Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Vanishing Wild Horse

“Controversial Wild Horse Roundup in Cold Creek Nevada.” “BLM Wild Horse Roundup Resumes.” “Judge Refuses to Stop Horse Roundup.” “Wild Horse Fate in Outer Banks Lies in Preservation Clash.” These are but a few of the recent headlines heralding the seemingly unstoppable attempt to eradicate wild horses from our country. Out west, the land set aside for them by the Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act is being overtaken by livestock grazing, gas, oil, and mineral exploration. On the Outer Banks, one of the rarest and oldest breeds of wild horses is teetering on the brink of genetic disaster and is also threatened with continued attempts by developers to have zoning changed from residential to commercial so that a hotel can be built where the horses roam. Once that happens, other commercial entities will surely follow in an area with limited resources and infrastructure. If that is not enough, each year, far too many of the wild horses of Corolla become less wild as a result of the thousands of people who lure them into the yards of their rental homes with apples, carrots, or whatever they happen to have on hand. Many suffer from colic as a result – and some die. They become habituated to the thousands of vehicles that drive too close them. They lose their fear of people and vehicles, and become trusting and vulnerable to people with malicious intent. Seven have been shot with no arrests and four have died in the last three years as a result of being hit by vehicles on the open beach. For the people who are dedicating their lives to try and save what is left of America’s vanishing icons, the very symbol of freedom and perseverance, it is a heartbreaking and never-ending battle. Many advocates have been fighting this battle for thirty years. It is easy to become discouraged and disheartened when those with decision-making powers continue to look the other way, ignore and/or skew the facts, or are swayed by the promise of power/favors from individuals, corporations and special interest groups with deep pockets. Here on the Outer Banks, we have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and garner support. The bi-partisan Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act passed the United States House of Representatives unanimously on February 6th of this year. It was reintroduced in the Senate by NC Senator, Kay Hagan, with support from NC Senator Richard Burr as S 3448, a companion bill to HR 306. It is our fervent hope that the Senate will pass this bill before the end of year. Our County Commissioners strengthened the existing Wild Horse Ordinance and passed an ordinance prohibiting domestic horses north of the road terminus. Currently they are considering an ordinance that would place much needed parameters on commercial horse tours. We are also in the process of determining what habitat is most critical to the wild horses and are making plans to acquire it. It would be placed in permanent conservation easements that would benefit ALL the wildlife on the north beach. The wild horses of Corolla have survived nearly five centuries against all the odds. The odds have turned against them as well as their wild counterparts in the west. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund Board of Directors, staff and volunteers, will continue to demonstrate the same level of perseverance and strength shown by wild horses everywhere until our mission of permanent protection is complete.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Corn Can Kill

Corn and horses – especially wild horses - do not mix. Energy dense and high in calories, corn can contain the mycotoxin, fusarium moniforme, which causes “moldy corn poisoning” in horses. Even the highest quality corn can easily overwhelm the ability of the horse’s digestive tract and can ultimately cause colic and/or founder. Corn is NOT native to a wild horse’s diet. Corn that falls from corn feeders hung to attract deer will absorb moisture and become moldy. When ingested by a wild horse, colic can be the least of the horse’s problems (and colic is certainly life-threatening). Once a horse begins to exhibit disorientation, head pressing, and hyper-excitability, the outcome is irreversible and fatal. Corn that is mixed with peanut butter to bait wild hogs will cause all of the above as well as put the horse at great risk for choking to death. We have had two wild horses colic in the last three weeks. Both survived but only with timely and costly intervention by our Herd Manager and a veterinarian. Please, do not put corn out for the deer or corn mixed with peanut butter in areas where wild horses can get access. The deer don’t need it, there are other ways to trap hogs, and it has dire consequences for the horses.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One of the Best Days of My Life

Today was right up there with my wedding day and childbirth. It was like winning the lottery, Christmas and the Super Bowl for wild horses! Today, the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act. This legislation mandates that the wild horse herd of Corolla, NC never drops below 110 and is capped at 130. It also allows for introductions of horses from the wild herd on Cape Lookout National Seashore (Shackleford Banks). Why is this such a big deal? The Corolla herd is teetering on the brink of extinction and is listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy and the Equus Survival Trust. DNA testing has indicated that the Corolla herd has one of the lowest levels of genetic diversity of any wild herd. The current management plan, crafted in 1997, calls for a maximum of 60! This number was not selected based on science but was simply a number upon which all the parties involved could agree. Well, now there IS science and that science says that the minimum population range should be 120 to 130.
Why must this number be legislated? Because one of the stakeholder’s involved in the management plan will not agree to allow the increase in herd size needed to ensure their continued viability. That stakeholder is United States Fish & Wildlife Service who owns about 3,000 acres of the total land accessible to the wild horses. Even though in 6 consecutive years of aerial counts, the maximum number of horse on their land was 35 (and one year it was 0!), and even though we now have a scientifically recommended herd size, they have refused to agree to a change in the maximum herd size.
The registered Spanish Mustangs of the Currituck Outer Banks are a rare and ancient breed. They are also now the North Carolina State Horse. The Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act ensures their genetic and physical health for generations to come. Our heartfelt gratitude to bill sponsor Congressman Walter Jones, cosponsors, Representatives David Price, NC; Ed Whitfield, KY; Howard Coble, NC; Madeleine Bordallo, GU; Betty Jones, OH; Frank Pallone, NJ; Pedro Pierluisi, PR; James Moran, VA; and Gerry Connolly, VA. Thanks also to the Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, “Doc Hastings,” and so many other legislators who supported this bill. Thank you also to every person who took the time to write to their Representatives and urge them to support this bill.
On to the Senate – the last step before it becomes law. Help us save the horses of kings – let your federal Senator know that you support the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act and that you are asking them to support it as well. Be a voice for the wild horses. Your voice was heard in the House of Representatives. The horses are depending on all of us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Very Uncommon Man

I first met Steve Edwards near the beginning of my now 5 year journey as the Director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. It is safe to say that other than my husband, no other man has inspired me like Steve. He is a man of many gifts and possesses more talent, energy, intelligence, and creativity than anyone I know. During the day, he is the District Attorney for Isle of Wight County in Virginia. It is not a job for the faint of heart, for day after day he sees the very worst of what humans can do to one another. Because I know Steve to be a warm and caring man, I can only imagine the effect his profession has on his gentle soul.
Steve’s comfort is found in the soul of his horses, the love of his family, and in the hearts of the many students, both children and adults, with whom he has shared his highly successful natural wild horse training skills. Steve and his wife Bethany own Mill Swamp Indian Horses in Smithfield, VA. The land is located on property owned by his mother’s family –the Gwaltney’s, for over 100 years. Deeply rooted in his family’s past, he has an intense interest in and vast knowledge of local history. So much so, that he is in the process of creating the” Gwaltney Frontier Farm” – a recreation of a poor man’s farm in the 1600’s.
Steve is a man with many, many great ideas. I am not sure how or when he sleeps. It is usual to get an e mail from him at 4:30 in the morning. Lots of people have great ideas but the difference is that Steve turns them into realities and in short order.
Since our first meeting, Steve has: connected the Corolla Wild Horse Fund with the Horse of the Americas Registry and the American Indian Horse Registry who now recognize the Corolla wild horses as Colonial Spanish Mustangs, eligible for registration; accepted 5 wild stallions, 3 geldings, and 5 mares, trained and found homes for most, and all at no cost to the Fund; taught countless children and adults how to earn the respect and trust of their horse; has promoted the value of our horses to countless media outlets and breed associations; held free training clinics; initiated an offsite breed conservation program; produced a documentary film; rehabilitated a severely foundered wild stallion and rode him 206 miles to the2011 HOA National Pleasure Trail Horse; wrote the book “and a Little Child Shall Lead Them – Learning From Wild Horses and Little Children; designed and offers online classes in natural horsemanship; participated in countless parades and clinics featuring Corollas; received the Keeper of the Flame Award from the American Indian Horse Association; the Carol Stone Ambassador Award from the HOA; and the Currituck Star Award for his efforts to preserve and promote the Colonial Spanish Mustang and Corollas. This is the short list!
An accomplished musician, a prolific and immensely talented writer, a husband, father, brother, and grandfather; a very successful prosecutor, a highly skilled horse trainer, farrier, and teacher; a philosopher, dreamer, and creative thinker; an historian, a friend and mentor, Steve Edwards is the personification of a very uncommon man.
“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon if I can.” - Anonymous

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Savage Passage - The Truth About Horse Slaughter

Earlier this year the House passed the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill which would continue the prohibition of federal funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants. A ban on USDA inspections halts the issuance of certifications for horsemeat exports, which has stopped operations at horse slaughter facilities and prevented new facilities from opening in the United States. The Senate passed a contradictory Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill which would allow the inspections to take place.
Currently the two versions of the bill are in Conference Committee to iron out the differences. If the Committee does not adopt the House version of the bill, horse slaughter will resume in the U.S. One of the greatest threats to America's horses -- both domestic and captured mustangs -- is the possibility of commercial slaughter. (American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign)
According to Americans Against Horse Slaughter, over 100,000 horses a year are hauled by the truckload hundreds and often thousands of miles to European owned (primarily Belgian) slaughter plants in Mexico, Canada and beyond. These are riding horses, show horses, carriage horses, race horses, children’s “outgrown” ponies and wild horses. Their meat is shipped to places like France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan for human consumption. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that 92% of horses slaughtered are in good condition and able to lead productive lives. The majority are butchered in slaughter houses not because they are sick, old or unwanted( still no excuse for slaughter) but because they bring a better price per pound for meat. They were bought at auctions by kill buyers who stuff them into single and double decker carriers where they are terrified, suffer horrific injuries, and go without water, food, rest or medical care. Undercover footage taken by HSUS shows many horses still conscious when they were shackled and hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats slit; horses giving birth on the killing floor; horses with visible broken bones being whipped in the face by slaughter house employees or being stabbed to death.
Slaughter is a brutal, painful, and terrifying end to a horse’s life. There is NOTHING humane about it. If you don’t believe me, or you think it is an appropriate solution to dealing with the “excess” and “unwanted” horses in this country – go to and also read the 906 page USDA report with 500 photos obtained by Animals Angels under the Freedom of Information Act at .
What is the alternative to slaughter? How about responsible ownership and breeding? Now there’s a novel concept! How about breed associations, corporations, and individuals financially supporting equine sanctuaries and rescue organizations? And if a horse is suffering, the average cost of veterinarian administered euthanasia and disposal is under $300. Euthanasia is gentle, painless death. Slaughter is the most hellish death imaginable.
"If we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt." (Black Beauty by Anna Sewell)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Right Thing To Do

The older I get the more it seems that there are less and less people in the world who are willing to do the right thing. Often times, doing the right thing requires putting selfishness aside; sacrificing; taking a stand; and persevering. Lately, both in my personal and professional life, it seems like I have seen more and more people who want nothing more than to advance their own agendas and have no problem at all twisting information to meet their needs and in some cases, just outright lying. It’s so discouraging and it keeps me awake at night and breaks my heart during the day. However – just when I needed it most, I got a powerful dose of people who are still determined to do the right thing.

On September 27 and 28, I attended the International Equine Conference. I went as both a speaker and an attendee. It was a mix of scientists, academics, legislators, and advocates. I saw friends that I have met along my own wild horse journey and met new friends that have been on this journey for decades. Everyone’s agenda in this group is the same – collect correct data, stick to the facts, persevere, and do the right thing. There was a preview of the movie “Wild Horses & Renegades.” This should be mandatory viewing for every American. Every European being told or believing the myth that American horses are raised as food and humanely slaughtered, should have to watch this film. The individuals within the organizations that are fighting against the slaughter of both wild and domestic American horses in Mexico and Canada are doing the right thing. In some cases, they risk personal harm to film what powerful people don’t want filmed. They see things that are beyond gruesome. I do not have the emotional makeup to do what they do but I am so grateful that are people that are strong enough to never give up the fight against the cruel and inhumane treatment of horses. It’s the right thing to do.

On October 5th, I witnessed another group of people do the right thing. The powerful House Committee on Natural Resources voted to move H.R. 306, the Corolla Wild Horses Act, forward to the House floor for a vote. The bill is expected to pass and then will move to the Senate. Sponsored by Congressman Walter Jones, the bi-partisan bill would provide for a new management plan to ensure the future viability of the herd. The current management plan calls for a maximum herd size of only 60. Leading equine genetic scientists have recommended a minimum herd size of 110 and a maximum range of 120 to 130. Congressman Jones has worked tirelessly since October of 2008 to bring the bill to fruition and in his words, “It’s the right thing to do.”

If you do the right thing, no matter what the situation, no matter who is determined to stop you, no matter what their methods are – you are someone who, though in the minority, can effect change that will last far beyond your lifetime and inspire others to do the same.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Keeping the Wild Things Wild

Associated Press recently ran an article about the growing problem of wild ponies aggressively approaching visitors in Assateague National Park in Maryland. The title of the article was “Wild Moochers.” The photograph accompanying the article showed a charging wild pony biting a young woman’s hand. Why? Because people consistently ignore the park’s strict no feeding rule, feed horses from their vehicles, toss food, and feed them at their campsites, the wild ponies have come to expect food from humans. Park officials recently removed an aged stallion after he gashed a woman’s head. They said he had also harassed other visitors for food. As managers of the wild horses of Corolla, we not only find what is happening in Assateague extremely sad, we worry that it is a harbinger of the future for our horses if the behaviors of visitors to the Currituck Outer Banks do not change, and change quickly.
On June 22nd, a two week old foal, born perfectly healthy, died as a result of being fed. A resident observed people in a rental home feeding the mare and stallion water melon rind. When he approached them to tell them what they were doing was not only against the law – it could harm the horses, he was told that they “knew what they were doing.” By the time the foal showed symptoms, it was too late to save him. The necropsy showed an impaction in his colon. Feeding is fatal. Unfortunately, this feeding is not an isolated incident.
We have signs; several of the rental companies place information in their catalogs; we have a website; we have a facebook page; our staff and volunteers spend countless hours on the beach educating; we have hired additional part-time staff to patrol the beach and behind the dunes; we have a wild horse museum where our staff educates everyone who comes in the door; we distribute over 50,000 brochures annually as well as thousands of handouts. What we don’t have and desperately need – is information in EVERY rental house on the off road beach as well as Corolla. We have a poster that should be on every refrigerator. Sun Realty has committed to this as well as Kitty Dunes. Our visitors need to know that approaching or feeding wild horses can have far reaching consequences long after they have returned from their vacation, unpacked their bags, and downloaded their photos.
We want everyone who visits to have an opportunity to share in the unique experience of seeing a Colonial Spanish Mustang wild and free. If everyone would view the horses from a respectful distance and refrain from feeding them, horses and humans will continue to coexist safely. We have a Wild Horse Ordinance here to protect both people and horses and it must be strictly enforced. We all must work together to keep what is happening in Assateague from happening here. It is not the four-legged animals that are to blame.