Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Karen McCalpin Executive Director Corolla Wild Horse Fund
In the past some critics have derided the Corollas as being “Back Yard ponies.” What evidence do we have that ties the Corollas back to the Conquistadors?
Fortunately, the Spaniards kept meticulous ship’s logs. For example, we know that Lucas Vasquez de Allyon sent an expedition to the Cape Fear area of North Carolina in 1521. Ship’s logs also document the Spaniard’s leaving their horses behind during conflicts with Indians as well as numerous accounts of ships running aground and breaking apart with livestock swimming ashore and escaping. In addition, DNA testing in 1992 and again in 2008 also supports their Spanish ancestry. In 2007, the Horse of the Americas inspected the herd and found them to be Spanish type and eligible for registration.
Looking around the 4WD area one finds no clover, fescue, orchard grass or alfalfa. How can a herd of horses survive such a desolate environment?
The horses have adapted to a specialized diet of saltmeadow grass, witch grasses, cattails, American threesquare, spikerush, black needlerush, common reed grass, young cordgrass, sea oats and beach grass. They also eat acorns, persimmons, oak browse and underwater vegetation in the freshwater canals. They are not just surviving – they are thriving.
What is the greatest threat facing the Corolla herd? The current management plan. We have been working to change the plan that was implemented in 1997 and calls for a maximum herd size of 60. The selection of this number was NOT based in any available science – it was arbitrary. A wild herd will have a genetic collapse at this size. That is what happened to the wild horses on Ocracoke Island. The ideal number for genetic diversity is 150 with a range of 120 – 130 as a compromise. I have requested that the herd be allowed to reach this range as well as to introduce some mares from Shackleford Banks. Recent DNA testing has shown low levels of genetic diversity due to the small herd size. My request has been denied by United States Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Estuarine Reserve, owners of 1/3 of the land roamed by the wild herd. The other 2/3 is owned by private individuals and limited partnerships. They support the presence of the horses while NCERR and USF&W do not. The herd on Shackleford Banks is federally protected by the Shackleford Banks Act. This mandates a herd of 120 – 130. The Corolla herd has no protection.
Why are they worth saving? No other breed played a more important part in building America than the Colonial Spanish Mustang. Used for work, war, and transportation, the Spanish Mustang also contributed to the development of many American breeds such as the Morgan, Quarter Horse, American Saddlebred, Tennessee Walker, Appaloosa, and others. In addition, they possess superior intelligence, incredible athletic ability, have loving and calm personalities, and once domesticated, make one of the greatest riding horses and companions that I have ever experienced.
Tell us about the history of the CWHF. How is it managed and funded today?
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund was formed in 1989 by a group of citizens concerned about the increasing number of horses being injured and killed by cars as the Corolla area continued to experience incredible development. Before 1995, there were wild horses living up to 17 miles south of where they are now. The paved road stopped at Duck, NC until 1985. Once the road was paved from Duck to Corolla, the fate of the wild horses was sealed. The Fund incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit in 2001. The first fulltime staff was hired in 2006. Nearly 90% of our operating funding must be raised. We do this through our membership program, our two mission-related retail stores, special events, donations, and grants. Our horse management expenses alone, like vet bills and board for horses that have been injured or sick, top $25,000 each year.
How can one become a member of the Fund? What is the most important thing that a supporter of wild horses, say living in Delaware, could do to help these horses stay wild and free? Becoming a member gives the horses a voice. We have about 1100 members right now from all over the country. The horses need nationwide support if they are to remain wild and free and by becoming a member, you are making a statement to the governmental decision makers, that you believe these horses are worth protecting and preserving. You can become a member on our website: www.corollawildhorses.org. Our goal is 2,000 members by 2010.
How is the health of the herd and what, if any conclusions about natural horse care do you think can be drawn from their health? Our wild herd is extremely healthy. We have less than a 10% mortality rate and the majority of deaths are from old age. Every horse that passes is taken for a necropsy. We know from these that we have a very low parasite load and that primarily our horses die from old age or cancer in old age. Natural selection is the rule with wild horses. The strong survive. Their diet meets their needs and they grow coats substantial to protect them from the elements in the winter. The only time we intervene is when we find a horse that is sick or severely injured. We capture it and remove it for treatment. It cannot return once we expose it to domestic horses, and it becomes dependent on humans for its care.
Tell us about the adoption program? If there are so few horses left in the wild, why does the CWF remove adult horses from the 4WD area? How can the horses benefit from an off site breeding program? As mentioned previously, we do remove horses if they are severely injured or show signs of severe illness. This happens maybe once or twice a year. Before we were able to gather the DNA results that told us our herd size was too small for a genetically healthy herd, we had to reduce the herd in compliance with the management plan that calls for 60. 41 horses were VERY reluctantly removed from the gene pool starting in October of 2006, and adoptive homes were found. Out of those 41, 4 were removed for injury, one for illness, 2 for consistently escaping around the fence, and two for approaching humans. (We have a tremendous problem with visitors feeding the wild horses. Once they began to approach humans and demand to be fed, we must remove them as they have become a danger to people. We hate this reason the most! Caused by human selfishness.) We currently have two horses available for adoption.
Offsite breeding is our “Plan B.” Plan A is to keep them wild and free for as long as possible but we need a back up plan in case of a catastrophic hurricane, or other natural event that could decimate the herd in the wild. It is absolutely imperative that we do not let this incredible breed die out. They are already in the critical/nearly extinct category.
What is your horse background? Have you ever ridden a Corolla? I have ridden and showed since the age of ten and taught forward and saddle seat riding, as well as therapeutic riding for special needs students (both children and adults). I started a therapeutic riding program in PA in 1983 called High Hopes that is still going strong today. I’ll show my age and say it’s a total of 47 years! I also directed Penn State University’s statewide therapeutic riding program for six years.
I have had the privilege of riding two of your horses, one in the Duck Fourth of July parade and I have to say that of all the horses I’ve owned and ridden in my 47 years of riding – the Corolla Colonial Spanish Mustang is the best. I would trade every horse I ever had for one of these. Smooth, sensible, affectionate, smart, and athletic.
Posted by Steve Edwards