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According to a former employee, some of the horses at the ranch of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros are malnourished, and others have already died. Donors are starting to step forward to help feed the horses.

Donated hay bales are showing up at a South Dakota ranch where numerous wild horses have reportedly died of starvation-related causes.

The horses are at the rural Lantry ranch of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, in north-central South Dakota about 110 miles northeast of Rapid City.

According to a former employee who went public last week, a lack of control over the ranch’s ballooning horse population taxed the organization’s pastures and finances to a crisis point.

The former employee, Colleen Burns, said 30 or more horses have died since June for lack of grass, hay and veterinary care. Her photographic evidence shows badly emaciated horses, some dead and some dying, and some with overgrown hooves or grotesque injuries or wounds.

Representatives of several other wild-horse organizations are now stepping in to help, including Susan Watt, executive director of the Hot Springs-based Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Watt said $6,000 in total donations from her and from representatives of Return to Freedom and Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, both in California, enabled two truckloads of hay to be dropped off at the Lantry ranch by Monday morning.

Given the ranch’s estimated population of more than 600 horses, Watt figures the two truckloads amount to only three days of feed. She encouraged anyone wishing to donate money, hay or pasture space for the ailing horses to contact her at 605-745-7494 or iram@gwtc.net.

“Let’s make a happy ending to this story,” Watt said Monday.

Watt said she’s willing to accept the donations or put contributors directly in touch with a hay seller. She’s also working to establish a website where people can donate to the cause, she said.

Additionally, the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday on its Facebook page that the state’s attorneys of Dewey and Ziebach counties are working to set up a fund for the feeding and care of the Lantry horses. The sheriff’s office said it would share further information about the fund when it becomes available.

Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer said last week that he has investigated the ranch and turned over his findings to the two state’s attorneys. One of them, Dewey County State’s Attorney Steven Aberle, declined Friday to comment on the status of the case. A veterinarian for the state Animal Industry Board has also investigated the alleged neglect of the horses and is advising the state's attorneys, according to State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven, who was interviewed Monday by the Journal.

Burns, the whistle-blower who alerted authorities to the dire situation on the ranch, was fired last week by ISPMB President Karen Sussman after Burns went public with her concerns. Burns was originally given two weeks to vacate a house on the ranch that she said was part of her compensation package; since then, Burns said, she has been told to vacate the home this week. Burns is mulling options for her future and said she hopes others will step in to help the horses once she’s no longer able to observe them.

Watt said she hopes to be part of the ongoing solution, helping not only with hay but possibly with veterinary care and with assistance in formulating a long-term management plan to get the ISPMB back on stable footing.

Burns said she’s not convinced the ranch can be turned around.

“If the organization itself is not completely restructured with basic business management functions like a budget and especially with a focus on herd and ranch management,” Burns told the Journal, “I’m not sure this won’t happen again.”

Sussman did not respond to a phone message Monday from the Journal.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills." Receiving encrypted news tips through Peerio with the user name seth_tupper.