Horse News

SFTHH Exclusive: “My Time at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary”

by Rob Plisken ~ BoD member of the Cloud Foundation

“I was moved to reach out to the horses and become an advocate…”


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For the better part of five years, from about 1997-2002, I volunteered at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (BHWHS), working with a handful of other volunteers, BHWHS founder Dayton Hyde, and Program Director Susan Watt.   My recollections mostly come from the work we did, and the meaning I was able to make of it.  So let’s start there.


The first thing I did when I came to BHWHS one spring was help Dayton build new wire fence along the Sanctuary Road.  That fence went up and down over the boulder strewn hills on the north side of the road for a mile before dropping down into headquarters.  It was built well, allowing a deer to run through the strands, and cutting the contours across the swales between the hills.

Later on my own I’d go out checking and mending the boundary fence on foot, after going as far as I could in the truck or on the quad.  I would step around newly blooming pasque flowers toting a few coils of used wire, a wire stretcher, and my fencing pliers, clips, and staples.

One afternoon when I had taken a female companion to the Sanctuary with me, Dayton realized the section of fence at the water gap on the Cheyenne River needed reset.  Its sag would be an easy crossover for both horses and the Sanctuary’s cattle.  My companion and I were to have some quality time that afternoon, but her idea of quality time did not start at the water gap.  So I went out by myself and fixed it.  Today we move at more distant ends of the same circles and are pleasant to each other.


Those days mending fence I would meet little bands of horses strung out across the Sanctuary range.   That was pretty grand.  I remember an inherent peacefulness and trust in our interactions, and the respect of each other’s presence.  One shy band of several mares, yearlings, and foals spent warm afternoons swishing tails in the pine shade overlooking Hell Canyon, and sometimes they would share their shade with me.   That’s when I understood on a level beyond words the additional importance and joy there was in good fence and the work that went into it.


The Sanctuary is also a working cattle ranch, with a regular cow works at headquarters, a pride in its herd, and an agricultural tax status. It manages wild horses and cattle effectively on 13,000 acres.  One late winter or early spring I was up close and personal at 6 a.m. weaning, vaccinating, castrating, branding, and pest treating cows and calves.  The night before, I had forgotten to turn off the water in one of the stock tanks after a long day of bringing cattle in.  So that morning I volunteered to be in the pens on foot for the sorting, in the resulting mud.  No one of the friends, family, and neighbors who had gathered for the work protested. Except all the heifers, mother cows, and their calves did.  Up close and personal.

Gathering Horses

The years I was at the Sanctuary horses were gathered to wean the young and do any necessary doctoring in the herd.  Those years we did it with gates and drift fences, over several days at a time, with horses at a walk mostly.  On the occasion that a tie-back at a gate would come undone, or horses would turn and walk or trot away from a drift fence, the stories Dayton was quietly telling to pass the time or the philosophy of conservation he would offer at a whisper inside the pickup would suddenly explode into a multi-decibel cowboy blue streak unrepeatable even on RT’s blog.  But not at the horses; for them there would be tomorrow, or the next day.  And with never even a thought of a helicopter.  When it was time to run, the horses played with the quad and pickup and 4 Runner a little, making circles around us before their gallop to headquarters.

 Parting Words

This article gives you a mere taste of how Dayton and Susan preserve a horse herd on a daily basis.  It doesn’t describe the tipi circles by the river hundreds of years old seen from the Sanctuary cliffs.  Or the way just a few people can take what they know is right in their heart, and make it work.  But even then I could see something else.  For the horses, living in our country long before us, long before those tipi rings by the Cheyenne were there, long before that river even had a name, we still weren’t quite making it right.  Between realizing that, my love of ranch work, and what Dayton and Susan did and continue to do, I was moved to reach out to the horses and become an advocate.  I know that as long as there are horses in the wild, this work will never be done.  Perhaps after reading this, you know it too.

Rob Pliskin
Monday, December 9, 2013

13 replies »

  1. Dear Rob , I respect and admire you for all you have done for the beauties that we all love and also respect, i also know anytime spent either with them or for them is time so well spent , i only got to see the mustangs up close and personal on the Nevada desert hundreds of trips there just to catch a glimpse of them and of the wonders i found with them , my first encounter with the innocent beauties was when I was 5 yrs old i was on the desert with my mother who also loved them dearly all her life , she knew i had come here with the same love , so she wanted me to see them as she had seen them, It was absolutely wonderful, as young as i was i was completely enamored with the Mustangs they captured my heart and soul forever………………….they bring many things of wonder with them, but most of all the feeling of Freedom like you will never feel it so beautifully, but only through their eyes !!!!! God Bless each one of them !!!!!!


    • Thanks Arlene, and everyone else who has commented so positively today. The wind is sighing and moaning in my windows as it blows across the farm where I live here near Cleveland tonight. It’s about 21 degrees F in northern Ohio, but I can get out of the wind and snow. The horses and their cousins the burros can’t. As a whole they make it from season to season and year to year — free. It is only BLM policy and practice that can be worse on them than any winter — ending, shortening, or changing their lives forever….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob, I suspect people always wonder if the money they donate is really going to a “good cause.” I’ve supported Black Hills for many years, but have never visited. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I trust the goodness continues there!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rob, I guess after reading this article – I better add one more donation to my “list”.
    Sounds like heaven – being there. But to be able to actually DO something sounds even better. I have read & seen videos of Dayton Hyde and the wonderful “work” he does. But I know & you know – its not work. Its love & caring for the animals that mean so much to all of us. You’re right tho – it will never be done. And its up to all of us to keep on doing…


  4. Rob, thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. I first learned about Dayton when I read his book, DON COYOTE. I knew then that this was the direction that we should take with our Wildlife. He is truly a man that is WAY ahead of his time.

    Liked by 1 person

    DON COYOTE by author Dayton O. Hyde has been re-released by Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado.

    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.

    Liked by 1 person

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