Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Number 19

Since arriving in September of 2006, I have experienced the deaths of 19 horses. I have had to hold the tubing with the lethal drugs in the euthanization of three and physically participate in pulling the horse that was shot out of the estuarine reserve. I watched it be hauled out of the bed of our truck by a winch for necropsy. Gruesome to say the least. These images are a permanent part of my memories. For a tender-hearted person, it can be totally overwhelming. I am a very strong woman but the last four years have definitely taken a toll on me.

On October 22nd, a healthy 3 month old foal was found dead alongside an intersection of a sand road in Carova. Necropsy determined the cause of death as a trauma to the cranium. She was number 19. I saw her with her mother shortly after she was born. Each time something like this happens, it is impossible not to relive all the previous events to some extent.

I know that before our fulltime staff came, countless numbers of wild horses suffered and died unnoticed and undocumented. I know that because the strong survive and the weak do not, that is why the wild horses are still here. The strongest are left to carry on. But it is the deaths with no definitive answer as to the circumstances that caused it that haunt me the most, as well as the deaths that we know were caused by individuals and remain unsolved and unpunished.

My only consolation is the successful rescues - Uno, Tresie, Sunny, Hope, Croatoan, Manteo, Pomiac, Suerte, Tradewind, Valor, Barb, and hopefully Rainbow. Without rescue and the highest level of medical care available, they would have certainly suffered and died. There are also numerous horses that have been treated in the trailer or in the field and released and I feel very good about this. I am so proud that we have a herd manager that is as highly skilled and knowledgeable as he is compassionate. It is also so gratifying to have volunteers who are willing to drop everything and help at a moment’s notice.

But sometimes it’s just harder to focus on the good that you know you are doing instead of the frustration caused by what you don’t know. I need some answers and I until I get them, I will always have a piece of my heart that is broken.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Photo by Bob Schultz shows normal, not current, canal level.

Last week we got a call from Jared Lloyd of Back Country Outfitters. He saw a horse lodged in a vehicle rut, on her back, in Wild Horse Estates. This was in the area commonly referred to as the “horse pasture.” We believe that she had probably been rolling and slipped into the deep rut. This was one day before several inches of rain and high winds were expected and in an area that routinely floods. Herd Manager Wesley Stallings was able to get a rope around the mare’s right back leg and right front leg and pull her over. From there, she scrambled up and went on her way. Had she not been pulled out, she would have been trapped with torrential rain falling on her for three days. The area received about 12 inches of rain before the storm finally moved on. Drowning where she lay would have been highly likely.

That same rain event caused a very significant rise in the canals in Carova. Many docks were submerged and some still over a week later. Yesterday, a mare slipped or fell into a canal in an area where there were no breaks in the bulkhead for a significant distance. The water was well over the mare’s head. Although horses are good swimmers, and our horses are exceptionally athletic with a strong will to live, there is definitely a limit to how long a horse can survive in the water.

Fortunately for this mare, Carova Beach Fire Chief Bill Vann spotted her and called CWHF. Wesley was an hour and half away working with our horses awaiting adoption. I jumped in a vehicle and started up the beach to the site (about a half an hour drive). CWHF Board President and Sanctuary Patrol Officer, Kimberlee Hoey, who lives in Carova, was able to get to the mare within 15 minutes. With one her house guests holding her cell phone on speaker and Wesley on the other end giving instructions, Kimberlee singlehandedly saved this mare. In order to do so, she had to run out onto a dock and push the mare to swim around it with a lunge whip, then run out onto the next dock and do the same again, forcing the mare to swim north toward the closest break in the bulkhead. She repeated this process three times. The mare came upon a submerged dock and tried in vain to climb on it but could not. Kimberlee then had to scale two fences and push through heavy brush to keep the mare moving forward. She risked cottonmouths and falling into the canal herself. She was fearless and determined that this mare would not drown no matter what.

I have often said that the wild horses either bring out the worst or the best in people. This was far and away the best. “Thank you,” doesn’t even come close.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Does the Herd Manager Do?

When we arrived as the first full-time staff in 2006, records on the wild horse herd were few and far between. Other than pet names given to a few, often seen horses, by tour guides and residents, there were no up-to-date or in-depth records on individual horses, harems, health issues, habitats, or herd numbers. We basically started from zero.

Actual day-to-day management of the Corolla herd did not begin until late 2006 with the hiring of a full-time herd manager and an executive director who both had extensive horse backgrounds.
• The first order of business was establishing a baseline study of the herd’s genetic health. This involved the collection of DNA samples via remotely delivered dart. (Both CWHF Herd Managers have undergone the required intensive training to qualify them to safely use the necessary equipment. Accurate records must be kept on all horses that are darted. Training was done on-site in Corolla and at Zoo Montana – all under the auspices of the Humane Society of the United States and Dr. Philip Sponenberg).
• Field work and herd monitoring occur almost daily, covering thousands of acres. A detailed record keeping system has been developed. Records are kept on individual horses as well as individual harems.
• Habitats have been defined, mapped, and correlated with harems and individuals.
• Vegetation within each habitat is being identified and studied.
• Water, soil and plant samples are collected and tested.
• Critical habitat is being defined for future conservation and pasture management.
• The annual aerial herd count can now be correlated with field data.
• Horses with life threatening injuries or illnesses are captured and treated using passive capture methods. Because they cannot be returned to the wild, they must be gentled and trained for life as a domestic horse. This requires several months of effort per horse.
• Thirty six wild horses have been domesticated and placed in loving adoptive homes since 2006.
• Injured horses are treated in their habitat whenever possible and appropriate.
• Rescuing very young foals requires bottle feeding every two hours. The herd manager sometimes sleeps in his truck between feedings in order to accomplish this.
• Staff are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to emergencies.
• Deceased horses are taken to Raleigh, NC (four and a half hour drive) for necropsy to determine the cause of death and for data collection.
• Barrier fences and gates must be constantly checked for breeches and repaired (including ocean cabling) and replaced.
• Thousands of visitors are educated about the wild horses by the herd manager either on the beach and behind the dunes, in the Wild Horse Museum, on a Trip of a Lifetime, or at an off-site event.

This is the “condensed for blog” version. Being the herd manager for CWHF also means long hours for low pay. It means being completely and totally committed to the well-being and long-term survival of the herd. It means your cell phone ringing at all hours of the day, night, and weekends. It means explaining to your spouse why you will be: late for dinner (again); have to change your vacation day; can’t go away for the weekend; etc. It means wearing snake boots and hoping that they are high enough and thick enough. It means caring so much that it makes your heart hurt. It is all of the above – and then some.