Monday, June 29, 2009

Killing Them Softly

I have been the Director of the CWHF for nearly three years now. In that time, I have seen a tremendous expansion in the size and scope of commercial businesses related to viewing the wild horses. It is a lucrative business. For the most part, the horse tour companies are being more respectful than ever this summer. In part, it is due to the eyes of the county being upon them, and also due to tour guide training and education provided by CWHF.

It still seems however, that there is no limit to the measures that certain tour companies will take to profit from the presence of the wild horses. On June 27th, there were three domestic horses being ridden north on the 4X4 beach with two other horses being “ponyed.” (led by riders on horseback). I observed at least one rider drinking. A sanctuary patrol officer stopped to ask them to not continue and explained that even if vaccinated, their domestic horses can carry diseases to the wild horses for which they have no immunity. She also warned them that the wild stallions would see them as a threat and may charge them. They did not care. In fact, they were defiant. I also stopped them but they had no interest in hearing what I had to say and told me that they were “delivering” the horses to the owner of Barrier Island “Eco” Tours. This horse tour company operates two monster buses and at least one suburban. They told me that the owner had built a corral and would be keeping the horses on his property on the north beach. His plan for the horses is a commercial enterprise to give horseback rides to tourists. In essence --to ride the domestic horses among the wild horses.

As they were riding up the beach, a stallion appeared on top of the dunes. He did what comes naturally to him. He charged the intruders to his territory in an attempt to drive them off and protect his harem. One of the horses reared, throwing its adult male rider to the ground. Sheriff’s deputies had to chase the wild stallion back several times. Unfazed, the riders continued, stopping occasionally to talk to curious beachgoers and on one occasion, allowing a bikini clad woman to step from the bed of her truck into the saddle and go for a pony ride of sorts. All the while, the female rider that was giving the “pony ride” had a bottle of alcohol in her hand. At one point in time, they were riding illegally on the Currituck Wildlife Refuge. Clearly, here is yet another group of individuals who have little or no respect for law, or for the wellbeing of the wild horses.

One of our volunteers was told by the owner that the domestic horses “won’t hurt the wild horses,” and that there were domestic horses kept on the beach in the past and nothing happened to the wild horses then. The “then” was 20 years ago and the wild horses had a range of over 27 miles and at least 25,000 acres. Chances of interaction between a wild horse and a handful owned by a former commissioner were far less likely than today. Today, the wild horses’ range is 7, 500 acres and there are more wild horses, more houses, more vehicles, and more people that in the “past.” Also -- there was no one looking after or monitoring the wild horses “then” to be a voice for them.

To expose the wild horses to domestic horses on a daily basis is an outrage. The Colonial Spanish Mustangs of the Currituck Outer Banks are already on the endangered breed list. To create a situation with the potential to wipe out the entire herd is beyond irresponsible – it is reprehensible. Our Commissioners and county staff are working on the legal issues as I write this and for that I am very grateful. Barrier Island “Eco” Tours is in violation of at least one county ordinance and possibly more. The legal process has been set into motion. And I haven’t even touched on the safety issues involved when you put inexperienced and unsuspecting riders on horseback and risk the same kind of interaction that occurred on Saturday. Disastrous.

The wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs of the Currituck Outer Banks have managed to survive nearly 500 years of hurricanes and fierce nor’easters. Their Spanish and Arab ancestry is most apparent when they are trotting, floating suspended, like a hydrofoil hovers and skims just above the water. Stallions are heavily muscled, strong and proud, fighting fiercely to protect their own or acquire new mares. They are descended from the horses of kings. They are at the heart of what represents the spirit of the Outer Banks – wild, rugged, tough – free. Billy Clayton, or anyone else, must not be allowed to keep domestic horses on the north beach and must not be allowed to profit from the presence of the wild horses with NO REGARD for their wellbeing.



  1. The amount of disrespect and carelesness that people show is unbelievable.

    I don't wish anyone harm but his horse raring and him falling off is kind of what he deserved given that he was fairly warned that a stallion might feel threatened and charge.

    It's good that someone on the side of the law is trying to handle this.

  2. Thanks Karen for this information. I am passing it on in hopes that it will help. I hope the county can soon come to some sort of agreement and enact some controls on tours. Enough is enough! Killing Them Softly is a great title. Pimping the Ponies is a travisty!

  3. Not feeling very optimistic about it, since $$ is king, but I too will pass this along and try to raise some awareness and hope! CWHF, Thank you for your continued efforts on behalf of 'our' wild horses!

  4. I wonder if he realizes that if something happens to these horses he won't be able to feed his own family.

    If you think about it, all his money is sunk into the horses, and when he doesnt have any horses to look at what is he going to do with 2 monster buses, his property in tim buck 2, his suburban, his boats, his tow-truck, etc..

    As a business manager, you would want to extend the life of your investments, not create a product for short-run gains. If anything he won't break even on those horses due to the excessive amount of food they eat and the amount of care they need. Another smart business move was adding a tow-truck who drives up and down the beach to an already saturated market. I'm sure Larry Weaver loves him too.

    Let me tell ya, this guy is bright.

  5. the more i read, the more disgusted i get!, WHO is actually protecting these horses?, who is policing these beaches, that are becomming way overcrowded, and WHY is this situation becomming out of hand, look, are these horses protected or not, if they are, someone has to have legal authority to enforce the laws! so do it, privately owned horses are not allowed, stop them amd transport to where they need to go, remove the alcohol secondary to safety, and enforce any fines.

  6. In answer to your question, "Are the horse protected or not?" the answer is "sort of." Currituck County has a Wild Horse Ordinance that you can read in its entirety on our home page. The County also has a Unified Development Ordinance that prohibits commercial business being conducted in the RO2 District (4 wheel drive area). The county is investing a great deal of time and effort in reviewing both and recently made changes to the Wild Horse Ordinance to make it more enforceable. The planning board will be discussing changes to the UDO as well. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund has been working to acquire stronger protection for the horses since 2006 (read Path to Protection in the blog archives). It is a complex and frustratingly slow process but we are determined to be successful. Our small staff and our dedicated volunteers give 100% to watch over the horses as best we can until we are able to get the state and federal protection that the wild horses deserve. In the meantime, we are grateful for the county's efforts as well as the cooperation and assistance we get from the Sheriff's Department. We can always use more volunteers though! Thanks for your comments and for caring about the wild horses.