Equine Rescue

Employee: 30 Wild Horses Died of Starvation on South Dakota Ranch

as published on The Rapid City Journal

“This story first crossed our desk late last week in the form of a very graphic report (CLICK HERE) and we have been monitoring the situation, since.  Law enforcement is involved and the chief concern is the feeding of the horses as prosecution of the perpetrator and final disposition of the equines will seek it’s own level and be determined later.  We will update you on the means in which to aide in keeping the horses alive!” ~ R.T.

““I find it hard to breathe when I think back on what’s happened here,”

Courtesy Photo of emaciated horse in a pen at the Society for the Protection of Wild Horses & Burros near Lantry, S.D.

Courtesy Photo of emaciated horse in a pen at the International Society for the Protection of Wild Horses & Burros near Lantry, S.D.

LANTRY | Grossly emaciated wild horses are dropping dead of starvation and other causes on a South Dakota ranch that is supposed to protect them, according to a former ranch employee.

Colleen Burns took her allegations public Thursday by posting 16 pages of written documentation and photographs on a website, and by linking to the material from her Facebook page.

The photographs show severely thin horses, some of them dead, with their ribs and hip-bones protruding. Some have grotesque wounds and injuries or wildly overgrown, untrimmed hooves. A few had been eviscerated, presumably by wild animals.

Burns estimated the death toll to be more than 30 since June. The Dewey County sheriff confirmed he is investigating the situation.

“I find it hard to breathe when I think back on what’s happened here,” Burns said in a Journal interview.

Burns was the senior project manager for the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, which cares for hundreds of wild horses on a rural Lantry ranch within the boundaries of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in north-central South Dakota. Burns said she was fired Thursday after publicizing her allegations, and she posted her termination letter on Facebook.

The letter was from Karen Sussman, the president and longtime leader of the society. The Journal reached Sussman by phone Thursday.

“I just fired her, so I’m sure that she’s a disgruntled employee,” Sussman said. “She was in charge of managing the horses.”

Sussman then said she was too busy to continue talking, but she promised to call back. That call did not come prior to deadline, and a follow-up phone message and email from the Journal both went unanswered.

Burns, who began working for the society in April 2015, said the society moved to South Dakota from Arizona 16 years ago. Since then, according to Burns, the number of horses on the ranch has grown from 260 to 650, all of them rescued from various places in the West. The animals have been allowed to breed freely, Burns said, with no management plan to keep the numbers in line with available grazing or winter hay.

 According to Burns, the horses are split into four groups, including three wild herds in pastures and a fourth group consisting mainly of orphaned foals in smaller enclosures.

Since the birth of dozens of foals earlier this year, Burns said, there has been insufficient grass in the pastures to support all the horses. That factor, coupled with the society’s financial inability to acquire sufficient hay, led to a dire situation in which some horses went without feed for up to three days at a time and began dying in mid-June.

Burns said she tried to spur Sussman into action, only to suffer a breakdown in their relationship. Burns then took her complaints to society board members, one of whom tried to help but met resistance and resigned. Another board member rejected Burns’ claims and scolded her, Burns said.

All the while, according to Burns, the horses received no veterinary care and were looked after only by herself, Sussman and two ranch hands. Burns said she finally contacted the South Dakota state veterinarian, who visited the ranch earlier this month with Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer.

 Mayer, reached Thursday by phone, said the society’s pastures are devoid of grass and are overrun by prairie dog mounds.

“It’s basically bare ground,” Mayer said.

Mayer said he ordered Sussman to feed the horses daily or risk a citation or arrest. Since then, Mayer said, his office has visited the ranch every day and has confirmed that Sussman is complying with the order.

The ranch is in Dewey and Ziebach counties, about 110 miles northeast of Rapid City. Mayer said he has turned over the information he has gathered to both counties’ prosecutors. One of them, Dewey County State’s Attorney Steven Aberle, said in a Journal phone interview that he has received reports about the matter, but he declined to comment further on what he called an “ongoing potentially criminal investigation.”

Sussman is separately facing a felony grand theft charge in nearby Perkins County stemming from an alleged bad check she wrote for $9,394 while buying hay. She applied for a court-appointed attorney and was assigned one on the day of her initial court appearance Tuesday. If convicted on that charge, she faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The nonprofit society’s financial difficulties, meanwhile, are reflected in its publicly available IRS forms. In recent years, the organization reported raising around $700,000 in contributions and grants annually, but it routinely operated at a loss, including the 2012 tax year when expenses exceeded revenue by $166,794.

Below, link to disturbing video, viewer beware:


50 replies »

    • Thanks, Terri. Just wait, the truth will come out and you’ll be surprised. Aweful how some are kicking somebody when they’re down instead of helping.


      • Considering the research that was done on these herds for years – cannot imagine that there wouldnt be any reaching out for assistance! This makes no sense. Up to this point – have never heard anything but good about this organization. And yes, hopefully there will be a different truth to come out, Barbara.


  1. This is again a case of no accountability on the part of the BLM. Follow ups should be done regularly to keep track if them. I believe peoples hearts may be in the right places but funds dwindled in past years due to the economy. If this wasn’t a rescue but a private ranch the BLM hired its pitiful. Its still pitiful! Didn’t any neighbors see what was happening or did they just not want to get involved? This is why I believe an accounting for every Wild Horse and Burros is needed. Even rescues who have taken Wild Horses and Burros should know there where abouts. Most adoption papers are clear about that. What a terrible tragedy! Again our poor horses suffer at the hands of humans who are suppose to protect them! Please keep us posted. We truly need an accounting of all of them. Big task. But it can be done with the help of all the Advocates across the country.


  2. Whatever the future will bring to light, it’s clear many horses have died and are dying as a result of human management, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. Who else but someone working there could have provided witness on behalf of the hapless suffering horses? Unless these photos and other documentation prove somehow to be fabricated we should honor this whistleblower, not vilify her.

    If these horses were found in this state by any private domestic horse owner the outrage would be predictable (one photo appears to show a horse in the herd with saddle scars). While some may be dying of natural causes (the white mare with a broken fetlock is thin but surrounded by horses who are not) I see no reason here for any exemptions for a nonprofit, and personally hold nonprofits to a higher standard, not a double standard. Here I especially condemn the Board of Directors for failing in their governance and oversight duties despite repeatedly reported problems, especially financial. ISPMB is a 501 c 3 nonprofit. A nonprofit is granted tax privileges by the IRS as a public charity so we all have a voice and stake in what happened here. Their website today indicates they are hiring. Nothing shows up there about these deaths or Ms. Burns.

    This is exactly the situation the BLM regularly claims will happen in the wild, so this horrifying example only provides more ammunition (legally and literally) to kill of our remaining wild horses. We must hold all horse managers to the same standards of care, and require more public access to both our wild and formally adopted animals to ensure they have adequate, humane care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “This is exactly the situation the BLM regularly claims will happen in the wild, so this horrifying example only provides more ammunition (legally and literally) to kill of our remaining wild horses.”

      I agree. What more information is needed? Pictures do not lie. I can barely look at them. Giving too much ‘benefit of the doubt’ results in situations like this for all wildlife. Yes, I would be very, very careful who I donate money to in support of sanctuaries. Thanks for the information here.


  3. I’m getting frustrated by these cryptic comments that are posted everywhere that there is more to it than is known. People are asking me to be transparent with my wallet but want to hold back on information regarding this mess. If there is information it should be released. Probably should have been released a long time ago. This was hidden for too long. Let’s bring it fully and completely out in the open.


  4. I was physically sick when I saw this picture…..much less the video. There should be many criminal charges. How and why did it go so far before it got to this amount of suffering? So very sad ….. beyond belief.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have no words anymore. The first priority of anyone with a herd of animals is basic food and water. Decent hay should be free fed 24/7 YEAR ROUND, water checked DAILY. These days anyone who fundraises constantly should have 24/7 live cams on their animals and the donations will arrive. This includes the BLM & contractors. If their round-ups, long and short term holdings were properly managed they would proudly show them off with live cams. Any horse would rather die fast, be struck dead by lightening wild & free, instead of having to suffer years of slow death and watch the others suffer. Jesus someone local get enough hay out there the two? employees don’t have to count out 22 bales of hay each day!! pictures in the pdf are enough proof of the conditions of the horses. https://app.box.com/s/a5lflgiseplkgz9lirr33m0zrilhqbq9

    Liked by 1 person

  6. All the more reason to STOP the roundups and removals and put the captives back where they belong…on their LEGAL Herd Management Areas.
    Wild Horse & Burro sanctuaries are a port in a storm and cannot replace what has been taken from these animals.
    The excellent research that has been done at ISPMB in conjunction with Princeton University is irrefutable.
    More than 22 Million acres have been stolen from Herd Areas and from the Public.
    Blame should be aimed at the agencies that were responsible for capturing and removing those Horses from Public Lands in the first place and aimed at those who either made or pushed for the decisions to do so.
    How many Millions of tax dollars have gone into the pockets of those who have profited from removing our Wild Horses & Burros from our Public Lands?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I personally know that ISPMB continually sends out e mails asking for donations so they can buy hay for the horses. What I don’t know is if they try to keep the numbers under control with the use of PZP. Clearly the number of horses has tripled since the organization was founded. I also do not know if they re-home any of the horses. Use of PZP and rehoming would keep the numbers down and lead to a smaller herd size making it less expensive to feed/care for them in an adequate fashion.


    • Donna, do any of those emails indicate a crisis, as in horses starving? Even today there is no such information on their own website. It takes longer than a week for so many horses to starve to death in summer. The same arguments lobbied against Madeline Pickens for not observing her horses in a timely fashion are just as valid here, or perhaps even moreso since there were frequent observations of trouble but they resulted in inadequate responses.

      By all means the remaining horses should be fed and humanely cared for, but the larger question of “what next” also needs addressing, as winter is fast approaching and this situation will certainly result in a loss of fundraising income, and perhaps larger legal consequences.


      • PS weather forecast shows below freezing temperatures predicted Thursday night for the Lantry, SD area.


      • No word of a crisis, just that the hay is expensive. The usual e mail I get asking for donations to buy hay.


  8. Karen has tried to re-home some of the horses.
    Major donors quit.
    Did Burns and Fred alert Karen before the horses became starved?


    • Barbara, if you read the report it is clear Burns at least raised the alarm repeatedly, and was scolded, ignored, then fired.

      My unfamiliarity with this ranch raises the question of if these were horses ISPMB adopted themselves, so the BLM no longer had oversight, or if they were being paid by BLM for long term holding. I think the ISPMB owns them outright but can’t verify this. Either way, the horses paid and are paying for human incompetence. Anyone who has tried to rehab a starved horse knows it is a long process with few guarantees of success.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read the report and it looked to me like Karen was not notified until horses were down or dead. Wasn’t Burns the farm manager ? At any rate the poor horses have suffered and I’ve sent what I can to ISPMB. The truth will come out but horses come first.


      • Barbara, I re-read the report and it’s clear Karen was notified at every turn and was directing staff to move or euthanize horses. Horse after horse, day after day, herd after herd. Karen was literally calling the shots. She evidently lives on site as well (the two remaining board members live in other states).


      • I received two urgent e-mails from Ms. Sussman wanting more money. It’s obvious many did not support her and the horses. The question is what happens now?


    • Any information on why major donors pulled out and when?
      I thought Karen lived on site and was an entirely dedicated hands-on manager. I can’t think of anything short of disease or neglect which would explain the slow death of so many horses, and of all ages, with people on site every day collecting research data.


  9. I have made direct contact with Karen and deposited 5,000 to her account in cash this morning and others have pledged more..some of us including RT an Dayton from black hills have semis on the way..this is what everyone should be focusing on at this momment-not trashing karen..I have nothing but disgust and disrespect for those who are throwing wood on the fire and tying the rope to the tree for lynching, those who rescue or provide sanctuaries have said..there but for the grace of god go I..because anyone who relies on donations grants from foundations can go from secure to quicksand when a large donor has pulled out..she feeds out 10,000 a week in hay, she works at the reservation hospital to pay her own expenses and uses every dime on the horses..and damn it-if the BLM did their job..none of us would be faced with this-and more importantly the wild horses would not have to rely on the goodness of strangers
    and karen has in the past used PZP-she has 1 herd that is sterile as a result, and a host of other issues that may relate to that use..so no she is not using it-much to the dismay of the pushers..how bout we focus on ways to help her succeed instead of fail..Remember BLMs words..”if we decide to kill all the wild horses we expect the public will step up and take them”…alternative management document

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just read the report & looked at the pictures – hopefully your deposit & the hay coming from others will help, but boy, as thin as so many of those horses are – its going to take more than some hay – so many need TLC – lots of it. Looking at those terrible feet? And all those bodies. And winter coming when horses need extra fat just to get through – even with good feed. Yeah, people do love to jump on the bandwagon whenever someone is down – rather than ask how they could help!


    • From ISPMB Newsletter

      Here is what is happening here at ISPMB. Two herds that received PZP, one for five years and one for four years are still for the most part not giving birth to foals. This is after stopping the drug now for five years.
      The four year course of PZP, nine mares out of 36 mares have conceived with seven losing their foals shortly after they were born. We have five PZP mares that we must watch constantly as they steal foals from mares that are having their first born foals. We have had one Catnip mare that was bitten and had very little hair left that didn’t show a bite wound.
      Although we didn’t witness the takeover of her foal, she was standing near the foal with the “kidnapper.” The mare with bite wounds had a milk bag on her while the kidnapper had none. The foal was already three days old according to staff who were monitoring births. The foal was thin and weak. We also noted that he had burns on his mouth and lips from trying to nurse a dry mare
      Out of seven foals in our foster care, four were the result of kidnappers. For the most part, mares love caring for their foals even into old age. Those that become very old often don’t have foals.


    • This may not be completely about the feed issue either. If certain parasites get into herds, it can be devastating to young and old alike, and also very tough to eradicate those parasites that cause devastation and death because of the nearly silent damage that often occurs that only becomes noticeable when horses are on a quick downhill slide.

      Bot larvae that burrow into the horses tongue for 6 weeks before they migrate throughout the horses body, large, small, and encysted strongyles, lung worms, sarcoptic mites that tunnel and suck blood and are skin eating, and other killer parasites that invade every organ and even the brain (causing serious neurological symptoms such as “paddling” and the loss of use of the hind legs which enable a horse to get up on their own, and all of these that are even more tough to treat when horses are wild.

      Donations to cover the strict protocol for treatment may be in order to regain herd health.


    • I know people who run sanctuaries and the money is AWAYS a problem. Donations wax and wane. There is always more outgo than income and always more animals needing rescued than there are places to take them. There’s never enough time, money or help. Sanctuaries need a steady source of income so that the people who do the actual “hands-on” daily work can be free to do what they do best and not have to constantly worry about fund-raising. Grants are very much needed as are the skills of those who know how to obtain them.


  10. also, if you want to make a donation you can go to ISPMB home page and get a tax deduction for your contribution, if you don’t care about that the sheriff’s office is responding to requests to put up a donation site, or you can donate directly to a hay grower there and RT has that number…Elaine Nash has a great post going on FB, a challenge has been issued to match a 10,000 donation there..by the way the sheriff did not issue a citation when he was there..so you decide the meaning of that-butI am sure he is getting pressure from people who are just reacting, karen will be trying to get photos up ASAP of the horses today, but she is also meeting with her attorney


    • The agencies responsible for removing those Wild Horses from their Congressionally Designated lands should send ISPMB a BIG donation (it’s OUR tax money anyway)….that would be BLM, USFS, Fish & Wildlife.
      Left in the wild, where they belong, the cost of feeding them would be ZERO

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I found it distressing she took video and photos without involving law enforcement from the first sign of trouble. I also am angered they were Allowed to go so far before seeking legal help for them. I also am angered this was posted by United Horsemen Facebook reveling in this situation. Rumors were growing in Illinois regarding this “advocate”….folks this is NOT an advocate. Sussman has no ability to care for this quantity of animals but every person involved is also liable since animals digressed and died which did NOT happen suddenly. Proslaughter nuts were already Allegating that there were Wild horses being starved to death. All these deaths were Absolutely Avoidable and proslaughter should have Never been knowledgable of it unless questions need raised as to any involvement. The timing is extroaordinary considering the BLMs latest Blunders. The impact of this is felt around the World. Advocates and Horse Lovers and Antislaughter folks crying out their anger and pain for these animals. I am driven Even harder to save these horses and Stop proslaughter and make certain the public Knows this is NOT what Advocates do! Advocates would have sought help….jumped infront of a moving train or fed them from their own plates rather than see one starve. Its crazy. People be aware of whats going on. Its imparative. Thanks for revealing what you saw but Never wait this late Ever again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I want to be very clear my comments refer to the simple fact to Advocate means You are actively handling the situation and i am sure as details come out we will review those facts. As we see it however Advocates who are struggling are held to a HIGHER STANDARD to make certain issues are prevented like this the deaths of horses.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. How can anyone in their mind,body, and soul do this? It’s so disgusting I wish I could do something to help. I’m just a working class person I feel so sad for this situation


  13. Do the horses have food now? Do the foals have food now? Who is feeding them? Is any food coming from the local community as far as hay – for immediate relief? Is the local Sheriff monitoring – I mean taking a drive by every day? What about water today?


    • thank you for posting. That does make my mind feel a bit better. It would be even better if this was from an independent person but you go with what you have.
      I’ve been thinking about this situation a lot. In fact it seems it’s what I think about most. Everyone wants to point a finger at Karen as she is the face of ISPMB. And I’m certain there were mistakes made and some of that blame does go to Karen. Did she know about the really sorry state of some of the horses right away? I don’t know. SHOULD she have known? Don’t know how the “ranch” is run. Is the narrative by the employee accurate? Don’t know. The pictures certainly are but what about the conversations and the timing of the conversations? I do know I am looking at this major donor who pulled out with a very hard heart. I don’t know why they pulled out. Doesn’t seem like it was due to death. Don’t know if it was in retaliation for a personal conflict. If they pulled out due to real concerns about the welfare of the horses then they were derelict in not filing a report. But I feel that somewhere there is a person or persons who are living large who knew that pulling their support would create chaos.

      It is mentioned that ISPMB drew in $700,000. Leave us not forget that was with a major donor. I would be interested in seeing what was brought in prior years from Jan-Sept in comparison to this year. I’ll bet it’s nowhere near the same.

      There’s more that I don’t know than I do know. I am angry and very, very sad. Sad that these herds could be sterilized and split up. Auction would be a very big fear. These herds have been the source of some valuable information. I hate to think that might all go away. There are days when you wish you just had a magic wand.


      • Very well said, MorganG. I pray Karen’s research won’t be lost. It was about to be published . Also pray the horses will be cared for in their lifetime.


  14. Shared with my comment: International Society for the Protection of Mustangs, a non-profit group did this to 250 to 650 mustangs on their North Dakota “sanctuary”. We only learned of this through an employee, who was fired, for demanding more hay for the horses as mustangs continued to die from starvation. Whistle blowers want the world to know the reasons they were fired. This one was fired because of her concern for the horses. Her boss rakes in $700,000 yet can’t afford to feed the mustangs their mission is to PROTECT? This is why we fight to #KeepWildHorsesWild! Why should we, the public, have to pay for the lifetime of care for wild horses when the BLM spends millions to round them up. The BLM also pays private ranch owners to care for thousands of mustangs. I see previously adopted mustangs in kill pens all over the nation. This is wrong. Don’t separate them from their family bands and native lands. Kick out the GD welfare ranchers, mining, mineral, oil and gas fracking special interests that rake in millions while destroying our public lands. Who is watching over our wild mustangs once they leave the BLM? NO ONE from the government. It’s private citizens and organized wild horse advocates that HAVE to, because the government would just as soon slaughter them all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The statement: her boss “raked” in $700,000.00 – seriously? How much money do you think it really costs to care for & feed this number of horses? I would doubt that there was that much money donated every year. Considering that one truck load of hay costs at least $1300 & $1700 – enough for THREE DAYS!
      I agree this should not have happened – but it did! This is a tragedy- it tears me up to think of this happening to any horse – wild or domestic. But there should be much gratitude shown to the organizations that stepped up & HELPED!


  15. /sara.long.09/videos/10209667854109465/ I see my video taken oct 2 at ISPMB was deleted- i got it from FB-sara long an activast with the pipline group went over there to find the starving horses ..In all these pastures and pens I see fat and healthy horses


    • Sandra, I watched this and agree there were only a few (probably aged) thin horses, but these were only the few dozen visible closest from the road. There are reportedly something around 600 horses on site. Those in dire straits are probably penned up inside for better care, and some may have been removed by the sheriff as well. So little information it’s hard to know what to think, except a mixture of anger and sadness that horses again pay the highest cost when they have to rely on humans for their survival.


  16. Sara, there is bound to be water for the ones in the field or they would be dead. Horses require 15 to 20 gallons of water a day . Perhaps there are small ponds. I think you are making unproven judgements although you mean well.


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