Equine Rescue

Wild Horse Tragedy in South Dakota

Source: By John Christopher Fine as published in the Epoch Times

“The storm passed and we were left with the gruesome task of picking up dead horses.”

Medicine-Hat-3-676x450The baby horse stuck its hoof up in the air as if to say ‘I am not going to step in that mud.’ The little filly was born to a mare in the Catnip herd in Lantry, South Dakota. Its mother was attentive; an aunt gathered near when movement of other horses threatened the baby. Perfect in every way, the little horse had a white body, autumn haze brown shield over her left eye, dainty yet perfectly formed white legs with little pearl colored hooves. A shield formed part of her chest.

“Not one in 700 births is a medicine hat. Indian warriors believed that to ride such a horse in combat made them invulnerable to injury or death,” Karen Sussman said. We sat in a mud-spattered four-wheel drive truck looking at the little horse and its mother from a deeply rutted road. The storm passed and we were left with the gruesome task of picking up dead horses.

Large numbers of domestic cattle also tragically died. The same storm ended neighboring ranchers’ hopes to do better than break even this year. To finally turn a profit so they could make home and equipment mortgage payments next month when their cattle were shipped. This was not an aged dying where death is sad but expected. Not the occasional death from winter snows. This record storm killed thousands of animals.

An October blizzard swept down over western South Dakota. Nothing like it ever happened before. Not this early. “Look at the trees. The leaves are still green. It was 86 degrees two weeks ago. It was so hot I thought about putting the air conditioner on in the house. I said no, I’m not going to put an air conditioner on in late September,” this grandmother of 5 said. Karen is president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB).

The equine conservancy was started in 1960 by friends of Velma Johnston to support her work. Velma was more popularly known as Wild Horse Annie. The moniker started as a derisive term coined by enemies of her struggle to save wild and free roaming horses and burros. It was Wild Horse Annie’s mustering children from around the U.S. and around the world that caused Congress to pass protective legislation affording wild horses a modicum of protection from abject slaughter and cruel roundups by aircraft with gunners shooting into terrorized herds.

Karen now holds the reins to ISPMB. The non-profit organization maintains four distinct herds and many special care horses on a ranch in Lantry, SD. It’s a hard place to find. So far off the beaten tourist path that few are willing to make the 2 ½ hour drive from Rapid City to visit. The organization is totally subsistent on private donations. Its budget was pushed to the limit when last year’s western drought saw corn and sunflower crops reduced to 25% of normal yields and hay crops fail.

“In January 2012, I was paying $65 per ton for hay. By February it went to $90 a ton. I thought then, ‘How dare you ask that high a price.’ The hay farmers saw the drought coming. By March hay was still $90 a ton but the locals decided not to sell any more. I was on the phone every day trying to find hay. I bought hay for $100 a bale. It amounted to $175 a ton. By June and July I was able to buy hay in Timber Lake for $100 a bale. By August I had to buy hay from Canada for $100 a ton, Shipping was $3,000 a truckload. A truck can haul about 30 bales that weigh around 1,200 pounds each. I got all the hay from Canada until June 2013. My first six truckloads cost me the price of the hay plus $3,100 each truck for shipping. It was $210 to $220 a ton,” Karen said. The freight was exorbitant since there were no back hauls where truckers could make money on the return trip carrying freight.

“I’m worn out. I can’t do that again.” This sturdy pioneer spirit declared, exhausted. It was said in momentary desperation. We were sitting in the truck, after the blizzard passed, checking on the little medicine hat foal and her mother. “That other little baby with his mother looks good. I was worried about it as well.” There was nothing else to be said or done except drive into a deeply rutted, muddy lane to where the tractor was parked.

Jules Uses Many nearly lost his knee length rubber boot in mud as he tried to pull a foal’s body into the tractor’s loader. Two days after the blizzard began warm weather was melting the snow. The melt caused floods in the pastures. Deep mud was everywhere. Jules, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member, never saw anything like this before either.

“It’s like the massacre at Wounded Knee,” he said. He spit smokeless tobacco. Its sharp taste seemed to help him through the difficult day. Traditional tribal members consider wild horses sacred. They are part of their culture. Horses changed a way of life from dog people to a horse culture. These last four herds, including the rare Gila herd of Spanish mustangs, kept in family bands on the ranch in Lantry, are the few that have not been rounded up every year.

Government agencies conduct roundups of wild horses on public lands. The terrorized horses are then pushed into holding pens, sorted and separated from their families by government officials. The objective of these bureaucrats is to rid wild horses from public lands.

The loss of one ISPMB mustang is tragic. Each death takes with it the history and tradition of the first peoples of this land as well as the cowboy tradition born when vaqueros of old Mexico tamed Spanish mustangs.

The loss figures were staggering. Each tractor load took three to four foals and yearlings to the place where they were to be buried. The road to the south range was now deeply rutted. The track was so muddy it was all Jules and Karen could do to keep the tractor on the path and make it up a steep hill.

The cargo was grim. In the 14 years Karen has been conducting research on these wild herds nothing like this ever happened before. Karen’s observations reveal that, unmolested, wild horses in family groups and bands, with their band stallions, hold breeding in check. When left to nature wild horses do not over-reproduce as U.S, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) bureaucrats have been telling the U.S. Congress. Rounded up and sorted horses with only certain types and ages released again into the wild behave differently than natural wild horse herds. The BLM conducts routine roundups, part of a program to eliminate wild horses on public lands in favor of cattle leases, hunting interests as well as oil and gas exploitation.

None of this seemed very urgent at the moment. There was no hay. Karen was on her cell phone getting promises of delivery. The current price plus shipping was still very high. While summer 2013 saw plentiful harvest because of ample rainfall, ranchers were stockpiling hay as reserves for their cattle in case 2014 proved to be another drought year.

“How are my babies doing?” Karen asked Jules. She inquired about foals and horses we were able to rescue and bring into sheds. During the freezing cold their legs were massaged. Blankets were placed around them. As they recovered we tried to get them on their feet. A few of the rescued died despite brave efforts to keep them alive during the freezing nights of the blizzard. The ones that made it were doing well, a saving grace.

It was warm again. Hot almost. I took off my stocking hat, shed my coat then got rid of pants and sweater. They say you have to dress in layers in South Dakota with good reason. I finally changed back into my T-shirt and shorts. Funny looking dude in that outfit with high rubber boots from ShoesFella.com. The deep muck was everywhere. Snow was melting fast. Lower pastures were already under three feet of water.

“My little medicine hat is dead…” Karen told us the next morning, “…and the tractor broke down.” While the burdens and reality of the previous two days had not yet set in, as clean up work and continual care for the herds and babies had to be done, this new tragedy struck. The beautiful little baby medicine hat succumbed…(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) for the rest of the story and to comment at the Epoch Times


22 replies »

  1. This is what I was referring to when I replied to the earlier post about this devastating blizzard. So many commenters were talking about ‘karma’. This was not ‘karma’. This is about a force of nature that had no mercy and affected everyone and everything. It is extremely sad and we need to help if we can, empathize, and say a prayer for all of the animals lost and all of the people trying to recover.


  2. I am so overcome with sadness for the horses lost and also sad for Karen, Please everyone donate what you can . any amount will certainly add up, to a lot , money will not replace Karens little Medicine Hat, for that we can only offer to her our condolences ………….


    • Yes Arlene, I donated 2 days ago when I first heard of this tragedy… & more blizzards coming. This is an EMERGENCY. Please anyone, whatever $ you can. ISPMB. Thank you RT for this post.


  3. Not trying to be a grim reaper by this comment, but the only predator left controlling animals reduction is man or weather. I am saddened by these deaths, broke.hearted for these people. But the cattle people kept yelling rid us of horses, god struck with a vengeance and sadly.others of innocence were caught in the storm.if only the storm had been in sue wallis s town instead!


  4. The loss of one ISPMB mustang is tragic. Each death takes with it the history and tradition of the first peoples of this land as well as the cowboy tradition born when vaqueros of old Mexico tamed Spanish mustangs.

    After such tragic loss of life, this is something I have thought about also, this kind of loss of culture and history. We no longer care about these things, or care about anything it seems. We’ve become so caught up in money and selfish gratification that we’ve lost our souls I think.


  5. Karen has stuck with the Princeton study project for SO long, and now this happens!! I woke up crying about her situation on Saturday night —bad dreams and just a bit of news regarding the cattle situation drew a picture of inevitable disaster. The hay prices are what made her have to sell some of the prized mustangs this past summer, as some of you may be aware. The project has been modeled to try to study the dynamics of bands of horses allowed to remain intact. I sent out a plea for funds to help her on Sat. to anyone I could dig up on email—-I hope this will bring in funds to keep her going. Just think of how difficult to bury all those precious horses, the babies, the elderly—and then have to keep going till the next blizzard comes.
    Folks, there are forces of nature, but this is everything scientists have been warning of regarding the load of carbon humans are pumping into our weather systems and atmosphere. Remember, she said the day before this storm, temps were in the ’80’s, she wanted to run the AC and the trees were still covered in green. All last year was a terrible drought. The thing to remember is—humans have pumped up the green house gas emissions and loads at a speed unprecedented in human historical record, so that NO amount of slow adaptation is possible. These horrific events—hurr. Sandy, Colorado wildfire/droughts/floods, rapid disappearance of glaciers that formerly sequestered fresh water, etc. etc. —-these situations are going to be the NORM from now on. Our addiction to fossil fuels and the reluctance of authorities to properly burden (pay the TRUE costs) of the continued pollution from these sources means we simply kick the can down the road for others to deal with our obstinancy to remain comfortable.
    I have spoken with Karen about these inevitable connections, and no one sees the effects of wild weather swings and catastrophic consequences more that she.


  6. Nature and history repeat themselves. In the late 1800’s an October killer storm came through and killed thousands of livestock and wildlife. Its hard to accept that 100+ years later with all the technology, we are still vulnerable to nature but it makes me wonder; are we complacent, and/or do we need to change our animal husbandry practices ? I think “re-thinking” a new strategy is a good idea
    For instance, two or three years ago, where I live, a hard winter killed off thousands of wildlife, big and small. The ranchers hauled elk and dear carcasses from outside their hay stackyards by the bucketload. It seems odd to me that the government pays wildlife damage and feed loss fees, but then the ranchers who also depend on hunting fees, are not allowed to feed the wildlife after hunting season ends (it’s considered baiting) under extreme circumstances. It doesn’t seem right and it’s a terrible waste of wildlife resources – the good native grass river bottom pastures are all under hay production and the rest of the land is open range 6 months of the year and terribly overgrazed. Thus, the native forage options for wildlife have been severely decreased and then they have to deal with the stress of high tech hunting for 3-4 months going into winter, or a disease process sets in, and then people wonder where all the animals are????? Im not saying wildlife should be supplement fed – it just seems that if it’s all about business, cost-benefit analysis should be factored into the big picture equation. Something needs to change.


  7. It all evens out in nature. The BLM’s “Micro-Managing” of our wild horses and burros has led to nothing short of a protracted genocide. Man is NOT smarter than Mother Nature!!!! Maybe the lands horses and burros roam on gets thin and dry one year…soon it will reconstitute if left alone. Unfortunately the land never has a chance due to the untold millions of cattle and sheep. Cattle pack the earth so densely even if it were to rain it would simply run off. That same earth will not allow a seed to take root and grow and if it does the sheep will tear it from the ground destroying any chance of new forage. Forage that is dear to all wildlife.

    They have the audacity to call the horses ‘feral’, in their deluded minds that mean alien, when of course we know they are not. Their use of the term ‘feral’ is contradictory as it is simply the latin word for ‘wild’.

    They twist and spin in hopes that the majority will accept their word as gospel. Well that is not the case anymore. They are finding a more educated adversary armed with the ‘Best Available Science’…something Sally Jewell promised would be the basis for her decision making.

    “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

    I feel our best approach is to continue the assault on Madame Secretary via phone calls, emails, feedback on the DOI website etc. She has a tweet account…USE IT!

    Eventually once they figure out we know more about the history of the horse on this continent than they wanted us to know, much less believe, they will have to change their tune. Find a new set of lies and start the cycle all over again.

    The ‘Best Available Science’ is clear and abundant. It proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the horses were simply re-introduced by the Spaniards. Horses were here and documented centuries before Columbus and he predated the Spaniards by a couple of hundred years.

    Oh but wait!!! If the horses are native then we have to make drastic changes in the way we treat them. Are there so few left in the wild they would be entitled to the protections of the Endangered Species Act? They want to list the sage grouse and there are about 500,000 of them. Does anyone of us believe there are 500,000 wild horses and burros?

    You see this change in thinking is the number 1 enemy of the welfare ranchers and the BLM who act on the orders of Congress. Congressional representatives and Senators from the western states would be outraged on behalf of their constituents who benefit from the public land.

    Something tells me Gov. Romney wasn’t thinking about the cattle and sheep ranchers when he spoke of the 47% living on the government’s dime. The financials prove with the subsidies they are given and the cheap grass their animals graze on the public lands that they qualify as what my dad used to call a “MOOCHER”. Hmmm “Moo-cher” makes you think???

    Just so you don’t have to Google it…a Moocher is a person who is supported by or seeks support from another without making an adequate return. Yes our return on our investment in ranchers is minimal. They provide little of the beef consumed in this country.

    Just my thoughts…NFN! (nuff for now)


  8. This is super sad, but as far as her claiming that these “wild horses” are “unmolested” and keep themselves in check doesn’t hold ground. I believe that if you are having to feed horses hay by the truck load they are no longer wild, they are domesticated. Also, in the wild, horses don’t have barns or blankets. There are no true wild horses in america, they are all feral. I think that rounding them up and putting them in holding facilities is a waste of taxpayers money, but also making it so they are untouchable is equally as stupid. We can’t be hauling in hay to feed feral horses that are not doing anything. The numbers do need to be kept in check, without having to feed them or take away from cattle and true wildlife. Cowboys are also iconic to the American west but I don’t see anyone trying to preserve that way of life. Only trying to put them out of business and villainize them.


    • Kelly, we shouldn’t be feeding them or caring for them…that’s Mother Nature’s job. Wild animals die of exposure all the time…even some domestics left in hot cars. The horses need to be left alone to live their lives. Experts disagree with you about them keeping their numbers in check. The zebras in Africa have the same traits and they have all been studied extensively.

      As to the term ‘feral’…it is latin for ‘wild’. If you refer to it’s improper use of being an animal returned to the wild from a domestic situation you must remember it only refers to that animal. If it’s offspring are born in the wild and only know a wild existence then they are wild.

      That being said…what we refer to here are the horses and burros as described in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Then why don’t we call the feral pigs in texas wild and protect them? Right now there are horses that were domestic that people have turned loose because they can’t afford to take care of them or just don’t want them that I’m sure are being called “wild”. I also agree that we should not be feeding any wild or feral animals.

        As for Zebras, they are a native animal to that region and they are hunted by numerous predators and humans helping to keep their numbers in check. The horses on this continent are not even allowed to be “harassed”. That means if your horse gets loose with “wild” ones, you just lost your horse because going in to get yours out is considered “harassing” the wild horses.

        There are also experts who do agree with me about keeping their numbers in check. I think it is obvious to everybody that what is happening now is NOT working.


  9. From Karen Sussman, ISPMB
    As you know, I have been in the wild horse movement for nearly thirty years now. Our organization has accomplished so much in our past 50 years. Our reputation is impeccable, not only with the BLM but with all the wild horse and burro groups and conservation groups in the U.S. Over the years, we have united more humane and wild horse groups than any other organization.
    ISPMB has a critical need to maintain our Wild Horse Conservation program. In 1999, ISPMB took a great leap creating a new paradigm in preservation and protection of America’s wild horses by creating this conservation program. We are the only organization in the U.S. to manage entire herds of wild horses gaining eleven years of data now.
    We were fortunate as our first two herds had not been disrupted, rounded up, etc. in decades of time. These two herds are the most natural behavioral healthy herds in the U.S. Our third herd came in late in the year of 2004. It was this herd that created an eye opening experience as to the effect of multiple round ups of horses and the devastating effects on the herd.
    We know that there are only two other herds besides our two healthy herds existing on public lands whose band structures have not been disrupted through gathers. They are the Montgomery Pass horses in CA and the Cerbats in AZ. Both herds have sufficient mountain lion predation that their numbers remain stable.
    I am asking everyone to support us in our efforts so that we can maintain these herds and continue our studies. There are very few behavioral studies in the U.S. We are the only ones that have ongoing studies now for eleven years. I’m sure it is no surprise to you that BLM does not have data or even a solid management program for wild horses and burros in our country.
    Our Conservation program has one of the greatest opportunities to save our wild horses on public lands. Our data after Princeton becomes involved will be undisputable. Here is what we are finding:
    Because of BLM’s lack of knowledge in managing wild horses, they have created a doubling of the fertility rates in 197 herds by their removal methods.
    BLM’s removal methods have destroyed the horses social structures which resulted in a severe lack of modeling to younger horses by the older and wiser horses. This has happened by younger and younger stallions taking over the harem bands. The best analogy is that the Harvard professors are no longer in charge of the harems which have given way to younger stallions who are the equivalent of grade school children.
    We have the answer as to why the fertility rates have doubled in the past 15 years.

    With our ongoing evidence, we believe we will be able to stop helicopter roundups of wild horses and BLM will have to manage wild horses in their best interest.
    We have started another study on our dysfunctional herd that had been nearly eradicated over the past ten years on Sheldon Wildlife Range. Our goal is to find out the best way to manage wild horses who have not had behavior modeling from the older and wiser animals. This is no small feat. However, when we are successful in this area, we will be able to transfer our findings to the public lands herds.
    We also believe that the future of the herds on public land are at great risk for survival over the long term because of the breakdown in their educational system through the destruction of their social harems.
    Finally, we will share our “model management” program with the BLM. Most of the programs that BLM have are from ISPMB.
    We believe our Conservation model has the greatest advantage now to save wild horses on public lands, more so than any other means currently in place from law suits to public protests. We believe that if we can work together, we can truly solve the wild horse dilemma once and for all.
    I hope you will consider helping us as we continue our work with Princeton in these first ever historical behavioral studies, helping us to make sure that our Conservation model continues. Working together can create a momentous change at a time when our wild horses need us the most.


  10. Even more tragic is that these Wild Horses should never have
    been removed from their Legal Herd Management Areas in the Western states,
    where they have adapted through generations. This article was written in 2009. How many more of our Wild Horses and Burros have disappeared from our public lands since then?

    What’s Left?
    As the united call to stop BLMs unchecked assault on the American mustang & burro
    continues to gain momentum, with over 180 organizations and celebrities now
    supporting a moratorium to halt any further removals until key issues can be
    resolved, here’s one more reason to demand a “cease and desist” until a full
    scale investigation can be conducted on the Wild Horse & Burro Program to
    determine what’s really left out on the range.

    Since 2001, BLM has reported removing over 80,000 wild horses and burros at an
    average of 10,000 animals per year. Despite these aggressive efforts, they
    continue to report little to no impact has been made on reining in their
    “excess” populations, a nebulous term BLM continues to define and an even more
    elusive goal they never seem able to achieve.

    Until Congress demands an independent count of the populations BLM has been reporting, both on and off the range, the evidence continues to mount that “What’s Left?” has reached critical levels of concern.


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