Hyde to play the coyote version of Kick the Can, and makes his den under an abandoned tractor on Hyde’s ranch. When a trespasser shoots off the Don’s hind paw and gleefully chops off his tail, Hyde grieves, assuming his coyote friend is dead.

    But Don Coyote survives, without a tail and traveling on three legs. And as Hyde and the Don share one adventure after another, Hyde’s respect and affection for all coyotes grow. He brings in two more coyotes and six pups, all with their own uniquely engaging personalities. The pups grow up in varying degrees of domesticity and wildness, and one female, Coy, becomes Hyde’s constant companion. Coy rides with Hyde in his tractor, sleeps in the cabin, and runs with the ranch dogs.

    Hyde’s family of coyotes forces him to consider his role: a human being responsible to the land rather than dominating it. And as for the role of coyotes, the rodent population – for once – is under control, the grass grows higher, and the
    cattle on Hyde’s ranch remain untouched. In the end, Coy and the Don run off together, safe yet wild on Hyde’s ranch.

    Dayton Hyde’s wonderful powers of observation prove to be a strong ally for America’s most maligned original – the coyote.


  7. Dayton;
    God Bless you. These animals are our legacy and heritage. They are one of God’s most precious gifts to us. Their beauty is unequaled. May we win this fight to save all the wild mustangs and burros as well as our domesticated horses that end up in killer buyers hands. With all our help and courage to fight, WE WILL WIN. I would love to visit your sanctuary one day and see that beautiful blue mare of yours. I envy the relationship you have with her. It doesn’t come often. May it continue for many years to come.


  8. Reblogged this on Rancho Comancho and commented:
    This is what is worth living for. I mean, there many other things meaningful, but doing what you believe is true and good, well, that’s it. America needs young and real Americans like you Dayton!
    Guardate questa clip di presentazione: Dayton è un esempio di quel che l’America era è può continuare a essere. A dire il vero, è un esempio di quel che tutti potremmo essere. Grazie, Dayton!


  9. Ab Fab…absolutely fabulous guy…we don’t have the acreage here in Ireland but I’m going share the 86 acres with the horses that no one wants but to kill…long live Dayton we all have so much to learn from his example. Thank you.


  10. I’ve read about Dayton Hyde for years – what hes done for the horses just goes to show it CAN be done! I remember reading about the coyotes quite a while ago and about the sanctuary. Quite a guy.


  11. What an incredible man, who remains true to his passion! A wonderful and inspirational story that makes us all feel good, especially those who value and appreciate our beautiful wild horses. Looking forward to seeing “Running Wild”. Thank you Dayton!


  12. Desire, Drive, Determination equals Destination. This man is proof there is a power higher and more loving and intelligent than us. His eyes and heart were opened and awakened.


  13. Dayton, I am so proud of you and your accomplishments with the wild horses. I wuld like to visit you someday and see how we can continue to make more areas in our country horse accessible We must give our horses places to roam and be free. You have done a great thing by helping so many. We must continue what you are doing and help you as much as we can. Keep up the great fight to protect the land and keep it pristine for the wild life and the horses. You are so awesome. God Bless you Dayton and your family. Can’t wait to see you in the future. I am from Michigan but my heart is with the wild horses. I have become a wild horse advocate and own three beautiful rescued horses. My two young horses have some Mustang in their blood. I see this when I am training them. Wow they are incredible. I love them so much. Freedom Thunder and Denali are brothers. I also have their Mom. I have a family. I had Daddy Babe but he had to be put down because he could not walk very well and had such bad arthritis in his legs. I have a whole family and so proud of them all. I love them dearly. I am so blessed with my beautiful family. I treasure them all. I keep fighting to save our wild horses everywhere. We must. They are counting on us to save them. I am devoted. We must keep them free to roam. We must and it is up to us to do this. Dayton your story is a great one. You are writing history here and we love you. Keep on keeping on. We will help when we can. We support you in spirit and now we must keep you at the fore front because you are doing what is important to save our wild horses. We have so many to save. So many horse families to save. The BLM has destroyed the fabric of the genetic pool and it is up to us to repair what we can. Speak up and speak out all of you cowboys and cowgirls, any of you out there speak up and save them. Let us work together in saving them. This is a community and world effort. We can and we will.


  14. Try looking up information on a government site. For instance….
    NEPA files….WHO else is looking to extract resources from our Public Lands?
    The Public is being kept out, but are the corporations?
    Our Federally Protected Wild Horses and Burros seem to be a “nuisance” wherever other interested are interested in our natural resources:
    At Mesa Verde National Park, wild horses have become unwanted nuisance


  15. We have money for everything except our Vets, wild horses, burros, and our land, that we pay taxes on is not being used as our land, but for what the BLM can get out of it, seems like their target is just to slaughter as many horses etc as possible, then put up the land for grazing etc. No Government regulation that benefits the horses, hell is waiting for these people for sure.


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