Die, Pony, Die

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Images courtesy of the Nokota Horse Conservancy

Your action is requested!  Please see the end of the article for details.


TRNP (Theodore Roosevelt National Park) Wild Horse Management Plan

For the last 40 years, Leo and Frank Kuntz have been involved in helping to preserve a historically genetic and threatened type of horse, the Nokota®, the horse of the Northern Plains natives. There are less than a thousand of this type of horse alive today.

This horse was a gift to the Plains natives from their creator. The horse pulled their travois, the buffalo horse was for hunting, and the most prized was the war horse, the fastest and strongest.

During the mid-1800s, policy was to destroy everything when the military took a village. Homes, clothing and food were burned and many of their horses were shot or their throats slit.

Even after the natives were put on reservations, the cavalry was sent in to round-up the native type horse under the premise they were carrying disease and either shoot them or sent them to auction.

This type of horse was in the TRNP when it was fenced in the early 1950s. Park policy then became total elimination of the horses in the Park. Box canyon type round-ups were attempted, with little success; hay was poisoned and fed; local ranchers were hired to rope some and others were shot.

Fortunately, some local residents and others asked ND congressional delegates in DC to help. The TRNP decided to keep the horses as a historical demonstration herd.

This all changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. TRNP superintendent Harvey Wickware made the decision to change the geno- and phenotype of the wild horse herd. They introduced domestic studs (quarter horse, shire-cross, and an Arabian) who could not compete with the wild native studs to keep and maintain a mare band. So policy became the removal of the Native wild studs, allowing the introduced domestic studs to make an impact on the herd. They did this by using helicopters and outriders to roundup the wild horses. Their first attempt in the early 1980s was a total disaster. They lost a number of horses running long distances in the heat.

During subsequent roundups, the TRNP targeted the native type studs and lead mares. At the 1986 roundup, Leo and Frank Kuntz purchased 52 head at the TRNP wild horse auction. There they also met Castle McLaughlin, who at the time was working as an intern with the TRNP, and who in 1987 was given a grant to research the history of the wild horses in TRNP, which was funded in part by a grant from the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association. Dr. Castle McLaughlin is currently associate curator of North American ethnography at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Her chronicled research showed that the wild horses in TRNP were descended from the Northern Plains natives and the turn of the century ranch horses, with strong historical connections to Sitting Bull and his sub chiefs, the Marquis deMores (founder of the town of Medora, ND), Theodore Roosevelt (rancher in western ND and US President), and AC Huidekoper (who ran the largest horse ranch in the world at one time near Amidon, ND). In the 1991 TRNP roundup, The Kuntz brothers were successful at getting the national park to start blood testing their horses and to take out the introduced domestic studs, but what the TRNP didn’t tell people was that most of the shire cross’ offspring were left in the Park. It was suggested that inbreeding could become a problem with the response being that they knew what they were doing.

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Blood work was done only on horses that were being sold. The TRNP sold 62 head of horses and the brothers bought 11 that were the old native type.

The blood was sent to Dr. Gus Cothran at the University of Kentucky. There were 10 horses he called TRNP old-line, adding that they were “extremely divergent” from any other domestic breed.

In 2009, the TRNP started using an experimental contraceptive drug called GonaCon, requiring a yearly injection to prevent pregnancy. They began to study the herd to see what effects the drug was having regarding social structure. The study’s credibility is questionable.

The TRNPs last 40 years of ‘management’ (or mismanagement as it were) has resulted in a horse herd with less genetic diversity and the changing of a historically correct geno- and phenotype horse, as well as culling the younger horses which will result in an older herd dying off of old age, especially with the continued use of the experimental drug GonaCon.

In a report called Genetic diversity and origin of the feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, published on Aug 1, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200795, it states, “It is recommended that new genetic stock be introduced and that adaptive management principles are employed to ensure that unique mitochondrial lineages are preserved and genetic diversity is increased and maintained over time”.

This is a national park. They should NOT be breeding into extinction a genetically, historically correct horse.  There is a need for an interpretive center on the horses, and the slow reintroduction of the Nokota® horses back into the TRNP.

Now is the time for the TRNP to do their job … and their job is to do what is right!  The TRNP should reintroduce the type of horse that was there before and when the park was fenced, which is the Nokota® horse.

It is time to acknowledge the Northern Plains people’s history, horses, and horse culture. The Native peoples’ unique history and culture is a very important part of this Nation’s history.

The Nokota® horses need your help. Please contact Blake McCann, TRNP Wildlife Biologist at blake@nps.gov and Superintendent Wendy Ross at (701) 623-4466 and ask them to do what is right for the horses.

Frank Kuntz

Executive Director & Co-founder, Nokota Horse Conservancy®

If you would like more information about this topic, please call Frank Kuntz at 701-321-2320.

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The Amazing Nakota Horses of North Dakota and the Kuntz Ranch

Photos Courtesy of Susan Solomon, Kathy King Raedeke and Anna Twinney
Photos Courtesy of Susan Solomon, Kathy King Raedeke and Anna Twinney

I often wonder what it is about the wild horses that keeps calling to my heart.  Is it the tremendous empathy I have for them?  Or am I able to relate to them in an unusual manner?

Throughout my life I have found myself in situations in which I needed to adapt to living in brand new counties, to new languages, to both City and Country life, and to a man’s world and learn to be self-reliant.  Although we truly cannot walk in our horses’ hooves we can certainly relate to all that they endure in our world and help them ease their way into our society.  Over 3 decades ago I began by learning their language, the language of Equus.

When I was invited to join Leo Kuntz at his ranch in North Dakota I felt intrigued and excited to meet not only the man behind this mission but the horses as well.  Over the years I have been blessed to work with many Mustangs and wild horses including: Cerbats, Kiger-Mustangs (Spirit – The Mustang from the Cimarron), Shy Boy (Monty Robert’s famous Mustang), Pryor Mountain & McCullough Peaks herds, Sulphur Springs, the Wilbur-Cruce herds and many more.  This was a chance to meet the Nokota horses…what gratitude I felt.

Our experience was memorable and it brings me great joy to share in some of the moments spent gentling Leo’s horses and watching them interact in their family groups.

I hope you enjoy,
Anna Twinney,
Founder, Reach Out to Horses

 A word from Leo….

I thank Anna and friends for coming to the ranch for a very interesting clinic.  Over the years I have attended 622and watched many clinics.  I respect Anna’s methods in introducing the wild horse to the human world and think it has a place in everyone’s horse program.  I would also like to thank Anna for introducing more of the horse world to the Nokota Horse, a forgotten historic rancher strain of horses that find their foundation in the war and buffalo horses taken from Sitting Bull and other Chiefs upon their surrender, after Custer’s Last Stand.  These horses became the preferred ranch horses of the northern great plains. [Dobie..The Mustangs]

Hopefully, Anna’s methods and the Nokota Horse have a good future in the horse world.  Leo Kuntz, ND

A video journal of our Nokota horse experience   
Introducing…the Nokota horses and Leo Kuntz through ROTH

Nokota wild horses – EXTREME Stallion behavior

Do you have what it takes to tame a wild horse?
We do at Reach Out to Horses

Control of body, mind & energy. A FEEL like no other – do you have what it takes to tame a wild horse safely for both you and the horse? “I respect what Annas doing. There is a set way of how the trainers do it. You go against the grain and you are putting yourself out there. Nobody teaches putting a wild horse in a box stall without a halter. Acclimatizing into a way of life they are going into…Leo Kuntz

ROTH gentle Nokota horses at the Kuntz Ranch in North Dakota



Alecia Evans (CO):
“Thank for you allowing me to partake in this workshop and trusting me to come up to the task. I knew that it was going to be life-chaning and transformative, I just didn’t know how much. Having horses and being around domesticated horses is a completely different experience than being around an untouched wild horse. The awareness that my experience with Moonshine and the other horses provided me about the true essence and sensitivity of these majestic beings was often beyond words. It led me to a new level of being present, of being trustworthy and of the responsibility I now carry to do my best by all horses and humans. Anna, you are an extraordinary teacher and leader and I was truly blown away by your full presence every minute of every day. Thank you for sharing your gifts and knowledge with us all and for all that you sacrifice to do so.
And to Leo who so graciously allowed us into his home and into his herd, I thank you so much for being so open to sharing your experiences, knowledge and heart with us and the horses you love so dearly.”

Karen (NY):
“I’m really glad I came. I took a leap of faith and thought to myself just jump into the unknown, be adventurous. I learned a bit more about myself and about the horses. I’ve never seen or been anywhere like this (Leo Kuntzs Ranch in ND). Getting to know Leo and having him with us throughout the clinic was invaluable and really added tremendously to the experience. (Thank you Leo)”.

Kathy (OH):
“I cannot tell you how much I love this man! Ive been blessed by him. It’s a privilege and honor to know him through these horses. It was important for me to bring Anna here and her magic. Ive been struggling for a long time where I would bring my horsemanship. I came in fragile and I couldn’t ask for a better experience. Thank you both for taking a leap of faith!”

Laurent (CO):
“Thank you Leo for letting us in your museum. Thank you Ms Anna, with respect, for your good work and good advice. What I want to thank most of all is the horse! I started a friendship with Snowstorm and we had intimate moments. He doesn’t belong anywhere else.”

Susan (NC):
“I think you know I’m adaptive to whatever. When you said we are going to ND and I don’t know where, I said: “I don’t care”. This sings to my heart. Every time I work with the horse they ground me and allow me to again give back to people. hopefully I have given something to the horses as they have given everything to me.” Thank you as it truly was a remarkable experience. Wishing I were back there now!

Winsome (WA):
“Sitting here left with the feeling….its more of a re-ignition. Everything we have done in 6 days. I appreciate your letting me come as I know there were prerequisites. Its left me with a feeling of what I can do next to help. I knew this experience would help me as a parent (to be) and as a person. I know looking back this is a life-changer!”

Leo (ND) & Founder:
“I’m skeptical. We all know the horses will tell you what the trainers know. I watched Anna maintain the same, I would see it work on him. He (Billy) challenged more than any horses I know in my barn. She took it out of him. You don’t see or realize the progress of the horses. Ive seen the change!

Anna haltering Billy
“You know she can so its not impossible what she’s asking”
Leo Kuntz

“I respect what Annas doing. There is a set way of how the trainers do it. You go against the grain and you are putting yourself out there. Nobody teaches putting a wild horse in a box stall without a halter. Acclimatizing into a way of life they are going into…Leo Kuntz