Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hold Your Horses!

Just a few miles down the road from Custer, just south of Hot Springs, is the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Founded by Dayton O. Hyde in the late 1980s, the sanctuary covers some 11,000 acres in the far south tip of the Black Hills of South Dakota, along the Cheyenne River. It is home to some 500 wild horses captured by the Federal government from overpopulated western ranges.
There is a children's lullaby that promises,

"When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses,
Blacks and bays, dapples and grays,
All the pretty little horses."

It could have been talking about the wild horses we saw. They come in every color you can imagine, in addition to the blacks and bays, dapples and grays, there are paints, grullas, buckskins, roans, palominos and almost any other color horses come in.

John and I took a photo tour on October 1st with Guide Monte Matheson, and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a number of the wild horses. In addition to photo tours, the Sanctuary offers a number of different tours throughout the year. If you're in the vicinity, be sure to pay a visit.

I named her Prairie Lightning

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the wild horse herds. Because there are few natural predators to control their numbers, the wild horses frequently increase in number to more than the land can support. The BLM captures them and tries to find homes for the extra horses. However, many are too old, too wild, or in some other way not suitable for adoption or sale. Some of those are lucky enough to find a home at the Sanctuary.
Initially, only mares were introduced to the Sanctuary, but they have since been joined by several stallions, and a limited number of foals are born each year. This gives the bands a more natural makeup, and a sense of normalcy, and provides some mustang foals for sale to the public.

Prairie Dot

The Sanctuary is a non-profit, and depends on donations and income from tours to fund its operations. The horses are "wild" in the sense that most come from BLM lands and have never been haltered or ridden. They are, however, fed as needed since the range sometimes cannot support all the horses that live there. There is also a program to breed registered quarter horses and paints so that the sale of those foals can help fund the support of the wild ones.

We especially enjoyed seeing the Spanish Mustangs.  They are kept separate from the other wild horses to preserve their bloodlines. One way you can tell Spanish Mustangs is by their markings. Often they are a color called "grulla," (pronounced "grew-ya") a smokey gray or gray-brown that is supposedly the rarest of horse colors. Other characteristics include a dorsal stripe and barring on the legs. Don Juan, the resident stallion of the Spanish Sulphur Mustang herd, is a bay, but he does have the dorsal stripe and barring on his legs. Several of the mares in his group also have the characteristic grulla coat.
Don Juan

When we visited, Don Juan was busy courting one of his mares. There was a lot of kissing and "horse-play" (sorry, I couldn't help myself) going on, but ultimately the lady played hard to get for too long, and Don Juan lost interest.

Please, Oh Please!

Say "Pretty Please!"

BMOC of the other wild horses is Painted Desert. He has a rare coat color/pattern called a Medicine Hat Paint. In Medicine Hats the ears and top of the head are reddish, the face is white and the chest has a "shield" of the red coat color. We were told that the Plains Indians especially valued Medicine Hats, and felt that they had special powers or protection.  A brave was especially fortunate if he had a Medicine Hat to ride into battle.


And here are some of the other wild horses we met. 

Who cares if beauty is only skin-deep!

Boss Mare of Don Juan's Band

Don Juan Enforcing His Rules

Mustang Mom and Foal

Stallions Painted Desert and Red Roanie Settle a Disagreement

Tico, the Spanish Mustang Who Could Not Be Ridden

Beautiful Buckskin/Grulla

Prairie Lonesome

Painted Desert with Guide Monte Matheson

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