Dayton O. Hyde is an author, conservationist, rancher, cowboy, former rodeo clown, photographer, and the founder of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota. He is also my uncle. A college buddy of my dad’s, my “Uncle Hawk” introduced his wife’s older sister to my father. The sister soon thereafter married my dad, and a little later became my mom, so that introduction turned out to be an auspicious event for me and my brothers, if nothing else.
Today, my uncle and his companion and partner Susan Watt run the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. The sanctuary’s 14,000 acres are home to hundreds of wild horses that have been removed from federal lands, as well as a herd of cattle and some domestic horses that help to support the sanctuary. The sanctuary is owned and operated by the Institute for Range and American Mustangs, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the principles of range preservation and a balanced ecosystem. In addition to providing a peaceful and natural home for these unwanted animals to live out their lives, the sanctuary is also a research area dedicated to solving wild horse herd management issues that will contribute to the well-being of wild horses everywhere.
I haven’t been in contact with my uncle over the last 30 years or so, though I knew he was working with wild horses in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I knew we’d be traveling right through Hot Springs. I also knew he must be around 90 years old, having been a little younger than my dad, who would now be 96, and a little older than my mom, who would have turned 89 this year.
I got in touch with my cousin Ginny, whom we’d visited in Oregon a couple of years ago, to find out how to reach her dad. Ginny encouraged me to call Susan at the sanctuary and assured me that her father would love to see us. So, we called. Sure, come on down, see the horses, we have a place for your RV, stay as long as you like…
It’s quite an operation, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The scenery rivals anything we’ve seen already on this trip. On our first morning we went on the guided tour, learned about the sanctuary, its purpose and history, and saw all this:
After that, my uncle picked us up in his ATV and showed us around a new piece of land they’d recently purchased, where we saw this:
Finally we came back to the cafe, had a late lunch and talked with my uncle while we all waited out a rainstorm. He is a talented storyteller, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. I even learned a thing or two about my parents that I didn’t know before. My uncle is 91 now, he’s had knees and hips replaced and he doesn’t move around like he once did, but his mind and his wit are as sharp as they ever were.
We had a great time here, wandering about the sanctuary and learning about what they do there, also seeing more of the Black Hills. I am especially grateful to have had this chance to meet and get to know Susan, and to resume my friendship with my Uncle Hawk.