Wild horses are dying at a South Dakota ranch, and one former employee refuses to stay silent.
In a 16-page written document, Colleen Burns details the horrific situation going on behind the fences at the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. Her allegations include pictures of extremely emaciated horses, and she details how the ranch has experienced an alarmingly high number of animal deaths in the past five months.
Burns estimates that over 30 wild horses have died due to either starvation or other injuries since June.
Burns had a front row seat to the mistreatment up until Thursday when she was fired from the ranch. She says her termination came after repeated attempts to bring light to the situation.
In April 2015, Burns joined the ranch as the senior project manager. She reports that during her time there, the horses were allowed to breed freely, and this resulted in dozens of new foals.
With so many new mouths to feed, the four separate grass pastures no longer provide a sufficient food supply. The bald landscape paired with the non-profit society's financial struggles has lead to a life-threatening food shortage. Starting in June, horses have gone up to three days without food.
In Burns' report, horses are seen with hip bones protruding from their skin. Their thin coats stretch painfully around their ribs, and many horses also suffer from grotesque wounds and wildly overgrown hooves.
Burns told the Rapid City Journal,
"I find it hard to breathe when I think back on what's happened here."
The ranch, which is located in a rural area of Lantry, moved to its current location 16 years ago. They take in horses rescued from all across the western United States. Its original number of 260 wild horses has since grown to 650.
According to Burns, the animals receive no veterinary care. It's up to herself and two ranch hands to care for the well-being of all 650 animals.
When the ranch's president and longtime leader, Karen Sussman, was asked to comment, she said,
"I just fired her, so I'm sure that she's a disgruntled employee."
In Burns' report, she explains how she first approached Sussman with an attempt to initiate some kind of action but was shut down. She then reached out to society board members. She caught the attention of one board member, but that person was unable to make a difference and resigned. According to Burns, everyone else she voiced her concerns to rejected her claims.
Having exhausted her options with internal support, Burns then contacted the South Dakota state veterinarian, who paid a visit to the ranch with Dewy County Sheriff Les Mayer.
In regards to the condition of the pastures, Mayer said,
"It's basically bare ground."
After his first-hand experience at the ranch, Mayer ordered Sussman to feed the horses daily or risk citation or even arrest. The sheriff's office has followed up on the order and reports that the animals are now being fed on a daily basis. The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros has updated pictures of their horses on their site taken on October 3.
But the situation that has lead to the deaths of 30 wild horses and the extreme emaciation of hundreds of horses stems from ongoing financial difficulties. According to publicly available tax documents, the ranch operates at a loss. In 2012, their expenses surpassed their revenue by $166,794.
All images via Rapid City Journal