ISPMB HORSES NEED YOUR HELP AFTER DEVASTING WINTER STORM HITS SOUTH DAKOTA
By Karen Sussman
10/14/2013
(Estimates are 100,000 livestock dead in western South Dakota)

The words below cannot even begin to express what we felt and lived through and continue to live through.  This story is just a peek into the windows of our souls of those of us who experienced this "storm of the century" first hand.

The worst storm in South Dakota's history started on Friday October 4th 2013 approximately at noon and never let up until late Saturday night.   Although we always prepare for storms the day before, this is one storm for which no one was prepared especially the animals.

The week before the storm raged, temperatures in western SD hit all time highs – 86 degrees.  In previous Octobers, normally we would have colored leaves falling from the trees, frosts, yellow grass becoming dormant before winter, and most of all hair coats on horses preparing them for the first snow.  We can tell by the hair coats just what kind of winter we are going to have! Or at least, we used to be able to predict winters.

Prior to this storm, we had green leaves on the trees, the grass remained green and growing, there was not one frost, and worst of all the horses still had their summer coats.

As the rain began on Friday, the winds howled at 60 mph and the temperatures dropped quickly to freezing changing rain to driving sleet.  We received four inches of rain in just a few hours which is a quarter of our yearly rainfall.  After the sleet, came wet snow – about another eight inches.

The day before the storm we had fed all the horses in preparation.   We had heard by then that we would have two feet of snow.  As the storm hit and temperatures dropped 50 degrees in minutes, the horses began to succumb.  I have all the faith in the world that wild horses have the greatest survival skills of all animals.  Yet, this storm was unlike any weather ever experienced by these horses or humankind.

As the rain quickly turned to small bb size pieces of hail, we began our rescue mission.  Our famous White Sands herd was hit hard as they were off on the hill standing in a row, heads to tails, with tails in the wind while the blizzard hit.  Normally during blizzards, horses do not eat but stand close together keeping youngsters in between the adults.   First a yearling went down, and then it began so quickly with the youngsters dropping.  We began to move the herd off the hill and to the barn area luring them with more hay.  We have an open barn there but wild horses do not come inside unless they have been taught. (Buttercup's band knew and many followed her in.) Regardless, the barn could not hold all of the horses.

The water was beginning to run off the hill in torrents streaming down the pasture into the gelding pasture where it began to collect.  At one time, there was three feet of water covering parts of the pasture.   We had only experienced this once before in 2010 when 16 tornadoes touched down in our area.

It soon began to feel like bullets hitting our faces as the sleet flew sideways with the winds gusting to  60 mph.  We lifted the foals into the bucket of the tractor bringing them into the barn.   Each operation was delicate in order not to hurt the foals but time was of the essence.  Jules Uses Many, our ranch manager, rode in the bucket with the foals as I drove the tractor  to the barn where our magnificent three volunteers were waiting with blankets. (Myriam Moran, John Fine, and Nanette Schieron)   The horses were so cold that they could not stand and we had to lift the horses from the bucket into the barn.  The foals were already six months old and were weighing quite a bit.  Most of them were born in April.

As we left the pasture, all the horses were standing but when we came back another foal was down.   Finally, by sunset, all the White Sands horses were packed near the barn with food and everyone was standing as the sun set.  Foals were inside the band groups and the rest was up to the weather and fate.  The freezing rain was coming down hard and we could no longer see outside.  Our attention turned to the hospital barn which was  filled with horses and each had to be nurtured and warmed gradually.  We were out of blankets so we covered the foals in hay.  We even had hats on some of the foals.   With everyone fed, warmed, blanketed and cared for, we ended the first night at 9:30 PM.  None of us had eaten since breakfast but hunger was not an issue as one works off adrenalin.   The warmth of the  house felt good but it was a short night as the high winds blew the sleet against the windows making them shutter as if they too were shivering.  This was an ominous sign showing the violence of this storm.

The next morning, we were out in early morning to see the damages.  The majority of the foals that remained with their mothers did not make the night.   The night brought eight inches of very wet snow mixing with the four inches of rain that covered the pastures.  Foals don't have a long hair coat when born unless they are born in winter.  They begin to change their hair color in six months and then grow their winter coats.   They never had a chance to either.  Our hearts were breaking as we counted our losses.  White Sands had over 25 foals and most of them did not make it along with many of the yearlings.   Catnip herd lost two foals.  Virginia Range herd lost four foals.  Both of these herds are still under the effects of PZP, birth control for horses. The very tough Gila herd lost no foals but we lost our dear Carmelita, our blind mare.   The usually dry stream bed was raging with twelve feet of water.  We assume she tried to cross it and was swept away.

Neighbors lost hundreds of livestock.  Snow falls in Rapid City, Lead, and Deadwood were as much as five feet.  Traffic was closed on I-90, not so much for the snow, but for all the cattle that were dazed that were roaming the highways.  Legs of cattle were seen poking out through the snowdrifts.   Other cows were huddled against the fence line – all dead.  Sheep were buried alive.  We have no idea how the wildlife did in the storm.  But without a winter coat, no animal was prepared.

It was so nice to see how all the cattlemen and wool growers associations have come together to form a fund for their groups.  Other states are sending replacement heifers for the rancher's herds and pouring money into their fund.  Our governor already gave his donation to the group.  Since ISPMB does not raise cattle, we will not benefit from this group nor will be benefit from any federal subsidies that may come the rancher's way.

This has always been the case even when we had the terrible blizzard of 2010 and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC raised $250,000 for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.  There were federal subsidies for all ranchers who sell their animals for food.  Again, ISPMB suffered like everyone else but never received one penny.

ISPMB has saved four distinct wild horse herds that we manage here.  We have 14 years of studies in the herds which are producing extraordinary results.  Princeton University sent a student here this summer to study with us.  Why is it so hard to have to scramble for funding when our project is so critical to the future of all wild horses in our country?

We hope that the humane groups and animal loving people will help with donations for hay.   It will be a test to see how united we are as we watch thousands of dollars pour into the  SD fund for livestock producers.

Our goal is to raise $150,000 as that would assure us of all the winter hay we need.  We also continue to look for permanent loving homes for 25 of our wonderful horses who no longer live with the herds.  Our ultimate goal is to combine our Conservation Center with Eco-tourism.  We have a 5,000 acre ranch in mind that would create financial self-sustainability and all the hay in the world.

We hope that the sense of humanity and compassion will prevail.  Time will tell.  For all of our wonderful supporters who have given.  Thank you from all of us here, especially the horses.
We can put any size donation to work!

Thank you for your generosity!


 

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