Source: Rapid City Journal
By John D. Taylor
Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary founder Dayton O. Hyde and Executive Director Susan Watt look out towards the vastness of the sanctuary, located south of Hot Springs along Hwy 71. Karla LaRive photo
HOT SPRINGS — When Susan Watt, Executive Director and Program Development head of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and The Institute of Range and the American Mustang moved from Florida to South Dakota 28 years ago she didn’t quite know what she was getting into.
Now, more than a quarter-century later, as Watt reflects back on the satisfaction she feels in having helped Dayton O. Hyde achieve his dream of creating a sanctuary for wild horses, she can bask in the warm glow of satisfaction.
Watt described herself as something of a radical when she was teaching school in the Deep South during the tag end of the Civil Rights crusades of the 1960s. And it was some of this kind of spirit – shaking your fist at the powers that be – that eventually led her to South Dakota and taking on the challenge of saving some land, the history of a ranch and keeping horses alive instead of turning them into canned dog food that led her to helping Hyde achieve his dream.
Hyde ran away from his Michigan home before World War II, and ended up at his uncle’s Yamsi ranch in Oregon. There, he learned how to ride horses, work cattle and be a cowboy. He eventually got into rodeos, bronc riding at first, later clowning – with Slim Pickens, when he was a rodeo clown, well before movies like “Dr. Strangelove” or “Blazing Saddles” made him a famous actor. Hyde also was a professional rodeo photographer with his work appearing in Life magazine.
Things changed for Hyde following World War II – he is a veteran – especially after he took over his uncle’s ranch after his uncle’s death.
Hyde raised a family on the ranch and continued what his uncle and the Yamsi cowboys had taught him, expecting to spend the rest of his days as a rancher and a writer – Hyde has written 15 books for adults and children and contributed hundreds of magazine articles, too.
However, in 1987, Hyde was in northern Nevada, buying feeder cattle for the Yamsi, when he saw hundreds of captured wild horses being held in government pens.
With his love of horses, his heart went out to these animals.
“I owed these horses something,” Hyde has said. “All my life as a rancher I’ve been riding mustangs, training them, using them. I needed the horses, but some part of me always hated to pull them in from their freedom. I have one ache and pain in my body from every horse I ever met, but so many memories, so much joy.”
Determined to free these animals, Hyde turned the ranch over to family members and set out for Washington, D.C., to find out what could be done.
For the next six months, he met with federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) people and haunted the halls of Congress to get permission to start a large sanctuary where wild horses could be free. His idea was to create an Institute of Range and the American Mustang (IRAM) that might raise the money needed to fund a sanctuary.
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