The leader of a wild-horse sanctuary in north-central South Dakota is struggling to meet deadlines and conditions for the return of her impounded horses, leaving her vulnerable to the loss of at least some horses at a public auction.
Karen Sussman is the president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, which has a small ranch under her supervision near the town of Lantry. Last month, following reports of starving horses and with the society struggling financially and lacking feed for the winter, all 810 of the society’s horses were impounded to be cared for and fed by local authorities.
The court-ordered impounding included conditions and deadlines for Sussman to seek the return of the horses. The first deadline was Oct. 21, when Sussman was expected to submit a comprehensive management plan for the ranch.
Dewey County State’s Attorney Steven Aberle told the Journal this week that Sussman submitted the plan, but it was deemed inadequate.
“What she submitted was not comprehensive enough in our opinion,” Aberle said. “There were gaps and holes in it, and things that needed to be addressed if any animals are going to be returned.”
Local and state authorities met with Sussman on Nov. 9 to work on the plan, and Aberle said the improved plan is still being put into writing.
The next deadline was Nov. 11, when Sussman was supposed to produce evidence of funding or feed sufficient for 18 months of ranch operations. At the Nov. 9 meeting, Sussman sought and was granted an extension of that deadline until Dec. 1, on the condition that she reimburse Dewey and Ziebach counties — which share a border straddled by the ranch — for the costs of the impounding by Wednesday of this week.
Aberle said the counties were several days late in submitting their $76,000 cost estimate to Sussman, so she was given a grace period until Monday. Meanwhile, she made a partial payment of $30,000 on Wednesday, leaving a balance of $46,000.
If Sussman is able to pay that amount, she will still face the Dec. 1 deadline to produce evidence of feed and funding for 18 months of operations. With recent hay costs of $10,000 per week on the badly overgrazed ranch, an amount well into six figures is likely needed to convince authorities to return a significant number of horses. Aberle said the amount raised by Sussman will be used to help determine how many horses — if any — will be returned to her control.
In the meantime, Sussman, who has not responded to Journal interview requests, is free to arrange sales or adoptions of horses. She is apparently doing that, to a limited extent. Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer recently said that about 55 horses had left the ranch.
After the Dec. 1 deadline, Aberle and the other authorities involved with the impounding order will decide whether to return any horses to Sussman’s control, and how many. Any horses that are not returned will be scheduled for sale at a public auction, with the proceeds going to Sussman’s society only after all remaining county costs have been covered.
Though there are no active horse-slaughter plants in the United States, an auction might attract buyers for foreign plants that slaughter horses for human consumption. Buyers could also include individuals and groups committed to protecting wild horses.