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An American Original: Dayton Hyde

In 1949, a lanky, young Dayton Hyde rode bucking broncs and, as seen here, dodged angry bulls as a rodeo clown in Hawthorn, Nevada.

Dayton Hyde ran away from his Michigan home at age 13, bound for his uncle's Oregon cattle ranch, and his life has been packed with adventure ever since. A rancher and conservationist, he's been named a First Hero of the Earth by Eddie Bauer and an Amazing American by People Weekly.

Hyde's 15 books are filled with a love for wildlife and the wilderness, and his efforts to preserve both. Don Coyote, the unforgettable story of his friendship with the much maligned coyote, was one of the top books of the 1980s, and remains a perennial bestseller today. His latest is a big-hearted memoir, The Pastures of Beyond.

In 1988, Hyde turned his beloved ranch - Yamsi - over to his kids, and moved to South Dakota to found the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, where he lives today. At age 80, Hyde is, he says, "still ridin' horses, still ground-breaking colts, still coming in at night exhausted and filled with ideas for the next book."

His next book? About wild horses, of course. "Horses taught me a love of freedom. They're a part of our Western heritage. They speak to me of running free and going where I want, when I want. That's why I love wild horses with such a passion and why they are so special. They know no master. They are part of the wind."

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Meet an extraordinary trailblazer, Dayton Hyde.

TTR: When you left home at age 13, what were you looking for?

Hyde: Horses. In northern Michigan there weren't many, due to the severity of winters and the ever-present summer flies. My uncle, who had 7,000 head of cattle and several ranches, wrote that his men had captured 30 wild horses, and they were starting to break them. It was just too much for a kid to resist! I hopped a freight [train] and headed west.

TTR: What were the horses like?

Hyde: When you captured a wild horse from those herds, it was of wonderful quality. The ranch was surrounded by Indian reservations, and they would round up wild horses, train, then sell them. They had a real stake in quality, and they'd get rid of horses that weren't sound. Often, the Indians would buy a high-quality Morgan or Thoroughbred stallion, and release him into the wild to improve the herds.

TTR: How did your riding skills evolve?

Hyde: Painfully! I discovered that after a few days of riding, there was no hair left on the inside of my legs! And it's never returned.

TTR: What lessons did the ranch hands teach you?

Hyde: Since I was taught by a bunch of drunks and murderers, I learned not to drink and not to kill! Seriously, they taught me a work ethic more than anything else. Even today, my work on a ranch is my pleasure, too. I have nothing to retire from because, in my mind, I've never really worked. I've run the ranch, and written books - things I loved to do. I'll be working horses and writing until the end of my days.

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