A large group of wild horses near Lantry, S.D., will be reduced by half if enough people are willing to adopt the animals.
Karen Sussman is president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, which oversees the horses.
She said high prices and lack of availability of hay has driven the decision to downsize the herds.
The price of hay has skyrocketed, and we're having a hard time finding hay right now. People want to hold onto it, with the possibility of drought, Sussman said.
Sussman, who has studied and cared for the herds for many years, recently headlined what she called a small fundraiser in Estes Park, Colo., which raised enough money to buy one load of hay. The horses go through 62 1,200-pound round bales in a week, she said. The ranch usually buys hay from a neighbor, she said, but recently learned that source has dried up.
We were told this past week that we wouldn't have any more hay available for us to purchase, and there's none available in our area, she said.
We're going to be downsizing our horses and will be having some really wonderful horses up for adoption.
According to its website, ISPMB is an empowering force influencing global attitudes and catalyzing actions for the protection, preservation, and understanding of wild horses and burros and their habitat. Founded in 1960, ISPMB is dedicated to the preservation and protection of free-roaming wild horses and burros, nationally and internationally. It is the oldest and largest wild horse and burro organization in the United States, according to its website.
Sussman said the ranch is unique in that it's the only location where wild horse behavior studies have been ongoing for 13 consecutive years.
The ranch, with several separate herds, totals about 400 horses; Sussman would like to reduce that to about 200.
Sussman described the types of horses available:
Spanish horses, rare, from our Gila herd. These are the absolute last of these in the U.S. Those horses go for quite a bit more money. About four are available. We believe they date back to the 1600s.
Cavalry Remount: Fairly big horses from the 1800s, a cross between quarter horse and thoroughbreds.
Gaited: Extremely beautiful horses with the rare natural North American gaited gene; like Tennessee Walkers.
Nevada: This herd is from Nevada, with some nice colors including roans and pintos.
Sussman hopes that herd reduction will ensure that the unique wild horse herd studies can continue far into the future.
[Our work] is more or less like Jane Goodall with her chimpanzees. We'd be thrilled to be able to continue to do that.
A recent discovery Sussman finds fascinating revealed unexpected nurturing ability among the herd's harem stallions, which act as leaders for a small group of breeding mares.
A young filly in the Gila herd left her band, Sussman said, and approached a group of bachelor horses - a risky move for the 1-year-old horse, too immature to breed.
These bachelors would have been happy to breed her, and her father didn't come out to stop that, Sussman said.
Another harem stallion chased her back down the hill. She went back, and [the harem stallions] chased her away again.
The harem stallions protected her, even though she was not part of their band.
Although not yet scientifically documented, the findings show how wild horses work together for the good of the herd, Sussman said. They're very respectful; the harem stallions really protect the mares and the offspring. Wild stallions are very nurturing and loving to their offspring; you never see a wild harem stallion hurting others.
ISPMB is a nonprofit organization. For information, or to help with a hay donation, visit http://www.ispmb.org or call Sussman at 605-430-2088.