The more I read the posts during latest weather event be it a hurricane or flood or tornado the more I noticed references here and there to the Halleujah Horses. Intrigued, I wanted to find out more. It turns out Fleet of Angels and some other rescue groups allied with FOA, took responsibility of hundreds of neglected horses in South Dakota. This was my first experience with wild horses.
The wild horses seemed so exotic to me, having grown up in the Norfolk, UK countryside. I was used to planned Pony Club events not seeing wild horses especially not mistreated one.
I believe ISPBM and its founder, a Karen Sussman, had settled with state of SD for her to hand over most of the horses to Fleet of Angels and some other rescues and organizations, but she would be allowed to keep some from which I think she could breed.
So FOA now had many horses to look after and feed. It seemed to me the whole equine community rallied and space was found to house the horses and attend to them. Elaine Nash and her team and associates worked their fingers to the bone, adopting out the horses, all the while feeding, floating teeth, trimming hooves and attending to their wounds.
It must have been a daunting task. They were down to the last few, some blind aged mares and a group of twenty aged stallions, some of them blind too. Nobody, it seemed, had the capabilities to house twenty stallions and some aged mares. This Old Horse and Nancy Turner (by way of Becky Robb Holzler) to the rescue! She and her colleagues finally decided they would take them.
Elaine's mammoth effort was almost completed, my little one was just beginning. I wanted to do something to help these 20 stallions in some way. Along with others, I co-sponsored Cisco, one of the 'boys'. Now, situated on their own land in Goodhue, MN, the Wells Creek Sanctuary Stallions are looked after well by a crew headed by Becky Robb Holzler and Robin Darling. The land is on a beautiful farm, owned by Becky's brother-in-law and sister, Josh and Ricka Kohnstamm. Unfortunately, one of the stallions (Eli) died last year.
This is the fourth year of my co-sponsoring Cisco. They are tough. Over 30% of the rounded up Sheldon/Catnip died due to the shoddy experiments and cruel and rough roundups. Owing to the dreadful conditions or lack here of in that South Dakota rescue, Cisco sustained frost bite damage on his ears, particularly on his left one. He is chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail(I like to think he came from Hafflinger and Belgian stock) his distinguishing mark is the stripe done his face. I imagine it was a daub from an artist like Picasso but it looks more like three-year-old's effort because two-thirds of the way down his face it veers off. Giving him a very wonky stripe.
At the sanctuary they are fed wonderful hay (not too soft and filled with alfalfa) and plenty of it. Fresh water is constant. They have shelters which have shavings added in winter. They have scratching posts, fancy de-misters for hot weather, fly catcher machines. They aren't touched in any way. This sanctuary is just amazing, and after a life of being harassed by constant roundups and being guinea-pigs in quasi, unsanctioned-experiments, the boys now have a brilliant home.
A very short history of the zeroed out Sheldon herd.
This is sorry tale of greed, BLM and USWS mis-management, rescues lying and gone haywire, long horse drives to slaughter, all since the 1920's. I checked and the US Wildlife Services didn't have the time to let me know if they allowed cattle and sheep grazing or whether there were any horses left, but on its Sheldon Wildlife Refuge website it does state there are no horses left.
From horse buckeroos to entrepreneurs from the 1880's to 1970's the horse were bred to supply horses for WWI and II before mechanization, They were bred with drought horses enabling them to carry heavy weapons. After mechanization, if there were any already in the army there were slaughtered. Many of them went to horrendous rodeos to entertain the masses. In the Seventies, even after The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (1971) the horses continued to be rounded up and/or taken for work at random by various ranchers.
In 2006, David Johnson, deputy project leader at the Shelden/Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge wanted to eliminate horses from the refuge completely but have a "show" herd of only the best of the best Sheldon original herd. It was during foaling season when that final round-up was done. The US F & W mentioned that only 2 horses died, but advocates witnessing the round counted many that died in holding too. There was also one man(John Ratray) who rounded up 107 one year on his own. He also wanted to leave only the best horses on the range, presumably, the horses which didn't pass muster were slaughtered?
The most awful experiences for these horses were to come. In early 2000s it was decided upon by the Director of the refuge, John Kasbohm, assisted by Ms. Collins and agreed to by BLM that these horses would be experimented with fertility treatments. Stallions were regularly chemically sterilized and ovariectomies were accomplished on the mares, performed entirely by a BLM vet Dr. Pleistick, DVM and the occasional, sadistic student. Who knows how many horses died of these procedures? Are the Wells Creek Stallions all sterilized? We'll never know. Up until 2014 there were regular yearly 'gather's' by BLM at the refuge. Many of the stallions could have been gathered and let go again repeatedly for years. We'll never know the exact details on that either. In 2014 1,873 horses and 70 burros were rounded up and not put back on the range. Thirty were left. Maybe (We might never know for sure) they were the ones left that were rescued by Karen Sussman and went to a new, very hard home in SD - a failing rescue at that.
Thank heavans these hero aged stallions have sanctuary with Becky, Robin and their team at Wells Creek. Well deserved boys, well deserved.
Dr. Marla Bennett, Sheldon Wildlife refuge Manager., A History of Horses in Sheldon National Refuge, (2014)
Citizens Against Equine Slaughter, IBLA: The Motion to stay/appeal, The Burns OR Holding Facility(2016/17?)
Susan Pohlman, Valerie Jones-Patton and John Holland, US Fish & Wildlife Appears to be Poised to Ship Sheldon Range Wild Horses to Slaughter at Tax-payer's Expense, June 6, 2006.
Wells Creek Stallions Sanctuary, Facebook Page, Becky Robb Holzler, June 2022