Free At Last: The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

Blog1What would you wish for if you knew that wish would absolutely, positively come true? Please, don’t say that you’d wish for all the wishes in the world, because that’s my answer. And need I remind you that if I have all the wishes in the world, I’m already being pretty generous by letting you have one of my wishes, right? Don’t get greedy!

Today, we’re going to talk about a man and his wish . . . a wish that was anything but greedy, a wish that absolutely, positively came true. I’m talking about a man named Dayton O. Hyde and his dream of opening The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Hyde made a wish back in the 1980s and set about the business of making it come true . . . and he did it, out of sheer grit and determination.

His Kingdom for a Horse

Blog4There are doers in this world, and there are talkers . . . Dayton O. Hyde is the former.  More than a horseman, he’s a champion of horses. For most of his life, Hyde was an Oregon rancher. He later became a naturalist and accomplished author. If he’s ever been afraid to try something new, you wouldn’t know it. Heck, he even ran away from home at the age of 13 to work on his uncle’s ranch.

Blog5So, when Hyde saw what was happening to the Bureau of Land Management’s captured wild mustangs – – especially those that were unfit for adoption – – he knew he had to do something. He watched as wild horses were ripped from their families and were crammed into feedlots and kill pens. He saw some poor creatures that were too weak to stand, and he watched as some died. Then and there, Hyde knew that something had to be done, and he also knew that he was the man to do it . . . so he hatched a plan.

Blog6It was a plan of a grand scale: Buy a large parcel of land and build a safe haven for them all.  It took a while, but by 1988, Hyde had scraped together enough money to make a down payment on 11,000 acres of land in the Hot Springs, South Dakota area. Now, most people might purchase 11,000 acres of land with visions of cookie cutter housing developments and mini malls dancing in their heads. Hyde had a very different vision.

Blog7He contacted the Bureau of Land Management and persuaded them to send him their unadoptable wild horses. He was bound and determined to be the friend of the friendless, aging, old, or ugly horses . . . the horses that no one wanted, the horses that the BLM had branded with a “U”prefix on their serial number, marking them as “unwanted.” I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for those conversations!

Pony Up

Blog2Today, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is an idyllic place where horses that were born to be wild have the run of the land. There are fertile prairies, deep canyons, pine forests, and clear rivers. And it is untouched by civilization . . . it looks just the same as it did at the beginning of time. Around 600 wild horses roam freely there right now. They share the land with cougars, deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and majestic birds of prey. It’s exactly how Hyde envisioned it would be: A safe haven, where wild horses can live out their lives as naturally as God intended.

Blog3If this all sounds like a fairy tale, maybe this is a time to point out some of the harsher realities. Hyde, who is now in his 90s, was no wet behind the ears youngster when he envisioned the sanctuary. As a WWII veteran, he already knew that freedom comes at a cost. There were times when he did not have the money to buy food for himself because the horses always came first. He relies on donations to keep the sanctuary afloat, and there were plenty of times when those donations did not flow freely. Hyde isn’t a complainer, though. He says he got by just fine by eating only Raisin Bran for a while . . . six weeks or so. The “unwanted” horses that he wanted so desperately, however, never lacked for anything.

If Wild Horses Can’t Keep You Away

Blog8The land at the sanctuary belongs to the horses, but people are still welcome to visit. They offer a variety of tours:  There’s a 2-hour guided bus tour, a 4-hour, tax-deductible, photography tour, and a 3-hour cross-country tour with a private guide. For less than the cost of a night at many Holiday Inns, you can rent one of the Sanctuary’s two available cabins. For a $1500 tax-deductible donation toward the upkeep of the mustangs, you can enjoy an Adventure Tour and a two-night stay in a cabin. There is a two-person minimum on that one, but, really, you’re most certainly going to want someone to share the experience with you. You can book a tour or reserve a cabin on their website,

Blog9If you can’t make it to South Dakota anytime soon, you can still make a one-time, tax-deductible donation, or you can sponsor a horse on an ongoing basis.  Put your money where the horse’s mouth is!

Running Wild

Blog10If you’re thinking to yourself that this story would make a great movie, someone already beat you to it! Filmmaker Suzanne Mitchell made a documentary on the life Dayton O. Hyde. The award winning film Running Wild is available on DVD. So if you’d like to learn more about this remarkable cowboy and his most selfless wish, be sure to pick up a copy here, on the sanctuary website.  And in the meantime, you might enjoy watching this short video about Dayton O. Hyde and the sanctuary!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

3 Replies to “Free At Last: The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary”

  1. Anita, Great post. The Sioux call the Black Hills Paha Sapa. It is the sacred center of their nation. White men did many things there. In this last, I believe they would approve.

    1. Hi Paul, thanks so much. I agree. . .I am sure the Lakota Sioux would approve. Also of interest, the sanctuary is not far from the place where Crazy Horse had his Vision Quest, Sylvan Lake. Sacred ground!

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