HOT SPRINGS, S.D. (KELO) — You might be surprised to find out one of the premier wild horse sanctuaries in the country is located in South Dakota.
Portions of movies, like Hidalgo and Into the Wild were even filmed there.
Hundreds of horses and ponies roam the land South of Hot Springs. No barns or outbuildings, they live in the open, under the sun.
They eat the wild grasses and drink from the stream that runs through the land. They are wild, and survive as a herd with leaders and followers, just like their ancestors hundreds of years ago.
The Black Hills Wild Horse sanctuary came to be in 1987. Governor George Mickelson invited author and conservationist Dayton Hyde to South Dakota and helped him set up the sanctuary which now encompasses 11,000 acres.
Susan Watt joined the effort in the mid-’90s and now runs the non-profit.
“So these are a few of our rescue horses that we took in in October,” Watt says as she drives her Suburban onto a section of land filled with horses.
One of the rescues produced a welcome little surprise for the staff. Look closely at the ears on this foal.
This is a Molly.
This little filly’s father is a donkey and her mother is a horse, making Molly a mule. Watt says the herd on the sanctuary is made up of all kinds of horses.
“We have Spanish Horses, curling Horses, Choctaw Indian ponies, America Mustangs, Spanish Mustangs, Sulfer Mustangs, all kinds of horses.”
Horses are social animals and like all groups there are disagreements. But Watt calls this a happy place.
“This is a place of healing, for horses that have been pushed around harassed threatened, their lives threatened, a lot of the horses here were already on the slaughter bus, headed to slaughter in the truck,” said Watt.
The sanctuary has suspended public tours. If you get lucky you can see some of the horses from the Cheyenne River bridge next to the property. To see the horses in all their wild beauty you need to become a donor or sponsor.
Running a sanctuary of this size is not cheap.
The majority of horses at the sanctuary would be dead if they had not not been rescued. Most come from Bureau of Land Management land located around the country. They also come from state governments and failed adoptions.
Here at the sanctuary their contact with humans is limited, but there is no doubt, they recognize Watt’s Suburban, and barley flinch as she drives up. Even foals waking from a nap barley give her a look.
“They give you a sense of hope and peace and they are so grateful that they have a nice place to be its interesting this year we took in about 50 horses that were already in the slaughter pipeline and the first group that I turned out there was like 15 of them and they were newly captured BLM horses and they ran and they ran and I’ve never seen a group of horses run as long as they did, and they were younger and they just wanted their freedom and we went in that group today and we saw a lot of those horses so I don’t know they have a lot to teach us if we will just listen and pay attention they will make us better people,” said Watt.
“Good kind caring people from the very beginning have supported Dayton Hyde’s dream of giving wild horses that no one else wanted, a place to live,” said Watt.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is supported by grants and donations and sponsorships. they also sell merchandise on their website. If you would like to learn more about the horses and how to help them you can go to their website here.
Susan says she would be happy to talk with you if you have any questions or if you want to know more about naming and sponsoring one of the horses.