LANTRY - Hay donated by Oklahomans - including a rancher who is a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer - has arrived just in time to help two rare wild-horse herds on a ranch near Lantry.
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros was down to five large round bales, less than a week's worth of feed for the society's 156 wild horses, before the first of the Oklahoma hay arrived Sept. 28, according to society president Karen Sussman.
Like others raising livestock in western South Dakota, the society faced dwindling pastures and feed supplies due to severe drought all summer and into the fall, Sussman said. The society leases 650 acres of rangeland which produced no hay this summer.
Rain that fell in other parts of the state this fall mostly missed the rangeland that fed the wild horses, Sussman said.
By August, the horses started losing weight.
Sussman issued a desperate appeal to society members and others for donations to buy hay for the herds.
Through news stories picked up by the national media, several Oklahomans got wind of her plight, including Doris Eaton Travis. Travis donated 408 large bales of hay grown on her ranch at Norman, Okla.
The first 10 truckloads arrived Sept. 28. The roughly 200 tons is enough to feed the wild horses for about three months, Sussman said. "We're going through about 80 tons a month," she said. "It was honestly a miracle."
Another load arrived Tuesday morning. Sussman said she is expecting another two or three truckloads of hay from Oklahoma.
She said another 600 bales have been donated in Oklahoma. Organizers there now are trying to raise money to haul the hay to South Dakota. The additional hay would get the wild horses through the winter, Sussman said.
Most of the horses on the Lantry ranch are from two rare herds, one from New Mexico and the other from the Gila River herd in Arizona, considered to be the oldest descendants of the Spanish horse in America, according to the society.
One of their new benefactors is a fairly rare breed herself. Travis, at 98 years of age, still lives on her 880-acre ranch at Norman.
Travis was one of the original Ziegfeld Follies girls, dancing with the show from 1918 to 1920. She danced in musical comedies, vaudeville and reviews for many years. She performed with Will Rogers and knew Irving Berlin. "I did it all," Travis said in a phone interview Wednesday. She later ran 18 Arthur Murray dance studios in Michigan.
Travis remains active and still practices dancing five days a week. At 88, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Oklahoma, with a degree in history. "I've lived it," she said.
On Sept. 23, her chef, Bill George, read an article in the Daily Oklahoman newspaper about the wild horses' plight. Travis arranged to donate the hay and then discovered there was no money to pay to haul it to South Dakota.
"Mrs. Travis said, 'Winter is coming, those horses are hungry, get the trucks and I'll just pay to get it out there,'" George said.
Five days later, the first of the Travis hay had arrived at the Lantry ranch.
"She is just such a wonderful, kind, generous woman," Sussman said.
Oklahoma had an excellent hay crop this year, which just underwent its fourth cutting.
Travis' hay crop was good this year, too. It won two ribbons at the Cleveland County Fair, she said.
Other Oklahomans also are beginning to buy round bales at $20 apiece. About 4,000 bales are available at that price. Sussman said if that effort succeeds, she would be able to help other ranchers in her area.
Sussman, who moved her first wild-horse herd to a ranch near Interior in 1999, praised the Oklahomans for their charity. "It's just such a wonderful effort. At a time when things are not so wonderful in our country, it has been a remarkable outpouring."
For more information, call Sussman at 964-6866, write to her at Box 55, Lantry, SD 57636 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions or comments? Call West River Editor Steve Miller at 394-8417 or e-mail him at email@example.com.