Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Croatoan: My First Ride On A Corolla In The Woods

Croatoan had to be removed from the wild because he was consistently leaving the safer areas of Corova and heading out into the paved road area of Corolla where he stood a great chance of getting killed by an automobile. He was an older horse when he came to us, likely well over ten years old. When captured he was a bit thin and his prominent pin bones made him look even thinner.

Although he was an older stallion, he gentled quickly. He came to us when the weather was cold and by fall he was being ridden by intermediate riders. He was 13.2 (tall for a wild Corolla)and peaked out around 800 pounds.

He was gaited.

I had been around horses all of my life, but I do not believe that I had ever been on a gaited horse. I had watched Tennessee Walkers glide and I had watched Paso Finos smoothly tap dance their way across arenas. The gaitedness of the Corollas and Shacklefords is not as obvious to the eye as are the gaits of modern gaited horses. Instead of trotting with a motion that keeps two feet on the ground at all times, the Corollas will delay, often only by a fraction of a second, the lifting of a hind leg. This "single footing" means that one hoof is on the ground at all times. Being Colonial Spanish horses, they have tremendous reach with the back legs, often over striding the front.

After he was completely responsive to his bosal and strong and healthy I took him out for his first long ride in the woods. I planned to keep it very slow to give him a chance to learn to balance a rider while being distracted, and stimulated by all the sights and sounds around him.

Of course, he was an older horse, and while he was in good shape he had not been conditioned by the many miles of being ridden in the woods that the other horses along on the ride had enjoyed. In addition, he was carrying a significant load on his back as I eased into the saddle.

We set out on a sunny Saturday morning. I had about ten riders behind me, all but one riding horses that we had trained here ourselves. We walked for about the first mile and three quarters. Then I asked him to trot.

I was not prepared for what I felt. He moved out from under me with such power and grace that I seemed to be floating through the woods. The faster he moved, the smoother he became.  As I settled in and relaxed I realized that we were not cantering. Nor were we trotting. We were like a sail boat on still waters with a good breeze.

I had never felt like that in a saddle. I felt like I could do this for a hundred miles. More importantly, he seemed like he could do this for a hundred miles. Further and faster--never asking him to speed up after the initial request to trot--he chose the speed. And the speed he chose was quite fast.

And then the biggest shock occurred. I looked behind me to see all of the other horses cantering to keep up.

And they were failing to do so. We were pulling away from the younger, well trained and often ridden horses that followed us.

How could I hope for anything more in a horse? How could I possibly let these horses go extinct? Their future in the wild seems quite bleak--little more than a hundred left with only one line of matrimonial dna and signs of genetic collapse already appearing.

And we bred him to Baton Rouge a formerly wild Corolla mare. Mokete, their foal, was the first foal produced in what became our offsite breeding program.  He lived a long and happy life with us and passed on a few years ago. Today his lines still run through our program. His last daughter, Bloody Knife, is nearly two years old and loving her life in North Carolina.

I believe that today is his grandson, Ponchos, second birthday.

He lives on in Kay Kerr's award winning children's book, "Corolla's Sand Horse Beach: Croatoan's Memoirs."

And every day that I go out to the horse lot I am reminded of that feeling that first came to me as I sailed along on Croaotan--a sense of responsibility--I can't let these horses go extinct.

And neither can you.

Go to our website and make a contribution today. We are a 501 (c) 5 non-profit breed conservation program and as such contributions are not tax deductible. We are in our eighth day of our month long social media fundraising effort. Feel free to share this with everyone that you know who cares about horses and people.

No comments: