Equine Rescue

Failed wild-horse sanctuary loses ranch, gets sued

by as published on the Rapid City Journal

“Many thanks to the Fleet of Angels for saving the hundreds of of former wild horses, last year, that were subject to the abuse of outright neglect while donors were duped both before and even after the cruelty was brought forward.  It hurts to see the wild ones continue to suffer after initially losing their families and freedom under the cruel hand of the BLM.” ~ R.T.

The Sad Sussman Saga Continues

Emaciated former wild horse in a pen at the International Society for the Protection of Wild Horses Burros near Landry, S.D. (Colleen Burns 2016)

A man who formerly bailed out a failing wild-horse sanctuary in South Dakota by purchasing its ranch has since sold the ranch and filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $135,000 in delinquent rent.

John Christopher Fine, of Gettysburg, Penn., filed a lawsuit Aug. 29 in Dewey County, S.D., against Karen Sussman and the nonprofit International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. Sussman is the society’s president.

Last year, the society surrendered all but 20 of its 810 horses in a deal with state and local authorities. The deal was struck after a whistleblower revealed descriptions, images and videos of horses that were dead, dying or injured from starvation and neglect on the society’s small and overgrazed ranch between Dupree and Lantry in north-central South Dakota.

During the years prior to those revelations, Fine had been so supportive of the society that he bought the ranch from Sussman for $300,000 in 2013 and leased it back to her and the society, so the sale proceeds could be applied toward the society’s debt.

On Thursday, Fine said he was surprised in 2016 when he learned about the conditions on the ranch.

“It’s very sad,” Fine said. “All of that has been very dismaying to me.”

Fine’s lawsuit initially sought to expel Sussman from the ranch, to recover a nearly $13,000 insurance check for storm damage to a ranch building, and to collect $134,468.12 in allegedly delinquent rent.

Sussman vacated the ranch after the lawsuit was filed, Fine said, and court documents show he has since amended his lawsuit to include only the demand for delinquent rent.

Fine has also sold the ranch, which includes a double-wide mobile home and numerous outbuildings on a total of approximately 660 acres straddling the Dewey and Ziebach county line. Public deeds on file in the two county courthouses indicate that the ranch was sold in August to a Dupree couple for about $595,000. It had been listed by a realtor for $775,000.

Sussman did not return messages from the Rapid City Journal, and the whereabouts of her and the society’s small group of horses is publicly unknown.

The hundreds of horses that were removed from the society last year were transferred to a Colorado-based nonprofit, Fleet of Angels, which led an effort to find adoptive homes. That nationwide effort concluded in January, according to Fleet of Angels founder Elaine Nash, who wrote on Facebook that all 907 of the horses (including colts born since the herd was impounded by authorities in 2016) had been placed with new owners.

For its leadership of the adoption effort, Fleet of Angels was awarded the 2017 Equine Welfare Award by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


6 replies »

  1. I don’t understand why Karen wasn’t convicted of Animal cruelty and isn’t in jail. She should have been banned if horse ownership for the rest if her life and none of the horses should have remained with her.
    I attended a conference in Alexandria VA years ago and she spoke there. People from Assateague were behind me and didn’t have very nice things to say about her. All the supposed research she had and was gonna share with the BLM to save our wild herds never came about. I was also a donor.


  2. I didn’t see any mention of the 20 horses that remained with Sussman. I hope they were rescued or homes were found for them.


  3. The 800 to 900 horses that were removed from SD by the very hard-working volunteers in the middle of winter were so lucky. The unlucky ones were the horses that died before that rescue. Hopefully any other sanctuaries or rescues that realize they cant take care of their animals REACH OUT before those animals are dying! THAT should be the lesson learned. And I hope the horses that were left with her are being cared for – if not by her – by some other caring person.


  4. I could not believe that Karen was still asking for donations after she was exposed to cruelty & neglect of these magnificent, innocent horses. Grateful for those who spoke up, who witnessed the neglect & abuse.. This is inexcusable.. I have heard of many rescues who are not legit, or perhaps they have good intentions but are overwhelmed. I used to donate to Christy “Another Chance For Horses” until I found out that her org. was rescuing horses from the killpens in PA.. & then selling them to kill buyers AKA “Meat Men”. Be careful who you donate to… WILD HORSE FREEDOM FEDERATION, EQUINE ADVOCATES, CLOUD FOUNDATION, RETURN TO FREEDOM, FRONT RANGE EQUINE RESCUE, AWHPC..if I unintentionally left some org. out, plz forgive me.

    . I feel certain that RT can verify the best orgs. for us to donate to, to make a difference for the innocent ones who have no voice, but ours.

    Thank the Lord for RT, Terry, & Jerry @ Habitat 4 Horses, plus so many other orgs. Too many to mention, but we are grateful to all!!


    • First I ever heard or read-The 660 acres was only a lease? and now the property had been “listed by a realtor for $775,000” & sold for about 500k this year. What a freaking shame that land is lost forever!!

      It was a great thing the fleet of angels & many others donated millions in time/money to rescue the horses……but our wild horses need land, thousands of acres of ‘rescue group owned’ land to survive as wild and free native species.


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