Please welcome my dear friend, Peggy, who recently visited the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. She generously agreed to share some photos and her experience at the Sanctuary with Critter Alley readers. Thank you, Peg!
Pat and I have been friends for over 33 years, and after sharing some of the highlights of our August trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, she asked if I would like to share some stories and pictures. Aficionados of Pat’s blog are quite interested in critters of all sizes, so my story will pique the interest for those with affection for the larger 4-legged variety.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (just south of Hot Springs, SD) is exactly what it’s name implies – an 11,000 acre heaven for hundreds of wild horses where they are “Free to Run,” as their motto proudly declares. For years I had been sending my little monthly donation to them, and never thought that I’d have the opportunity to actually GO there. So as we were pulling up to the Visitor Center, a band of American Mustangs were quietly grazing just the other side of the fence. I was in heaven, too!
Before we set out on our guided three hour tour, we had the chance to look around. Just seven days before, one of the mustangs had given birth to this pretty filly. Mom is carefully keeping herself between the onlookers and her baby. The little one had a big gash on her foreleg, probably from colliding with a fence. The staff was watching it carefully, but said that mustangs are hardy animals, and fully expected her to heal up quickly without much human intervention.
We boarded our vehicle and set off in search of some wild horses. While the really wild ones keep hidden high up in the back country, some others choose to graze in the lower elevations. Since this was a “private” tour – just my husband, our guide Krista and me – we were able to stop any time to look at the scenery, pet the horses (yes, wild horses actually let you pet them!) and we learned some interesting facts along the way. For instance, did you know that there are both male and female sage plants? The Native Americans used them not only for medicinal purposes, but also lined their baby’s diapers with the female variety, which are softer and more fragrant.
Out on the prairie, we stopped to visit with this little group of American Mustangs. While a few of them were quite interested in coming over to talk, some others were more stand-offish, preferring to observe from a distance. There were about 20 horses in this little area, some of them being BLM horses. As some of you are no doubt aware, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regularly rounds up wild horses from government lands. Many of these magnificent animals end up spending years in feed lots with no grass and in close quarters with hundreds of others, all either frightened or broken in spirit. While the BLM means well, many horses die on the lots every year. So, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary has suspended their breeding program specifically to rescue some of them, and give them freedom for the rest of their lives. This lucky lady was one of them.
My favorite stopping spot was near the end of our tour. We found a herd of Spanish Mustangs, quietly standing in the shade under a little grove of trees. Because of the interest in bringing more BLM horses to the Sanctuary, this little herd was the test market in the past year for a horse contraceptive derived from pig liver. One of the benefits of this approach is allowing a stallion to join the herd – just like nature intended. (The other groupings we saw were all mares.) The big guy with this harem is a beautiful bay named Don Juan. While he kept some distance away - too far for a good picture - the mares were standing quietly, so I approached one in particular. She let me pet her, rub her, scratch her, and love up on her. When we had to head back to our car, she actually followed me, so I had to pet, rub, scratch and love up some more. I could have stayed there the whole afternoon, until Don Juan decided that he wanted to move the herd, so off they went.
Being there with those horses in a natural setting, and the trust that they showed us when we got out to say “hi” was something that I’ll not forget. There was a line in the movie “Dances With Wolves” that expresses my experience perfectly: “I thank God for this place.” For more information about the Sanctuary, here’s their address: http://www.wildmustangs.com/