In Tribute to Leo Kuntz...a Founder of the Nokota Horse Conservancy and Champion for Their Survival
It is with great sadness that we share with our supporters the loss of Leo Kuntz, founder, passionate champion for the survival of the Nokota breed, intuitive horseman and one hell of a rider. Board members, past and present, have offered the following thoughts and tributes about a man who meant so much to so many...
This week we lost a man (and brother) who was very instrumental in saving a genetic phenotype and historically correct type of horse, the Nokota®. It was his horse knowledge and expertise that helped save the Nokota® horse.
It was a long, hard road for Leo, but at times very gratifying as well. Leo now is walking in lush green grass with abundant water and Nokotas® all around him. He also has other family members there with him, brother Bob and sister Connie, and our parents, Leo and Pauline. Our parents, family and friends all were an integral part of the Nokota® breed’s survival. Without ALL of them the Nokota®s would certainly not be here.
There are so many of you out there who have assisted in the Nokota® cause. And I know that Leo is so grateful to each and every one of you. You all have helped the Nokota®s take steps forward, whether you feel you’ve made small or big steps they had to be taken. So, I know he thanks you all for taking those steps. And because of everyone’s collaborated efforts there are Nokota® breeders in both America and Europe. They are being used in all kinds of equine disciplines including fox hunting, eventing, trail riding, endurance, reining, cutting, therapy horses, etc. What was once a small Nokota® herd of only 200 is now nearly 1,000 strong in the US and abroad. I know that Leo would feel good about how far these horses have come and where they are going.
On Leo’s behalf, I would like to thank you all for your help and support and I will continue to work to promote, preserve, educate and help bring back the Nokota® horse to the Native Plains people. These were all goals Leo had.
Frank Kuntz, NHC Executive Director
I met Leo and Frank Kuntz in the fall of 1986 at a sale, where we were both buying wild horses that had been rounded up in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a meeting that would change all of our lives. For the next three years I researched the history and origin of the park horses with the help of Leo and rancher Tom Tescher, who taught us the social organization of the wild bands. Since then I have spent thousands of hours with Leo, on horseback, in trucks, and in buggies, meeting with officials and researchers, traveling around the country promoting the horses, working in his corrals, and sitting in his kitchen drinking coffee. Eventually, with the help of others, we started the Nokota conservancy.
Leo was a unique, one of a kind spirit, and I am too inarticulate today to make any effort to describe him or measure his life (the documentary about him, Nokota Heart, is a good representation) and passing. But I want to acknowledge that Leo was the founding father of the "Nokota community," both human and equine. He bred and raised the first several generations of Nokotas, gave them that name, and devoted his life to them. He often thought of giving up, but the horses are too special. Without him and his brother Frank, the horses would have disappeared. Without him, we are going to have to work even harder to ensure their future. Lets keep Leo's dream alive.
Warrior... an enigmatic warrior who has battled through the unthinkable is no longer with us. It has been claimed, even by myself, that I knew Leo well... yet such intellect and passion and courage can not truly be known... only experienced but it is too profound to grasp fully. Even after our last telephone chat, which seems like a different life now when Leo was so vibrant then and we were both so naive to this sick twist of fate... oblivious as I was to how instantaneously things would change... we talked about life as a struggle, whether one really could make a difference. I was so certain that Leo himself must agree; he is the very epitome of having made a profound difference: having rescued a breed which was on the very verge of vanishing. Yet he was more mystical and far from smug in what I wanted him to take comfort in, and so sincerely and sagely so... so that I remember reflecting for an extended time afterwards about what he meant, how, why... searching for truth just as I knew Leo was. How fundamentally sad I am that we can not continue that. Yet as I write this I know he will always be a part of me, a big part... and of so very many. Of my children. Of an entire cause.
And cause is a key word. Leo could enjoy the moment, but the cause, the mission focus, the commitment was paramount. Long after he had given so much of his self to Uncle Sam through the well over three decades stretching up till the last tragedy which felled him, Leo continued to steadfastly prove his commitment to a new found family who needed him to help find a chance, in his own words, to prove themselves: Nokota horses. Kindred spirits... Leo reminisced as a child a special draw to Sitting Bull which was only heightened and enlightened with his own warrior experiences... including the rejection he felt upon returning from Vietnam... yet as with wild horses is it the outcasts who are truly free... who a part of each of us yearns to be? I yearned to be as authentic, as dedicated and true, as Leo... and still do. And still ask myself how... the indelible and enduring mark of a true mentor... and hero.
Rest In Peace? I don’t know, my friend, if that is how you want it... but I respect your wishes and am damn sure you have earned it if you wish... yet I suspect you will continue to carry on the battle you started with Nokota horses and changing the world somehow... correction: I know you will continue to champion that cause through many of us. Thank you Leo. Peace and love... can anyone love peace and love as much as warriors do?
The world has lost a great horseman today and I am aching for the horses he loved and his family. My friendship with Leo was influential in many ways one in-particular I recall vividly is watching him work with his herd to sort and speak to them. Sometimes there were great theatrics, such as the ballad of Thunder Butte destroying the collapsed barn to romance mares, which everyone would reminisce about later. He was an artist at heart, and experienced life with a artist's passion; both with the highs and lows. There are so many wonderful memories I have about his company in the time I have spent in North Dakota among the Nokotas. The last time I saw him was the night I shared the debut of my liberty and riding show Lore Licorne, and I am so happy that I got to do so.
Leo lived for his horses and was a intuitive judge of horse flesh and character. In seeing his herd, your breath was taken away. I tried to glean any information I could from Leo about the Nokota bloodlines that seemed to follow me whenever I was taken with a certain horse. We often lamented that there were not many humans in the world who could chase the wind with the Nokotas that he bred. Leo's legacy are those horses, and it is my hope that we all can do right by them.
Sarah and Jack Lieser...
Jack and I were talking on speaker phone with Leo a few days before the accident. Before getting off the phone Jack said, “Well Leo, have a good day” and Leo said,” You know what the old timers say, you have to make it a good day!” We all laughed and said Ok, make it a good day!” That was the last time we talked to him.
I hope Leo will understand if I can’t make it a good day today, very sad, words can't express, only tears.
We learn with the greatest sadness the disappearance of Leo Kuntz. In addition to being a horse man out of common, he was simply a deeply human, generous, sensitive man, attentive to others. It's for us a huge privilege to have known him, and spent time with him on his ranch. Leo will remain the one who discovered the horse nokota, he will have devoted his life to his preservation, and it is with the heavy heart that we will continue to promote and develop the horse horse, now without him. Our thoughts go to his family, and to all those who love him.
I did not know Leo well. I had only met him twice, but did spend a late afternoon with him two years ago, along with a young man from the Standing Rock reservation. We toured the family property and I got to visit the gathering grounds where all of the teepee rings are still evident. It was sunset and it was such a spiritual time. Leo just allowed us to experience that place with few words. Quite incredible. He brought me into the museum he calls his home. I am an avid fossil collector and he had so much to share from many years of "finds" on his property. I loved watching him move among his mare bands and move his stallions about that was at times like an interpritive dance and other times like a fearless warrior on a mission! He had character and a persona with no equal. Many have learned so much from him and all who I have encountered in the Nokota community feel quite fortunate to have had their life paths intersect with Leo Kuntz.
If we remembered everyday that we could lose someone at any moment, we would love them more fiercely and freely, and without fear - not because there is nothing to lose, but because everything can be lost. I am so blessed that I had someone like you to help me grow into the woman I am today. I am a huge daddy’s girl and when he was busy in the field or doing the buggy rides I got to spend that time with you instead. I remember my hatred for shoes when I was little, following you around the ranch barefoot through the gravel and mud and horse poop. I remember my dad being so protective of his little girl and he always told me be careful... Most of the time he wouldn’t let me in the corral with him and I could only climb so high on the gates and those horses are too wild to get close to. But when it was Uncle Leo and I, it was always opposite. I remember being the only helper out on the ranch sometimes and when I was with you I would help sort horses and was dodging the horses and rolling under the fences. Jumping off the top of the gates and sitting on horses that have never had anyone on them. So you can safely say I got my adrenaline addiction from you! I would watch you ride in the Great American Horse Races and when it was the kids turn I remember thinking I gotta ride like Uncle Leo. So I basically kicked that horse, dropped my reins and hoped for the best. I rode with no fear, I rode like you. You always told me I was a natural with the Nokotas. You said that we were like one spirit and that is a gift that cannot be learned. I remember always pulling on your suspenders and asking you if you wanted ketchup with your watermelon. You will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. I miss you already and love you more than you will ever know. I will keep all the memories we had together close to my heart. Ride in Peace Uncle Leo. Love always, Mushi
"Later down the road," my dear friend Leo. Thank you for your endless wisdom and friendship and the "all-day" phone calls. "I love you no matter how hard it is to say the word, "love" out loud..." For you, I chose Walt Whitman's, "Song of Myself," "I Think I could Turn and Live with Animals..."
I think I could turn and live with animals,
they are so placid and self-contain'd, I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them, They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession. I wonder where they get those tokens, Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
Myself moving forward then and now and forever, Gathering and showing more always and with velocity, Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them, Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers, Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.
A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses, Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears, Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground, Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.
His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him, His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return. I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion, Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them?
Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you.