Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
The Prince by Dayton O. Hyde, Fall 2010
Like an eagle I sit perched on a flinty escarpment of the highest part of the Sanctuary watching the world below, a scene at this moment silent as a photograph. To the east, hundreds of miles of rolling prairie where once a host of covered wagons wound their way westward. To the south, the smoky haze of a Nebraska grass fire. To the west, as I watch, I see the evening purpling of Wyoming. Below me a skein of canyons, deep and dark, drain the life blood of these hills to the Cheyenne, the Missouri, the Mississippi, and the sea.
The slight breeze brings to me a strange perfume, crushed sage, the territorial scent of a mountain lion, the faint musk of a mule deer, pack rat, and of course, the stallion piles which adorn the highest meadows. I am watching with faint hope to see the great black mustang gelding we call ”The Prince” who pranced into our lives in a shipment Stefanie Powers and the Ford Motor Company saved from slaughter. When I first saw the Prince, he came at me as though to do me hurt, but turned out that he was only near sighted and wanted a closer look. Since then, we have become good friends.
He was gelded somewhere back in his history, but apparently no one bothered to tell him, for he commands the prettiest bunch of fillies on this wild horse sanctuary. The prairie grasses have buffed his hooves to a shine. Buffalo and blue gramma grass have given his coat a luster no show horse remedy could match. Eyes large, dark, and lustrous, with depths no man can fathom. All fire and hatred when another challenges him for his mares yet with a lover’s softness as a filly grooms his mane.
The Prince has been missing now for fifty seven days. I last saw him with his band as they lazed in the shadows of a landmark pine. I looked there a few hours ago but his old tracks in the gray dust had faded and the lone pine tree sang mournful in the persistent breeze. As I sat on the rocks overlooking thousands of acres of wild horse sanctuary, I could not help thinking of the dangers the Prince faced almost daily. Battles with younger stallions, mountain lions lying on rocks or branches waiting patiently for a passing meal. A leg broken perchance while charging down a rock-strewn slope.
With the cool of evening wild horses left their lounging places and began threading their way toward water on a favored meadow for grazing. Groups of friends perhaps or the favored few of an amorous gelding led by a wise old mare respected for her wisdom. Hopefully I watched those distant groups but the Prince was not amongst them. Deer came out of hiding and grazed amongst the mustangs unafraid. Far off, I heard the thunder of wild turkey wings as they lofted their heavy bodies into the air and flew upwards toward nighttime perches in some tortured cottonwoods.
I was about to quit my search and head for home miles away, when I felt that I was being watched. Startled, I whirled as though a mountain lion was snarling at my back. There in a tiny meadow stood Prince and his band of mares staring at me as though I was an enemy. The Prince snorted an alarm, and circled to catch my scent. For a moment his band seemed frozen in time. Then he nickered softly and came toward me as his fillies lowered their heads to graze.
It has been twenty-two years since I left my ranch and family in Oregon with the madcap idea that I could make a difference in the lives of wild horses. I knew that I’d be criticized and called a fool, but it was all worth the gamble. I had grown up with wild horses in Oregon and owed them for a great deal of joy.
In the past, some of the financial support for the Sanctuary came for the sale of foals from our registered quarter horse and paint mares. That market has now tanked and we are forced to seek other income to pay the Sanctuary bills and raise money for the $75,000 hay bill that we owe for this year’s winter hay. Like other non profits, we have seen gifts from major donors wither away, while our fixed expenses such as fencing material, tractor repairs, fuel and taxes go on. I check the mail daily in hopes that those wonderfully caring folks who have dug deep in the past, will remain loyal to the mustangs and help us again.
Dayton O. Hyde, IRAM President