Equine Rescue

Private Horse Sanctuary Became Starvation Zone

By LACEY LOUWAGIE  as published on The Courthouse News Service

“I was working my dream job and able to apply my life and professional skills to help wild horses for an organization that has been saving them since 1960. … It was a dream … a dream that turned into the most horrific of nightmares.”

LANTRY, S.D. (CN) — With another harsh South Dakota winter just around the corner, a former employee at a wild horse sanctuary has released documentation of emaciated and dead horses at the ranch, hoping to get help for the others before the cold sets in.

“When I began working for and living on the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros ranch in April of 2015, I was full of hope and joy,” Colleen Burns wrote in a statement accompanying her documentation.

“I was working my dream job and able to apply my life and professional skills to help wild horses for an organization that has been saving them since 1960. … It was a dream … a dream that turned into the most horrific of nightmares.”

white-sands-foalBurns says that since June more than 30 horses have died of starvation, lack of veterinary care and other causes at the ranch.

She released her documentation of the deaths to the public and to The Animal Legal Defense Fund late last week.

(Editor’s Warning). The document is rife with harrowing photos of horses whose every rib is visible, hipbones jutting sharply out of flanks. One photo depicts a horse with a gruesome open wound on its neck.

NBC got wind of the documents early, running a story on Saturday. By Monday this week, the story had spread across South Dakota newspapers, into Iowa, and onto horse enthusiast websites, many of which reprinted the less-graphic of the troubling photos.

Burns’ fears about how the horses will fare in the coming winter are understandable. In 2013, an October winter storm killed up to 30,000 cattle in South Dakota, according to Weather.com.

When neither the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros president Karen Sussman or its board of directors heeded her concerns about the horses, Burns said, she began creating her 16-page document of photos, journal entries and stills from videos.

Five days after she posted her document to a public Google page, the society (ISPMB) updated its homepage with a flood of images dated Oct. 3. These images show clean, healthy and placid-looking horses surrounded by mounds of hay.

The number of horses at the ISPMB ranch has risen from 260 to 650 in the 16 years that it has been studying wild herds, according to the society’s website. Burns says the ranch does not have the money to adequately feed them all, nor enough grass on its 680 acres to support their grazing.

On Monday, Dewey County Sheriff’s Department announced on its Facebook page that it is investigating. Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer has been visiting daily since Burns contacted the state veterinarian on Sept. 15, according to Burns’ documentation.

Mayer told the Rapid City Journal that Sussman must feed the horses daily or risk citation or arrest. The sheriff said she has complied.

The ranch has been in dire financial straits for years. As early as September 2011, Sussman issued a plea on the society’s website for help feeding the horses.

“Today, I am writing to ask for your help,” she wrote. “The severity and length of the economic downturn has hit charities hard and we are facing the upcoming winter without enough funding to purchase enough hay.”

Sussman is facing grand theft charges in nearby Perkins County, accused of writing a bad check for more than $9,000 to pay for hay, according to the Rapid City Journal.

The society has been sued at least four times in three South Dakota counties since 2015, accused of writing bad checks, not paying for hay or failing to repay loans, according to the Courthouse News database. The claims total more than $160,000.

Burns says food for the horses was delivered sporadically over the summer, and that horses were being fed only once a week by the end of August.

Susan Watt, director of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, has stepped in to help with $6,000 worth of donated hay, enough to feed the herds for three days, according to The Rapid City Journal.

The Dewey County Sheriff’s Department also is setting up a fund to help pay for hay for the troubled horses.

Burns says Sussman fired her after she released the documents. She said their relationship had been deteriorating since the beginning of September.

“I pray that the remaining horses are appropriately cared for and that the ISPMB president Karen A. Sussman and board of directors are forced to provide the necessary veterinarian care to those currently suffering and to ensure they have hay every day,” Burns says in the closing of her document. “If that happens, all of my pain will have been in the name of the wild horses, especially the ones who starved to death.”

The ISPMB, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota, claims on its website to be “a leader in the field of wild horse and burro protection and preservation.”

Its founder, Velma Johnston, was instrumental in passing federal legislation in 1971 that protected wild horses on public land, according to its website. Today, the society focuses on the study of wild horses and manages four herds. It aims to share its findings with the Bureau of Land Management for better wild horse management nationwide, the website says.

Sussman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Those interested in contributing funds, hay or pasture space for the horses can call Susan Watt at 605-745-7494, email iram@gwtc.net or contact the Dewey County Sheriff’s Department.

26 replies »

  1. It is a shame. It seems to me that the initial purpose of this rescue was with good intent. When places like this fall on hard times what should we, as concerned people, do to help? What should happen to these wild grazers? Do they get slaughtered to spare them from starvation or medical emergency? Who will step up to help? The Rescue has been pleading for years for financial help, and now it’s in a disaster. Who is at fault the Rescue or the people who did not donate?


  2. Or perhaps some blame should be laid at the BLM’s door – and their on-going agenda to remove wild horses & burros from OUR public land – for instance, when a rescue or sanctuary steps up to care for entire herds – how about this “agency” supports them financially – rather than continue to roundup & capture more & more? Rather than use their budget to “collect” more & more herds & put them in feedlots – how about doing the smart thing & actually designating areas of public land where the horses & burros ALONE have room to migrate from one area to another and how about NOT filling these areas with cattle?
    Yes, this should not have happened – again! But it sure does make clear that the BLM’s agenda is NOT working!! Karen Sussman has accomplished so much – in research & in caring for these herds over the years – now between the drought & the loss of a major (apparently) contributor – this horrible tragedy has happened. It says a lot that Return to Freedom, Front Range & Black Hills have all stepped up to try to prevent any more deaths. These rescues, along with ISPMB, have saved thousands of wild horses over the years. The same years, that the BLM has been attempting to rid OUR public lands of wild horses & burros.
    We all need to step up & do what we can – no matter how small the amount – for all of these really great organizations.


    • Really, letting all those horses die for your “studies”. More concerned about scientific evidence than the lives of those horses. BS. You can study the horses in their “natural environment” where yes, they might die of starvation depending on nature, however, they have a hell of a lot more chance if they aren’t fenced in and gelded and PZP’d. You know what happens to women when they are on the PILL, they get fat, as stallions do when gelded. They have no job and nature tells them to breed more because, after all, mustangs have survived all by themselves for ions, w/o human intervention, because the fittest do survive to breed. Separating them from their family bands and native lands totally destroys their genetics, their delicate balance with nature anyway, so your scientific experiments are based on unnatural factors anyway so BOGUS. I don’t care if you ran out of money, you damn well ask for help BEFORE letting horses get into these emaciated conditions which did not happen overnight. You are a disgrace to the wild horse advocates. There are no excuses to justify this atrocity. NONE. I hope you go to jail for fraud, animal neglect and animal cruelty. You remind me of Hitler and his experimental physicians. Quite the hell hole you have dug for yourself… Thank God for Whistle Blowers…you know honest employees.

      Liked by 1 person

      • wildhorseperilousp, ISPMB doesn’t use PZP on their mares. And I have not heard about the vaccine causing obesity in wild horses. Is there a study that proves that it does?


      • ISPMB did NOT separate them from their family bands! They brought entire HERDS in to the sanctuary – one herd from the Sheldon Refuge after the horses were REMOVED from the refuge by the Forest Service, I believe. And three other herds – thats what ISPMB & the University were researching. However the BLM DOES separate the herds when they round them up and they continue to do so.


  3. I don’t like the Wild Horse Burro Radio photo to come up when I share these posts. I want the photo that goes with the story to be on the SHARE. Most FB folks are visual so they don’t click and read the article. Anyway,,, used to be able to select which header photo you wanted to put front and center. I think it will help get your news out better. Thanks! Great work spreading the info tho with these articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. well then,if you are intent on destroying karen and ISPMB you should be finding people to take all of these horses, karen has someone taking a load of babies, they have to be coggins tested, Karen has always tried to adopt out..so if these horses end up going to a kill buyer at auction, I will make sure those that decided to bury her will be on a wanted poster for their death, the goal should be to feed the horses and help it succeed-not to make sure it fails because of this desire to have a public hanging..what do you suppose is going to happen with all those grants she applied for get pulled, the situation for the horses becomes dire
    I chose to protect the wild horse advocacy when they couldn’t manage to help the adobe towns at canon city before davis took them, and the leaders knew about it..apparently I should have trashed them up one side and down the other for their half hearted efforts to prevent their going to mexico to slaughter..I thought silence was the only way to handle it -in the best interests of the rest of the wild horses-..but I can certainly see…that was a wasted effort


  5. when someone finally starts asking questions -maybe the first one should be why is it primarily only the white sands herd? the catnip stallion was injured severely in a stud battle..burns was doing the feeding along with another guy, is someone suggesting she fed all the other herds and not this one?..reading her statement like an investigator and a horseman of over 40 years. and as some one who worked for the US Attorney in Ca-.I see a lot of holes and inconsistencies that need answers


    • There is no defense for those wild horses emaciated condition and for those that died plain and simple of STARVATION. She posted a bunch of healthy horse photo’s after the authorities got the documentation from the former employee. She is trying to cash out by getting as many $125 per adoption fee horses in her pocket as she can. Whatever, she is the President, she is responsible for starving those horses, plain and simple. Blubber and sputter all you want about inconsistencies, the burial mounds, photo’s of dead horses, and Sussman’s bad check writing charges/complaints are PROOF that Sussman is incapable of handling any wild horses, EVER again… I was a fraud investigator for many years and as you well know, the authorities would not file charges against her unless they had evidence. Writing bad checks is larceny, theft and abuse of the trust of local hay/feed suppliers. The proof is in the bodies of the dead horses that clearly died of starvation… No EXCUSE for that now is there…

      Liked by 1 person

    • How tragic that this was the GILA HERD, one of the last remaining FUNCTIONAL Wild Horse Herds. The continued roundups have all but destroyed the Wild Band Herd behavior that is essential to their survival.

      iSPMB (International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros)

      As we complete our thirteenth year in studying the White Sands and Gila herds, two isolated herds, which live in similar habitat but represent two different horse cultures, have demonstrated much lower reproductive rates than BLM managed herds. Maintaining the “herd integrity” with a hands off management strategy (“minimal feasible management”) and no removals in 13 years has shown us that functional herds demonstrating strong social bonds and leadership of elder animals is key to the behavioral management of population growth.
      ISPMB’s president, Karen Sussman, who has monitored and studied ISPMB’s four wild herds all these years explains, “We would ascertain from our data that due to BLM’s constant roundups causing the continual disruption of the very intricate social structures of the harem bands has allowed younger stallions to take over losing the mentorship of the older wiser stallions.

      In simplistic terms Sussman makes the analogy that over time Harvard professors (elder wiser stallions) have been replaced by errant teenagers (younger bachelor stallions). We know that generally teenagers do not make good parents because they are children themselves.

      Sussman’s observations of her two stable herds show that there is tremendous respect commanded amongst the harems. Bachelor stallions learn that respect from their natal harems. Bachelors usually don’t take their own harems until they are ten years of age. Sussman has observed that stallions mature emotionally at much slower rates than mares and at age ten they appear ready to assume the awesome responsibility of becoming a harem stallion.

      Also observed in these herds is the length of time that fillies remain with their natal bands. The fillies leave when they are bred by an outside stallion at the age of four or five years. Often as first time mothers, they do quite well with their foals but foal mortality is higher than with seasoned mothers.

      Sussman has also observed in her GILA HERD where the harems work together for the good of the entire herd. “Seeing this cooperative effort is quite exciting,” states Sussman.


      • Nobody’s Horses: The Dramatic Rescue of the Wild Herd of White Sands

        Descended from the greatest horses of the American West, the wild horses living on the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico – one of the most dangerous places on Earth – were a national treasure and a living legend. Big, strong, beautiful, and fierce, their ancestors were the mounts of the famous lawmen, hardy cowboys, and notorious outlaws who had once ruled the Wild West. Over the years, these far-flung herds of the Land of Enchantment had inspired many myths, and were said to be guarded by an implacable band of enormous, ghostly stallions that kept them from harm.


  6. yes, tragic that Sussman tried to do so much good studying the horses but failed all wild horses by letting these wild horse subjects suffer painful long strung out deaths from starvation. Clearly in distress, easy to observe. Sussman is responsible. There are NO EXCUSES.


  7. The excellent and vital research that has been done at ISPMB holds the key to keeping our Wild Horses & Burros on Public Lands.
    Blame should be aimed at the agencies and private interests that have pushed for their removals and have profited from doing so…millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on roundups…against all Public protest.
    More than 22 million acres have disappeared from Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas
    Those who try to salvage what’s left are forced to continually ask for donations while at the same time try to run a sanctuary. It takes a Herculean effort. Sanctuaries are always just one step away from having to close down altogether.
    This one needs our support


    • Bull Puckey or Horse Sh*& on these studies done at tremendous expense took priority over feeding the wild horses being studied? Not buying this flimsy excuse. Can’t blame anyone else but Sussman. She is responsible for the lives of every mustang she put in peril. Yadayadyada about blaming BLM. We cannot blame them for Sussman’s lack of integrity (cashing bad checks = larceny), and lack of ability to care enough for the horses to not leave them to a slow, painfully evident, slow death. For mercy’s sake, she is supposed to be a wild horse advocate with many other wild horse rescues/advocates to contact BEFORE she deliberately let these precious wild horses (her study subjects) go without ANY food for days and months… THERE IS NO EXCUSE for abuse and animal neglect. She is not exempt from the law which in North Dakota is: 36-21.2-02. Animal abuse – Definition – Exemptions – Penalty.
      1. Any person that willfully engages in animal abuse is guilty of a class A misdemeanor
      for a first or a second offense and a class C felony for a third or subsequent offense
      occurring within ten years.
      2. For purposes of this chapter, “animal abuse” means any act or omission that results in
      physical injury to an animal or that causes the death of an animal, but does not include
      any act that falls within the definition of animal cruelty, as set forth in section
      The North Dakota legislature has passed S.B. 2211, which establishes some felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty. … “This is a step in the right direction for North Dakota’s animals, but it’s disappointing that the bill was watered down from its original version and falls short of what voters were promised.


  8. http://ispmb.org/Achievements.html..
    what wild horses have you saved? take a look at this historic effort over the years..anyone who sticks their neck out to save wild horses takes a huge risk..thanks for all your support advocates, there are those who talk the talk and those that walk the walk


    • Deflecting the matter onto people that are appalled at how a wild horse advocacy group could stand by for weeks, months and watch their emaciated “beloved” wild horse drop from starvation in not even addressable. We didn’t starve the horses, SUSSMAN did. In my book if you let 30 starve and die, you let 30 starve and die. Saving others doesn’t make up for this atrocity… And they claim to be wild horse lovers… Hate to see what Sussman would do to an animal she hates…


  9. How sad that ISPMB didn’t get much public notice (if any) in 2012 when the blizzard struck them so hard.
    I don’t remember seeing anything on the news about it and now the only media attention is negative.
    The ranchers who lost livestock helped each other and raised approximately $ million.
    I don’t know how much help ISPMB received except from private donations and Black Hills Sanctuary.

    The Little Medicine Hat
    By John Christopher Fine |
    October 12, 2013

    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.
    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

    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.

    “I’m worn out. I can’t do that again.” This sturdy pioneer spirit declared, exhausted


    • A few thoughts here. First, the loss of wild horses in that blizzard was no doubt overwhelmed by the far more numerous livestock losses in a state whose economy runs in large measure on livestock production, and most producers as it turned out did not have any or enough insurance to cover their losses.

      Next, it is again October, with the potential for similar horrific conditions. What, if any, provisions have been made at ISPMB since 2014 to deal with a similar storm?

      And finally, re-reading the 2014 article brings to light that Karen indicated she needed to raise nearly $200,000 to winter the horses then. One of the reasons to have a board of directors is to allow a manager to manage while the board does the majority of governance and fundraising. It sounds like their board is very small, they lost Michael Blake last year, and Karen shouldered too large a load for one person.

      What would Velma do? Moving forward, this organization needs to be restructured and refocused if these herds are to remain in place. Perhaps taking pre-orders of the ISPMB/Princeton research publication would be one immediate fundraising avenue.


      • IcySpots, you’re right. HELP is what is needed.
        There are FOUR intact Wild Herds at ISPMB and most certainly more studies need to be conducted. We know so little about Wild Horses or Burros in their truly natural state.
        Velma Johnston had to fight through almost insurmountable odds and yet she didn’t give up.
        Either can we.


      • We ain’t talking about livestock here so why make the comparison! What would VELMA DO? She would roll over in her grave to see what Sussman has done. Let’s #KeepWildHorsesWild and if you want to study wild horse herds then do it as Carol Walker has in their natural habitat, in their family bands and on their native lands without human intervention. What would Velma DO? She would heed this biologist’s recommendations and stop frickin’ messin’ with Mother Nature. http://www.habitatforhorses.org/a-biologists-response-to-the-blms-wild-horse-problem/


  10. Well, RT – we all owe you big time for coming out & telling it like its! I believe you are in a better position to know the truth of this mess. I am guilty as well as many others, of giving Karen the benefit of the doubt. But at this point – having received a donation request letter myself – any money I am able to donate will go to Return to Freedom, Black Hills, Front Range or The Cloud Foundation & if possible, to the fund for ISPMB (tho not directly). I’m not a big donor – just one of many who try to help in a small way. This whole tragedy just breaks my heart – have had this on my mind constantly since it first was made public. I hope & pray the remainder of the horses are able to go to a better place.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Chilly Pepper HAs Been asked to take in Some ISPMB horses

    Horses dying of starvation, in pain and in critical condition. I spoke with the Sheriff this morning and he said the horses will be seized from ISPMB and a walk through made by the vet, and the horses that need to be humanely euthanized to end their suffering will be taken care of. As we can provide CRITICAL CARE, he said we need to be there on Thursday.

    We have no idea who we will be bringing home, but we desperately need funds to accomplish this rescue. If no one can provide the critical care, the horses will have to be euthanized. So right now we are getting ready for the long drive out there.

    Please help us give them a chance. They deserve so much more than they have been given.


    The Sheriff agreed that the solution is to find safe loving homes for these horses. But for the ones who need critical care, we have to be there Thursday.

    It feels like such a lost cause, because there are so many, but God is telling me to help the ones we can. BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP to HELP THEM!

    Please share this far and wide and donate if you can. We were hoping for a breather, but cannot in good conscience not try to step up and help.

    As always, we appreciate the love and support and Thank You for being part of Chilly Pepper – Miracle Mustang, Equine Rescue & More!

    If you want to help You can go to You Caring – to help us keep saving lives and to give Shadow the life she deserves.

    You can go to Paypal – Palominodancer@yahoo.com or go to our website
    if you would like to help these horses.

    You can donate via check at Chilly Pepper – Miracle Mustang, 34694 Sidebottom Rd., Shingletown, CA 96088 or mail a check to Chilly Pepper – Miracle Mustang, P.O. Box 190 Golconda, NV 89414

    You can also donate via credit card by calling Palomino at 530-339-1458.

    God Bless & Rescue On!

    facebook twitter youtube

    ©2016 Chilly Pepper – Miracle Mustang – Equine Rescue & More, an LRTC Rescue & Rehab Project | 12965 Green Saddle Drive, P.O. Box 190 Golconda, NV 89414 Phone: 530-339-1458 http://www.chillypepper.org

    Liked by 1 person

    • This rescue has done so much! I dont think they get enough credit for what they do. Have supported them for a while & will continue to do so. Hopefully more people will hear of them & help out.


  12. Many “advocates” claim slaughter is the answer to the “wild horse problem” & will use this tragic chain of horrors to bolster their claims. What is really needed is the end of the gov’t systemically pushing wild horses off public lands to satisfy & subsidize both cattle ranching & “resource extraction” industries like mining. The statistical reduction that the BLM has practiced/continues is effectively zeroing out wild populations, now languishing in holding facilities. Recalling all cattle ranching grazing rights/suspending all leases would reduce the environmental damage done by cattle (especially around water sources). Welfare ranching’s end via such cessation of leases would restore a sustainable place in our country for ALL of America’s wild horses return now held in both BLM custody & private sanctuaries. There are plenty of scientific studies that also refute the need for any human interference in “stabilizing herd population numbers” via artificial birth control methods, given mortality vs birth rates. Eliminating welfare cattle ranching & it’s grazing leases would also result in ranchers keeping their cattle herd numbers to WHAT THEY CAN SUSTAIN on their own lands & reduce the CURRENTLY INFLATED numbers of cattle then sent to CAFO’s; which are/have been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN AS SIGNIFICANT (more than ALL U.S. transportation CO2 combined) ORIGINATING SOURCE of methane into the atmosphere, as well as the DIRECT source (again scientifically TRACKED & IDENTIFIED) of groundwater contaminations by E. coli & salmonella causing outbreaks all across the U.S. in a wide variety of irrigated food crops. Reducing the number of cattle sent to CAFO’s would also free up more of the whopping 28% of all agricultural land (40% of ALL U.S. land) which is currently subsidized for CORN & instead diversify our Ag crop production on that 40% total in production. Rescinding cattle grazing leases on public lands & returning the wild horses isn’t just about BLM & DOI wild horse policies. It’s much bigger; as is the LEGACY in deciding to leave a diverse & heathy country for kids alive today.Who knows? They might, as they catch a glimpse of the wild herds of horses restored running free once more across America’s lands while eating uncontaminated food, remember it was a hard won battle that their parents fought for.


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.