LANTRY | The number of horses is climbing at a troubled wild horse sanctuary in north-central South Dakota, where a sheriff said there are 160 more horses than previously thought and two county governments have already spent $23,000 on hay.

Authorities counted 810 wild horses Thursday at the sanctuary near Lantry, about 110 miles northeast of Rapid City. They had previously been led to believe by the sanctuary’s top official that the number of horses was 650.

The Dewey County Sheriff's Office and representatives from the state veterinarian’s office spent the day at the sanctuary Thursday. They found the horses to be in better condition than during a previous inspection a month ago; as a result, only one horse will be euthanized and 25 will be separated for special care.

Earlier this week, a judge ordered Dewey and Ziebach counties to take control of the horses, following recent allegations from a former sanctuary employee that some of the horses had starved to death, and that the sanctuary was broke and there was no hay stored for the winter. The sanctuary is located on a small ranch that straddles the county line and is operated by the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB).

Tuesday's order by the judge, called an impoundment, gave the society until Oct. 21 to draft a comprehensive management plan and another deadline of Nov. 11 to provide evidence of sufficient funding and feed for the horses.

To the extent that the society meets those conditions and deadlines, it could regain some or all of its horses. To the extent that the society fails, some or all of its horses will be offered for adoption until Dec. 1. After that, according to the impounding order, the counties would sell any remaining horses at a public auction, probably to buyers for foreign slaughter plants.

Some of the horses have already been adopted out by the ISPMB, said Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer, but he did not know how many. People or groups interested in adopting horses may contact the ISPMB for now, he said, or contact the sheriff’s office to be placed on a list. If the ISPMB fails to meet the conditions and deadlines in the impounding agreement, authorities will take control of the adoption process.

Mayer said the two counties recently purchased 500 bales of hay for $23,000 to feed the horses. That was thought to be enough hay for the month, but after Thursday’s count, Mayer said he fears he’ll have to make another large purchase. The Dewey County Auditor’s Office is accepting public donations to offset the counties’ costs, but that fund had accumulated only a few thousand dollars earlier this week.

The impounding order by the judge includes provisions requiring the ISPMB to reimburse the counties for the costs. If the ISPMB cannot pay, Mayer said he’s unsure what other options the counties might have to recoup their costs.

Meanwhile, the ISPMB’s president, Karen Sussman, is facing a separate legal matter in Perkins County where she is charged with grand theft for allegedly writing a bad check for nearly $10,000 to a hay supplier.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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