Horse Power

Truckers are helping to save descendants of some of this country’s original horses from starvation.

Their ancestors came to the New World from the old Spain more than 360 years ago, but today a herd of 39 wild horses needs hay trucked in by volunteer drivers from all over America to survive a South Dakota drought described as the worst since the catastrophic Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and a long, hard winter.

A system of “volunteers finding volunteers” is getting the hay delivered, but much more is needed at their Lantry, S.D., ranch. One of the first persons to respond to the herd’s needs was Oklahoman Pauline Sinclair, a company document controller, who read about the horses’ plight in the Native American Times.

“I read how they were starving,” she says, “and it just stuck in my head. I couldn’t shake it. I don’t know why. I called the ranch and found out more about the wild mustangs they have there. A couple of days later I just decided to get off my duff and do something. I guess I was sort of a coaster, you know, let someone else do it. Our lives are all so busy with stuff all day we don’t think there’s time for anything else. So I just made the horses some more of the stuff I do.”

Some of America’s rarest wild mustangs are getting desperately needed food thanks to volunteer truckers.

Sinclair started talking to people with farms and people with trucks, trying to find baled hay and someone to haul it. It was a slow learning process. “I found a lot of hay people would donate, especially at small farms, but it was hard finding someone to haul it. We didn’t even have money to pay for their fuel,” she says. “We set up some drop points so we could get a lot of hay together and get a load for an 18-wheeler because it was too expensive to pay for the fuel for a lot of volunteers who were just going to use trailers for their pickups.”

Sinclair started to learn about the process of permits and how drivers manage their loads and deadheading time. She set up an account at a local bank and began to pool her cash donations. A 98-year-old woman sent a truckload of her own fresh hay to the horses, then paid for another truckload of Sinclair’s hay to be shipped north. “Without her, I don’t know we would have saved some of them,” says Sinclair. “Nedford Trucking, a local company, offered to haul some, but they didn’t have the right trucks, so they donated $1,000.”

Sinclair is hoping volunteers in other parts of the country will help get hay and truckers together to save the herd. “I’m not going to give up I’m going to keep going until they have enough hay trucked up there to get through the winter,” she says.

In the meantime, the herd is watched over by Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs. Every truckload of hay, she says, is a minor miracle. In addition to volunteers like Sinclair and some money donated to help buy hay, Sussman now has the help of freight exchange giant TransCore’s DAT Network, which has pitched into to help match hay with deadheading drivers.

“I know there’s hay available in a number of states and if truckers can get it here they will be a part of something very special,” says Sussman, “because these horses are part of our heritage.”

The society is caring for 158 horses divided into two herds. One herd was rescued from the White Sand Missile Range in New Mexico – the fiery, wild mustangs of American legend. But the second herd of 39 horses was saved in southern Arizona and is “considered one of the rarest herds in the nation,” says Sussman. “They are the oldest descendants of the horse introduced in America as long ago as 1640.”

Karen Sussman can be reached at (605) 964-6866 and Pauline Sinclair at (918) 670-7350.