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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

People and Cars and Flies – Oh My!

Just as Dorothy had challenges in her quest to find the ruby slippers in the Wizard of OZ (lions and tigers and bears – oh my!), our wild horses face challenges in their quest to get to the beach when the wind is from the south or west and the flies become unbearable behind the dunes.
Before the days of 1300 plus houses and a thousand cars per day on the beach, a trip to the beach for a harem of horses was easy. They rarely saw a vehicle or a person. Today, a harem on the way to the beach must not only negotiate cars traveling up and down the beach, they must weave their way through parked vehicles, chairs, beach umbrellas, volley ball nets, corn hole games, dogs, and people, in order to get to the shoreline. Once they finally get there, they are often surrounded by well-meaning people who mistakenly think that they are tame because they don’t run from them.
Our wild horses are TOLERANT but they are NOT tame. Getting too close and surrounding a harem, cutting off their escape route puts great stress on the wild horses – especially if there are babies. In addition – IT’S AGAINST THE LAW. In Currituck County, the Wild Horse Ordinance makes it illegal to intentionally come within 50 feet (about 6 car lengths) of a wild horse. You can find yourself in the middle of a stallion fight in a heartbeat and they will not care if you are in the way. Wild horses will also bite and kick no matter how quiet and tame they seem. Remember – they tolerate people because they see thousands of them every summer. That does NOT make them tame.
Surviving as a wild animal is tough. Please don’t put any more stress on the wild horses than they already have by getting too close. It is also against the law to feed them. Some of the horses can tolerate nonnative foods like apples and carrots – but many cannot. There is no way to tell which ones are which. If you feed them, you put them at high risk for extremely painful and sometimes fatal colic.
Please help educate others about protecting our wild horses. Respect the wild horses and the Ordinances that protect them, don’t speed on the beach – and certainly don’t drink and drive. Two beautiful stallions have lost their lives in the last two years to drivers who had been drinking. One was on Memorial Day weekend. We can’t do it alone – we need YOUR help to keep them wild and free.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We Asked For Wild Horses -- Not Elephants!

On April 7th, I had the opportunity to testify before a Congressional sub-committee in support of H.R. 306, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.
The bill, introduced by Congressman Walter B. Jones, would allow for a target herd size of 120 – 130 with never fewer than 110. The current herd size is 108 but the current management plan calls for a maximum of 60. DNA testing in 2008 by renowned equine geneticist Dr. E. Gus Cothran of Texas A & M University, indicated that the Corolla herd had one of the lowest levels of genetic diversity anywhere and that there were high levels of inbreeding at a herd size of 90.

Sub-committee Chair, John Fleming (R-LA) said in his opening statement:
“I find it curious that the Fish and Wildlife Service feels these beautiful horses whose ancestors arrived on the shores of North Carolina nearly 500 years ago to be “not native to this ecosystem” and “pest animals.” Yet the same agency has spent millions of dollars trying to protect, restore, and save the population of such listed species as the Delhi Sands fly, delta smelt, Kangaroo rats, New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnakes and Texas blind salamanders. I suspect that more than a few Americans would find these species to be “pests.”

Testifying in opposition were Greg Siekaniec (Asst. Director, National Wildlife Refuge System) and Michael Hutchins, Executive Director, The Wildlife Society.
Testimony and video can be viewed at

Both Mr. Siekaniec and Mr. Hutchins testified first. Mr. Siekaniec testified that the wild horse range had recently been reduced from 12,000 acres to 7,500 acres because of development. He used this statement to justify his claim that this forces more horses onto the refuge property. I could not address this statement directly in my testimony because I was not given his testimony in advance, and witnesses can not interact with one another. We are asked questions by the committee members.

Mr. Siekaniec was dead wrong. The map was revised by USFWS staff in 2009 because it was incorrect. The 12,000 acres included areas that were inaccessible to the horses. The revised map showed actual accessible habitat. No habitat was lost what-so-ever by development. It was merely a more accurate representation of the wild horse range. Mr. Siekanic also referenced $100,000 that was spent by USFWS on horse management this year. WHAT? He mentioned a horse trailer and darting equipment. That equipment was purchased in 2007 through a cooperative grant between USFWS and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and did not come out of their operating funds even then. It was a one-time grant. Their current exclosure study (which includes the impact of feral hogs and deer, not just horses) is part of a $50,000 grant in partnership with NCSU.

The best statement award though goes to Michael Hutchins. He said, “It’s all about values. Do we want to protect our native wildlife, or turn our national refuges into theme parks for exotic animals?” Theme parks for exotic animals? Come on now.

These horses were on this land long before we were and certainly long before USFWS purchased it. The maximum number of horses ever counted on their 2,500 acres is 35 - and in 2009 – there was a whopping 0!

We are not asking for hundreds of horses. We are asking for the same target population that was been successfully managed at Cape Lookout National Seashore with acceptable impact, for the last 13 years, on half the land available to the Corolla horses. We don’t want elephants, or cheetahs, zebras or any other “exotic” animal – just a healthy and viable herd of critically endangered/nearly extinct Colonial Spanish Mustangs. I know that the Department of Interior defines wild horses as “invasive,” “nuisance,” “pest,” and “exotic” animals but that’s a whole other debate for another time.

Let the members of the Natural Resources Committee know that YOU strongly support the passage of H.R. 306.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Height of Stupidity

While we were preparing for our Night at the Races fundraiser on March 19th, I got a call from a horse tour operator who happened upon a group of kids who were just about to shoot at a harem of wild horses with paint ball guns. The horses were peacefully grazing. Our Herd Manager, Wesley Stallings was standing next me and I asked him to call the Sheriff’s Department. Sgt. Gary Dodd was able to locate and stop the group based on the detailed description of their vehicles given by Jay Bender. They admitted to their plans but they were discovered before they actually carried them out so no charges were filed. Sgt. Dodd let them know that if one horse was found with one spec of paint on them, they would be arrested and prosecuted.

We do our best to protect our wild horses but we can’t be everywhere on nearly 8,000 acres. It saddens me deeply to think about what could have happened. We have had 7 horses shot and killed with no arrests. Shooting wild horses with paint ball guns is not just a prank. It’s not just “boys being boys.” It is a precursor to bigger more ominous actions. We have a bumper sticker in the Wild Horse Museum that says, “People who abuse animals rarely stop there.” That is a frightening fact.

It’s only March. What is in store for the summer when there are thousands of people here instead of hundreds?

Thank you to Jay Bender and Sgt. Dodd for their quick action.

Monday, February 28, 2011

They Paved Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot . . .

As Joni Mitchell wrote, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Swan Beach Corolla LLC is coming back yet again to ask for another opportunity to destroy the natural beauty of Swan Beach. Commercial Development in the off road area is back on the drawing board, as the company Swan Beach Corolla, LLC, seeks to obtain a conditional zoning change from residential to commercial in Swan Beach.

The proposal seeks to develop 37.57 acres into commercial use. The area would have an Inn with associated structures on the north end of Swan Beach with approximately 302 suites (270 in north, 32 in the south), a fishing pier at the southern end of Swan Beach, and nearly 20,000 square feet commercial with commercial shops, restaurants, etc. to service the Inn. The plans also include a “possible corral area for wild horses.”

When both commercial and residential development reached the point that the wild horses were no longer safe in Corolla proper, they were rounded up and moved north to the off road area. It is their last stand – all that remains of their habitat. That habitat covers the bones of nearly 500 years of their wild ancestors.

The off road area is unique. Corolla is unique. We are not like other beaches – that is what draws people here. We have one of the last few coastal areas that is not developed to saturation. We are home to sea turtles, shore, sea, and migratory birds, a variety of wild life – and the North Carolina State Horse. We do not need or want commercial development in the off road area. It is a “Pandora’s Box” and once that lid is opened, paradise is lost and the fate of the wild horses will be uncertain at best.

There is a public hearing scheduled for May 16, 7:00 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Currituck. If you can’t attend, please go to and contact the Board of Commissioners and let them know that there is no place for commercial development in the off road area.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why is the Federal Legislation Critical?

This is a Corolla wild horse with a locked patella. It is becoming more and more frequent in the Corolla herd. The wild horses that live on Shackleford Banks rarely have this problem. Why? Because they have been managed at a healthy genetic level of 120 - 130 since the passage of the Shackleford Banks Act into law in 1998. Horses on Shackleford that are most closely related to one another are removed in order to keep genetic diversity high. If we did that – we would have very few horses left because the Corolla herd has been too small for too many years and consequently has become too closely related to one another.

Why don’t we manage at 120 – 130 in Corolla? Because all our requests to have our formal management plan changed from a maximum herd size of 60 to a minimum herd size of 120 – 130 have been denied by the Department of the Interior. H.R. 306 (formerly H.R. 5482), the Corolla Wild Horse Protection Act, mirrors the Shackleford Banks Act with one important exception - it allows for the introduction of mares from Shackleford Banks. This would immediately breathe new genes into our dying gene pool. It is unfortunate that we must legislate what is not only scientifically right – but morally right.

The Shackleford horses live on 3,000 acres, have been managed at a target of 120 – 130 (with never less than 110) for the last 12 years, and with no documented negative impact to the National Park. The Corolla horses have access to nearly 8,000 acres. Only a third of that is owned by the Department of Interior – the rest is private land. It is not an issue of lack of carrying capacity to support 120 – 130 horses.

H.R. 306 has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting further action. This legislation is nothing short of critical if we are to stop the continued genetic meltdown of the wild horses of Corolla. Without H.R. 306, there is a real danger that the North Carolina State Horse will be gone from the Currituck Outer Banks within a few generations.

The Corolla Wild Horse extends our heartfelt gratitude to sponsor of the bill, Congressman Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and co-sponsors Howard Coble (R-NC), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), David Price (D-NC), and Ed Whitfield (R-KY).