Equine Rescue

SD Sheriff: ‘Great improvement’ seen in wild horses on troubled ‘sanctuary’

by as published on Argus Leader

“ISPMB president Karen Sussman denied that the horses were malnourished…”

57ef2233a898e-imageThe Dewey County Sheriff’s Office says state vets are seeing “great improvement” among more than 800 horses on a South Dakota ranch that is accused of starving the animals.

The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB) ranch in Lantry is under investigation after a former employee spoke out against the ranch, saying its owner failed to adequately feed and provide veterinary care for the horses living there and that more than 30 had died over the summer.

Earlier this week, a judge ordered ISPMB to turn over care of the horses to Ziebach and Dewey counties. Dewey County State’s Attorney Steven Aberle told the judge at the hearing “that the herd has grown beyond a size that can be adequately cared for.”

On Thursday, the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office posted a statement on Facebook, saying that state vets counted 810 horses on the ranch, a great deal more than the 650 originally estimated. Of those, 25 were marked as needing special care and one elderly horse was marked for euthanization.

“Some of the foal and other horses have been adopted and removed from the ranch since the hearing,” the sheriff’s office said in the post.

It also noted that the vets “commented on the great improvement in condition since their first visit on the 14th of September.”

The two counties will be responsible for feeding the horses until the horses are given new homes, returned to ISPMB’s care or, at last resort, sold at auction. The judge said on Tuesday that if ISPMB shows it can adequately care for the horses, some of the animals could be returned to its custody.

ISPMB president Karen Sussman denied that the horses were malnourished on Tuesday.

“Animal death is a fact every rancher and farmer in South Dakota as well as throughout the world knows is inevitable,” she said. “But the circumstances of the animal deaths at the ISPMB Ranch have been wildly misrepresented.”

The Rapid City Journal reports that Sussman is facing a grand theft charge in Perkins County for allegedly writing a bounced $9,394 check to a hay supplier.

To help feed the horses, go to:


SD Dewey County Auditor Creates Way to Donate to Starving former Wild Horses


32 replies »

  1. Glad to see that things are improving. What’s startling is that the numbers of horses keep increasing from claims to estimates to now an actual “hard count” of 810 head by the state vets last Thursday. And it appears from the article that the “hard count” was taken after some of the horses had been distributed.

    So on one side, the mortality rate based on a population of 810+ horses doesn’t appear quite as ominous as it did when the population was estimated to be in the 600s. Average annual mortality for a heard approaching 900 head would be in the range of 30 to 40 spread over a year’s time.

    What I find of concern may be the cluster (concentration) of deaths and the condition of some of the horses, although, again, given the now-known size of the herd the numbers aren’t quite as startling.

    But what is puzzling is that if this is a controlled operation where this “self regulation” theory is being applied, monitored and studied, what’s with all the confusion over how many horses are actually in the herd? There’s a significant difference between 650 and 810 (plus the horses that have been recently removed.)

    When the allied groups including Lifesavers, Return to Freedom, and Ellie Price rescued some 900+ Indian Nation horses, there was a reliable head count maintained of the entire herd for over the year the herd was kept together, and they are still all accounted for since they have been sent to their respective sanctuary locations. As I recall, over that time the mortality count was 6 and we were dealing with active West Nile Virus in the region. But there was active management taking place where the poorer keepers were separated from the more robust horses and individual health needs were maintained.

    Similarly we had 54 Ft. McDermitt Indian horses “next door” in a project where we assisted the Davis-McCullough Foundation for nearly two years with ZERO fatalities. However again, we knew how many horses we were feeding, vaccinating, providing hoof maintenance, etc., and active health management was applied.

    In both these examples a veterinarian experienced with wild and range horses guided the health and maintenance activities.

    I’m not citing these examples as a back door suggestion that ISPMB didn’t provide some kind of health management. And to be fair, in rescues such as the ones just described, oftentimes the weaker horses will have died before the horses were rounded up so there can be a kind of “rest period” before normal mortality resumes. But I am still concerned about engaging in an unsustainable breeding operation where it’s not even clear how many horses are being held (kind of important when calculating how much hay to provide) along with what appears to have been a spike in mortality. And if these horses were being studied and managed, why did it take a state veterinarian to provide an accurate count and to identify some 25 head that needed special care?

    My first impression was that an operation of this type with a herd this size is unsustainable. Apparently the state’s attorney came to a similar conclusion. One simply can’t allow populations of animals in any closed environment to procreate beyond both known and anticipated resource limits. Whether in private hands or on public lands such lack of management ALWAYS produces a bad ending.

    We can argue over what constitutes best management practices for various situations and, in my opinion, such discussions are both valid and useful. But what never changes is that uncontrolled breeding in closed environments, whether it involves cat and dog hoarding or herds of livestock such as horses, pretty much always produces adverse side-effects.

    Anyone going into a rescue or sanctuary operation has to look beyond the idealism involved and develop a realistic business plan in order to sustain the operation. If one is absolutely certain that resources will be available to sustain an operation indefinitely, then that truly is wonderful. However if such is not the case, there really needs to be some practical strategy in place to reduce the numbers being cared for to a level that can be effectively supported and managed. Accumulating animals should not be the objective. Maintaining healthy and socially integrated animals has to be a priority. Otherwise what could result could be little more than an animal concentration camp.

    So while I am definitely pleased that there may be some light at the end of this particular tunnel, it (like the incidents before it) illustrates some important lessons for anyone else who may entertain such projects and for those who engage in the various debates relating to managing herds in situations where resources are not unlimited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your answer! informed, and to the point. thank you! when you do chose to become part of a rescue you need to have basic understanding of those animals. dog, cats, chickens, goats, sheep, cattle, llamas, etc. and the hardest words of all this is a business, needs to run as a business. do not let emotions control how you act, or react.


    • The description of “a closed environment” says it all! Penning up of a wild animal – any species – and preventing the normal migration is pretty much a death sentence. I do wonder when the research study (Princeton) ended? Obviously, if that were ongoing – it doesnt seem this whole situation could have occurred. There would have been more oversight.
      I did get an email from Chilly Pepper (rescue) this am – they took a 3 year old and 2 yearlings home from ISPMB – thin, but not emaciated – VERY long hooves!


      • I also got that e mail from Palomino. Also Black Hills Mustangs has about 10,000 acres for 600 horses while ISPMB has 1,000 acres (per one of the commenters) and over 800 horses. What’s wrong with this picture? ALOT


    • I got an e mail from Karen in response to mine and she did quote a figure in the 800’s which is far different from the number on her web site. I didn’t see how many acres they have. Does anyone know?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If they had if left them where they were they wouldn’t be there starving. Instead they interfere and now they are starving. Lesson here is LEAVE THE WILD LIFE ALONE THEY TAKE BETTER CARE OF THEM SELVES THEN WE DO. If they wanted to help they woukd of helped them in there own natural surrounding areas not in a roundup pen. Leave wild life alone. It’s no place for mankind to take over.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is no way a horse with the skin hanging across its hips like that has not been starved. As a past Hooved humane investigator I have seen my share. I do not believe the fitting thing to do with the “Survivors” is to send them to auction where the greedy vulger Kill Buyers are waiting to pick them up for cheap and ultimately send them to slaughter. I do believe the equestrian community is coming together with food and solutions. This is why there should be an adequate accounting for all the horses and burros held everywhere. Let’s face it the BLM has been derelect in their duties of protection for some time. I pray for the horses because their fate has again been placed in human hands. My message to the counties is not to rush to judgement, but please give the “Survivors” a second chance at life. And to the public viewing humane cases like this please do the right thing and report it. When horses get so far gone it takes time and money to bring them back. But they WILL survive!! Put each horse’s picture out there not yet adopted and ask people to “sponsor” them while they are waiting to be adopted. Put a presentation out on UTube and you just might be surprised at the response. You don’t need to own it to support it. Then pur up a wall on the farm somewhere showing the sponsors. This should be easy enough instead of the gloom and doom!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have had herds of horses for over 45 years, recovery from starvation does not happen that fast..LOL, these horses are not on grain and while karen has special needs old horses up in her hospital barn along with bottle fed babies, this “surprising improvement” is happening all on grass hay..un huh, maybe it is just because of a lifetime experience- I am not buying the original condition as stated as starving..none the less while others are talking still about their “opinion” pictures are going up on fleet of angels elaine nash site of all 810 horses and transportation arranged for adopters..people are actually getting done while others are still rehashing their “opinions”..Black Hills put up a great post today..you might want to read it-as one of the few organizations who has this kind of experience, instead of opinions from the cheap seats..there are many things you can do to help and if you cannot adopt yourself you can at least share elaines post on adoptions-that is if you care


    • oh yeah yesterday the hay delivery by hay dealer, was crappy cow hay, I told the girls up there to call the sheriff and contact that hay guy they are using, to come and get that crap and bring the high quality hay that is being paid for not crap they can only feed to cows.the photographers took pictures of the hay

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sandra, I understand your point but are you saying here you think the first vet on site lied? The report I read indicated around 10% or so of what turned out to be over 800 horses were ranked at Henneke Body Condition scores 1-3, which are (in order): 1 = POOR, 2 = VERY THIN, 3 = THIN. If you dispute the vet’s observations, what is your explanation for why they were false?

      Also, if you have a link to the site mentioned which has all 810 horses listed with photos, please post it.

      Here’s a link to the Fleet of Angels emergency transport information:


      I only see one request so far for shipping mustangs from Lantry, SD, hope that means many others are already in new homes.



    I often let my heart lead me to what needs to be said. This video I stumbled on in my inbox today was sent to me earlier this year. The title is Last of the Spanish Mustangs is about wild horses in Arizona especially the Cerbat Wild Horses. Karen Sussman’s Gila Bend Wild Horse herd was completely zeroed out by BLM years ago in Arizona and she has fought to keep this herd in tack. She has taken care of them and preserved the integrity of the herd. If we are to help her save them then please watch this video

    We can complain about what others are doing but it is the wild horse lover that gets off the couch and actually saves them.

    I propose that maybe some small family bands from the Gila Bend Herd be put in conservation programs across the country. Let us all work together to continue the history and the Spanish Mustang in America. Those of us in the Wild Horse World respect Karen Sussman and all of us can make mistakes.

    SusanWatt iram@gwtc.nethem please watch this video.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I see that the video can’t be viewed on this site. You might have to go to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in order to watch it. It’s well worth your time to do so, This gives the history of the Gila Herd and the reason why they were removed…rancher complaint. The entire Herd Management Areas was ZEROED OUT.

    Last of the Spanish Mustangs (VIDEO)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I e mailed Karen Sussman telling her how she and the BOD should be ashamed of themselves. She e mailed back saying I shouldn’t believe the rumors going around. She is either convinced that nothing wrong was done or just lieing


    • Donna, does that also mean we shouldn’t believe Karen? If she said all was well and the vets lied, she should be sending hay and donations back as unnecessary since it’s all a rumor, nothing to see here, etc. Bet she doesn’t.

      It’s still important to recognize Karen is not ISMPB, but a member of the board of a charity, whose BOD has not made any formal statement even now (at least not on their website). So yes, shame on them.


      • Does make you wonder why no questions directed at the board – and no comments regarding this whole tragedy from them. And if there IS some kind of explanation for the horses’ condition – what is it? It does matter, after all.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Has anyone found out whether or not Princeton University was involved in this research or not? If yes, then when and where is the published data.

    Plus Karen Sussman may say anything she damn well likes, but if there is a “great improvement” noted in one month of feeding the horses daily, then she wasn’t doing right by them. They were not receiving sufficient feed. She and the rest of the BOD all need to be answering a lot of questions.

    Also, where is the 2015 990? That should have been filed LONG ago.


    • My contact at Princeton said they are not involved. Somebody at Princeton, but not Princeton themselves, one being just a Senior working on her thesis worked with them for a short time. And agreed. If ‘all are fine’ then why has the County taken over feeding of the horses? Why did the State Veterinarian say on his report that there was negect? Maybe everyone but her is lying? All the secrecy sure feels like a big coverup.


  9. Karen Sussman’s press release dated Oct. 11, 2016.

    It does not mention Princeton or any publication date for their research, but does indicate donations made to cover hay costs incurred by the sheriffs who had to step in to keep these herds alive are not tax deductible. This letter is still not showing up on the ISMPB.org website, nor has their adoption link had any updates since July 2013. There is a “super urgent” flier posted but it is undated so could be from any of the known past crisis points related to drought and simultaneous drying up of funding. They are still advertising for “help wanted” and have an article up written by Colleen Burns and published with ISMPB’s blessing it seems, with the prescient title of “Inside the ISPMB” when Ms. Burns was a new hire. She writes glowingly of both the work and Ms. Sussman, so perhaps isn’t quite the demoness some have painted her.

    Lantry, SD…. October 11, 2016
    It is unfortunate that in the times we live people may be quick to judge and slow to investigate or recognize the truth. The truth here is that some animals have died on the ISPMB ranch. Animal death is a fact every rancher and farmer in South Dakota as well as throughout the world knows is inevitable. But the circumstances of the animal deaths at the ISPMB Ranch have been wildly misrepresented. They did not die of intentional neglect or the disinterest of ISPMB. The statements of Colleen Burns are filled with significant falsehoods. The saddest part is that the damage she is attempting to thrust upon people that she no longer likes at ISPMB, is falling largely on the animals she falsely claims to care for, by damaging ISPMB’s reputation she is harming our ability to obtain funds for hay, and with winters fast approach, the animals face a more serious risk of starvation than ever before.
    I have dedicated my life, my fortune, and my reputation to the protection of wild horses throughout the United States. More than once in my 30 years with the organization, I have personally financed our activities to feed, study, care for and protect these beautiful animals. I have dedicated the majority of my time freely, only rarely collecting a salary, and selling my personal property to provide much needed funds to the organization for hay. To accuse me of cruelty or disinterest of these wild horses, that I have dedicated my life to protecting, is both outrageous and preposterous.
    Since early this year, our organization has taken significant steps to increase in our funding in order to provide enough hay for the upcoming winter months. Donations to ISPMB are tax-deductible and will assist us in maintaining our horses in our conservation program. We have been developing an ongoing management plan which includes downsizing our herds, potential purchase of a larger property to reduce our costs of ever rising hay prices, and a long-range vision for our organization.
    We are working in concert with the states attorneys’ in our counties. However, if we do not raise enough funding by November 11, we are in danger of losing our four rare and unique wild horse herds and our sixteen years of studies we have conducted on the herds. Our most important study is population growth as related to the stability of family bands within the herds. We have proven that stable family bands are directly related to limiting population growth. The importance of this study alone could dramatically change the way our wild horses are managed on public lands and could ultimately reduce millions of dollars to the taxpayers and could save the last of America’s diminishing wild horses.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “…we are in danger of losing our four rare and unique wild horse herds and our sixteen years of studies we have conducted on the herds. Our most important study is population growth as related to the stability of family bands within the herds. We have proven that stable family bands are directly related to limiting population growth.”

    Unless it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal, it’s not research. She hasn’t published any DATA. I can’t find any papers written by anybody that uses data gathered or generated by ISPMB.


    • Lee, one has to wonder if (as is common in other animals) population growth in those herds were limited by lack of available food in an enclosed area. At a minimum their studies should have controlled for this to make their data at all credible. If they publish their work hopefully it will have been done to accepted standards.


    • Excellent information from the source, thank you Lee. It is clear Princeton’s good name has been bandied about and that whatever “research” ISPMB conducted was not under any official sponsorship or protocols. Since it remains unpublished one can assume either it won’t ever be, it wasn’t particularly illuminating, or they are having problems finding a publisher.

      It’s also heartening to see in the dialogue on the link you provided that there are others questioning the BOD and their involvement (or lack thereof?) as is required of a legal nonprofit entity.


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