Lessons From Wild Horses: Healthy Relationships Begin With Trust

I met Karen Sussman two years ago when I was leading a project for Ford called Save the Mustangs. We shared a desire to preserve wild horses that might otherwise be slaughtered for meat to be exported for human consumption. For so many people, the wild mustang embodies the essence of the American West – freedom, strength, vitality and a beautiful ruggedness. For Ford, the Mustang was our most powerful car brand and it seemed fitting to pay back in some small way the inspiration the wild horse has provided the company for more than 40 years. For me, it was one small but incredibly fulfilling part of my job. For Karen, it was her life’s work, consuming nearly every moment of her every day for more than two decades.

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get link I found Karen to be an incredibly knowledgeable, passionate advocate for the wild horse, and a warm and generous, compassionate person. When I created Force for Good I envisioned including a host of additional voices, Friends of Force for Good, for fresh perspective and insight. I asked Karen to author the first Friends guest post.

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Karen Sussman and Destiny, one of the wild horses she has befriended.


For the past 25 years, I have devoted my life to understanding the basis of relationships among wild horses and how these relationships apply to people. In the wild horse world, life is about survival. Each herd animal has a particular task in making sure that the entire herd survives. In addition to safety, there are other wonderful benefits achieved when the entire herd functions as a unit such as pleasure, freedom and the expanding sphere of knowledge known as herd wisdom.


Although the herd functions as a unit, one can observe subcategories such as natal bands, harem bands and bachelor bands. Each band has its own social order. Within those band structures we can look at each individual horse’s role and how it affects the whole.


Trust is the first building block in creating a relationship with a wild horse. It is the matrix of all relationships. We create trusting relationships when we are honest, compassionate, respectful, responsible and accountable. These attributes must apply to all decisions and actions we take. It must also apply to our entire living eco-system as a whole – our Earth, even our universe.


Horses have evolved on the North American continent for 60 millions years, disappearing for only 8,000 to 10,000 years. With advances in molecular biology, we now know that the horses re-introduced by the Spaniards in the 1500s are the same species as those that disappeared in that relatively short geological time period. 


What lessons do we have to learn from our wild equine friends? Just viewing their highly adaptive skills in out-surviving many other species in an ever-changing environment can give us great insight into how we should manage our own relationships within the world, including the corporate world.


The ancient horse makes no secret about survival. It is all out in the open for everyone’s understanding to apply to our daily lives. It is the readiness to change, with every thought and action based on trust – honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility and accountability to each other. When we violate any of those values for individual benefit, we fail as a whole.


- Karen Sussman


Karen was born in Pennsylvania but has spent most of her life in the West. She has been riding horses since the age of four and has spent the last 25 years of her life studying and caring for wild horses. She is president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros and currently resides on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota where she and ISPMB manage three wild herds of horses. 



  1. Julianne French says:

    Karen, thank you for all you have done to preserve so many herds of horses and their family bands. I am honored to be a sponsor of one of your stallions, Ian of the Gila herd you rescued as one of the last wild horse bands in Gila, Arizona. I am saddened that I got into the wild horse preservation campaign too late to help the Gila’s remain in their natural Arizona Territory, but I am commitment to furthering the cause of the mustangs to remain in their federally protected areas wild and free from harassment.
    Indeed, nothing feeds the soul of the human like the spirit of the horse.

  2. Stephen Tusha says:

    I have spoken with Karen and there is substance in her beliefs and observations. To often people that devote their time and energy into saving something, no matter how special, are labled “wacko”. However, after speaking many hours with Karen it can be assured that she is as realistic as she is passionate about the Wild Mustang.
    I am a serious horse person with many years of riding and working with horse people professionally. After talking with Karen and learning what she has observed I have been able to gain additional insight into the horse and its needs and behavior. It is important for all people who own, ride or just love horses to support the Wild Mustang as well as those companies that devote their time and energy for such causes.

  3. Rhonda Huber says:

    Karen is coming to Brainerd in Sept 2007 for a Mustang fundraiser. Can’t wait to see her and to help her raise money for the GILA HERD.

  4. April Herrin says:

    I am very impressed with the work that Karen does fighting to save our wild horses. I am on her e-mail list and am constantly hounding our congressmen when issues arise concerning the horse. There are many ways to help the wild horse. I sponsor Sage, a young colt out of Karen’s herd, donate monthly for Hay for Hope, and sponsor a bachelor band. Money helps the cause but adopting those misfortunate mustangs that sit in holding facilities is equally important. In the past two years I have adopted 6 mustangs and now they roam as a herd on our farm. I appreciate reading from others concerning their work in helping the wild mustangs. Keep up the good work. Maybe you too can give the gift of a home.

  5. Emily Corrigan says:

    Dear Karen:
    thank you for all that you have done for wild horses. This year for my birthday party I asked everyone to either bring a present or a donation to ISPMB. I will be sending you the money in a few days. One of my friend’s uncles runs another mustang rescue place and my friend sponsored a horse for me. All of my friends know that I love horses so almost every present I got had to do with them! Thanks again, from Emily (age 10)

  6. Mike Penfold says:

    Karen has done incredible work to save wild horses and burros over many years. She has been tough as nails with the bureaucrats and gentle as a feather with the horses. Keep up the good work, Karen.
    - Mike Penfold, Past Assistant Director of the Bureau of Land Management.

  7. Jackie & Tim Martin says:

    We were very fortunate to spend some time with Karen and her horses (and dogs) a few years ago. She has the heart of a thoroughbred and the commitment of a Green Beret. And she has earned the love and respect of both the horses and the Native Americans with whom they share the land. Wild Horse Annie would be very proud of this incredible woman who has very capably taken the reins of a cause that should be dear to all Americans.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Though some may not think so, learning to patch up a relationship and keep it together is a skill that can be learned. I try to help others discover the keys.

  9. “Watching wild horses feeding, grazing, fleeing from danger, in unison and in bliss is a beautiful orchestration. Thousands of animals together assembled in a spirit of fun or exercise. Their bodies and spirits are deeply satisfied. Harmony happens when the weather barometer is just right, no troubles are near and safety is present. Self-actualization occurs, when we move to a state of essential flow. We open a star gate and a kinship with all kind. An understanding ofthese positives adds value and virtue to the quality of life. It also nurtures individuals in society’s moral accountability and perspective. Nature provides us the basis for human integrity,compassion, humility, patience, trust, worthiness, kindness and courage. We need only to experience the quaint squirrels and birds in our own backyards to begin notice the power of wild horse. I’m saving up for a visit to see Karen Sussman’s Horses.
    It sounds like the greatest of holidays to me!!~ Barbara Ellen Ries, Author of Sweet Adeline’s Story of Courage” See you at Karen’s ~~~Here’s her web site~~~http://www.ispmb.org/

  10. Travel on a Eco- Spiritual Vacation: Times of Walking with the Wild Horses
    Suggested guest speaker for your web radio
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JDcQE0a0uw ~ You tube
    Contact: Location: We are located on the Karen Sussman, Hwy 212 near Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Address: ISPMB, PO Box 55, Lantry, SD 57636-0055
    Phone: 605-964-6866, Mobile: 605-365-6991 (11-5 Mountain time) Messages will be returned in farm time
    E-Mail: ispmb@lakotanetwork.com
    Karen Sussman is charming as well as educated about 400 hundred horses. She is the only women in the world with 4 wild horse herds. Karen has navigated a talk in front of congress and has met with the most resistant to mediate the lives of wild burro’s after an The blood bath near Oatman, AZ. The battle was settled by Karen’s guidance slaughter. She raised her children in Scottsdale, AZ. But was invited by a calling to help USA’s horse herds. Nothing is impossible for Karen she has help organized the freedom for the Apache Sitegrave horses the only free herd to moving buffalos to Catalina Island.
    Karen feels comfortable on her rural South Dakota farm and conservation with hundreds of acres on a grazing prairie. The Lakota believe they would have a person come to them to re-unit the horses with their culture. They believe the horse woman is Ms Karen. Return of Sungnuni glugluka (mustang)
    The Lakota people once relied on and lived with the wild horse. The horse was used in ceremonies, games, hunting, and war and in everyday life. The horse was a symbol of freedom, strength, pride and courage. The Indian people believe that they had the horse long before the Spanish arrived. The horse was bred for specific purposes. Similar to the Arabian it was bred for endurance and speed. It was necessary to travel many miles sometimes non-stop for days. The speed was required for hunting, war and games. A fast pony was a highly cherished animal with the Indian people. Today we have the privilege of having the wild horse in our midst again. As the Indian people search for their roots and regain their ceremonies, language and culture it becomes evident that the return of the wild horse is part of becoming whole again. Returning us to nature, Karen Sussman makes the magic real again.
    Princeton University is coming this summer and its founder is going to be Hollywood movie, Wild Horse Annie.
    Volunteer Barbara Ellen Ries
    http://www.wildhorsesummit.com/bios/Sussman.php bio
    Karen Sussman is president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, the oldest wild horse and burro organization in the United States. She follows in the footsteps of her predecessors, Helen Reilly and Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston).
    Ms. Sussman has devoted her life to saving America’s wild horses and burros. Currently, she is developing the first wild horse conservation program in the United States creating a model management program for entire wild herds. The herds must qualify as threatened or endangered. The conservation program is home to four herds of wild horses two of which exist nowhere else in the U.S. except at the Conservation Center. The herds are monitored daily.
    Ms. Sussman has received bipartisan support for her efforts, both in Congress and the Department of the Interior. She has served on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in 1990-92. Ms. Sussman has received numerous awards for her work with wild horses and burros. In 1996 she and her Black Mountain Eco-team received the Health of the Land Award from the Secretary of the Interior for their five-year commitment diffusing an extremely volatile situation after 50 wild burros were shot to death in Kingman. Called in initially by the governor of New Mexico, Ms. Sussman worked for ten years with the White Sands Missile Range helping to prevent the slaughter of wild horses on White Sands. She organized two national conferences and created two national alliances pertaining to the Del Rio Investigation and the Burns Amendment. She signed the first MOU with the BLM in 1989 to do Volunteer Compliance on adopted wild horses in the U.S. Ms. Sussman worked actively within the prison wild horse training programs and assisted the BLM in coordinating a consistent training program for wild horses within the different prisons. She created the first rescue program in the U.S. where no BLM adopted horse or burro was ever sold to slaughter within the entire state of Arizona during the five years of the rescue’s operation.
    In 2006, she was inducted into the Mustang Hall of Fame at the Wild Horse and Burro Expo in Nevada. In 2007, she organized the largest rescue of wild horses since the closing of the slaughter plants in the U.S. Over 225 wild horses were adopted and 100 remain at the Conservation Center awaiting placement in Wisconsin.
    Ms. Sussman has appeared on many TV programs and has been quoted in many national and international press articles. She is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA where she received her diploma in Nursing in 1967 and currently works four days a month at the Indian Health Service Emergency Room in Eagle Butte, SD. She also was an accredited pre-collegiate piano instructor in classical music for 12 years before moving to SD. She served on the Board of the League of Women Voters and is an original member of the National Museum of Women’s History in Washington, D.C.

  11. barbara ries says:

    Hello to ISPMB, President Karen Sussman, wild horse advocates and all international media outlets,
    Thank you for your great support of ISMPB.
    Please except my retraction statement : To Whom It May Concern: On, or in the month possible June by it was in July of 2010 ( I ), Barbara Ries sent out a press release on behalf of Karen Sussman in hopes of helping her raise funds for ISPMB , International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros.
    I apologize that this was sent without her knowledge or permission and the statements made in the press release were taken completely out of context.
    Specifically, Princeton University is not at this point involved with ISPMB. However, ISPMB is working with Mary Ann Simonds of the Whole Horse Institute
    and Dr. Cassandra Nunez from Princeton University in designing a wild horse ecology study to define functional and dis-functional wild horse behaviors relative
    to various equine cultures. This program needs funding in order to be implemented.
    Please accept my apology as my eagerness to help overshadowed my journalistic professionalism. I apologize for any time or inconvenient in my behalf to ISPMB and it’s President.
    Sincerely ,
    Barbara Ries
    To ISPMB , President Karen Sussman
    PO Box 55
    Lantry, SD 57636-0055
    Tel: 605-964-6866
    Cell: 605-430-2088
    Saving America’s Wild Horses and Burros since 1960
    July 12, 2010 Barbara Ries – 520-509-6268
    Radio and TV Shows Karen Sussman- 605-964-6866
    International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros ( ISPMB ) Lantry, SD- Creating a new paradigm for the protection of wild horses and burros through the development of the International Wild Horse and Burro Conservation Center, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, is the only privately funded organization managing entire herds of wild horses.
    The Conservation Center began eleven years ago with the acquisition of the last of the White Sands Missile Range horses from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The capture and release onto private lands of the White Sands wild horses was documented by Life Magazine in 1999. The following year, ISPMB obtained its second wild herd known as the Gila Herd. These rare Spanish horses are the descendants of stock from Father Kino’s mission (1600’s) in southern Arizona. These horses have appeared twice in National Geographic Magazine (2004 and 2009) and most recently this year’s Smithsonian Magazine.
    Both the aforementioned herds exist only on ISPMB’s ranch. ISPMB received two more herds under the premise that these herds existence were threatened with possible elimination from their home territories in the state of Nevada. They are the Catnip Herd and the Virginia Range Wild Horses.
    Living amongst the wild herds, Karen Sussman, president of the ISPMB, has documented wild horse behaviors for years and can provide interesting topics of discussion and public engagement such as: The Need to Protect America’s Wild Horses and Burros Who Are Fast Disappearing from the American Landscape; The Connection of Horse and Human Culture; Wild Horse Annie’s ( ISPMB’s first president ) Outstanding Achievement’s in Wild Horse and Burro Preservation; Anything You Wanted to Know About Wild Horse Behaviors and Their Highly Evolved Communities; How You Can Help to Protect America’s Wild Horses and Burros for Future Generation to Enjoy; Ecotourism – Enjoying the Beauty of Wild Horses.
    Karen A. Sussman
    President, ISPMB
    PO Box 55
    Lantry, SD 57636-0055
    Tel: 605-964-6866
    Cell: 605-430 -2088
    Saving America’s Wild Horses and Burros since 1960
    Become a member of ISPMB today!
    What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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