PODCAST: Corolla Wild Horse Fund herd manager Meg Puckett

News Talk 92.3 WZPR

Conversation with Sam Walker and Meg Puckett

Meg stopped into News Talk 92.3 WZPR to chat with Sam about the latest on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s efforts to protect the wild Spanish mustangs that roam the Currituck Outer Banks. Give a listen here, Sam is quite knowledgeable on the horses and it was a great conversation.

Day on the Farm - Corolla Wild Horses Rehabilitation and rescue

Day on the Farm

Enjoy an inside look at the Betsy Dowdy Equine Center, a 31-acre facility in Grandy where our rescued mustangs have been residing since 2014. Rescue and conservation are key components of our mission and we have recognized the need for a permanent “off-island” sanctuary.

Wild horses live on in one man’s art

By  on October 4, 2020

On Oct. 3, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) reported this news about ceramics artist Michael Middleton, who incorporates hair from the wild horses into his work.

“How cool is this? One of Mike’s pots made from native Currituck clay and our dear Captain’s hair will be on display at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, KY. A great honor for a special horse and a talented artist. Also very exciting to have Currituck and the Banker horses represented in the museum!

You can purchase your own pot from Mike: https://michaelmiddletonceramics.com   He is a big supporter of CWHF and donates part of the proceeds back to the horses.” Captain, one of the truly special and beloved Corolla wild horses, was euthanized last year. He was estimated to have been in his late-to-mid 20’s.

Outer Banks wild mustang rescued from beach, hospitalized after leg injury

Corolla Wildhorse Fund announces arrival of new foal

September 24, 2020

(CorollaWildhorseFund/photocredit: Catherine Maryott)

Corolla Wild Horse Fund
UPDATE: It’s a girl – Alejandra!
(We will not be disclosing location or the names of the parents just yet. This family needs time to bond in quiet safety. If you are lucky enough to see them please give them plenty of space.)

Corolla Wildhorse Fund made the big announcement on their Facebook page:

We have a new foal! We have been hoping we might get a few fall babies. Not 100% sure of the sex of this little one yet so no name to announce but we couldn’t keep this good news to ourselves for very long. Right after these pics were taken the family went back into the woods. All seem to be in great shape! Visit their website to learn more or to support the horses.

A Musical Fundraiser for the Corolla Wild Horses

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Like most nonprofit organizations, Corolla Wild Horse Fund has had a trying year.

“If I had a nickel for every time I’ve used the word ‘challenging’ to describe this year, the fund would be in great financial shape right now,” Corolla Wild Horse Fund Chief Operating Officer Jo Langone says.

Those challenges are partially related to COVID-19 and the lack of the usual funding sources. Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) raises approximately 85 percent of its budget through donations, special events, memberships, sponsorships, grants and merchandise sales. Every dollar they raise helps their mission of protecting and conserving the Colonial Spanish Mustangs living on the northern Outer Banks.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s two facilities, a museum store in Corolla Village and a rescue farm/rehab facility on the Currituck mainland, have been closed all summer. Both locations are places where the CWHF interacts with the public, forming relationships with new people and generating income through donations and retail sales.

While the fund’s income has been greatly reduced this year, the small CWHF staff has continued to do their jobs, looking out for the 90 or so wild horses on the Currituck Outer Banks as well as the 17 formerly wild rescues at their rehab farm.

“The horses are fine,” Langone says. “But we’re having a hard time connecting with people, and it’s harder to gain new support for the horses.”

To continue to fund their work, CWHF is depending on their donors, supporters and social media followers. They’ve also looked to new fundraising opportunities. This summer they started a Porch Pickup retail operation in which people can buy goods from the Museum Store without coming inside the 100-year-old house that cannot accommodate safe social distancing. Patrons can purchase t-shirts, hats, calendars, books and other items outdoors. Patrons can also purchase Paint a Mustang kits, since that weekly in-person event has also been canceled.

This week CWHF kicked off another unique fundraiser: an original song and video about the Spanish Mustangs of the Outer Banks. The song, video and lyrics are available for download for $5, and all the proceeds go directly to CWHF. Donors can increase their donation as well. In addition to raising funds, the song is a way for the fund to give something memorable to its supporters.

“We have so many wonderful supporters, donors and social media followers,” Langone says. “For this fundraiser, we wanted to give something back, something truly memorable and from our hearts.”

“Castaño” is a catchy, lighthearted song that tells the historical story of the herd and its lineage with a focus on a particular horse named Castaño, a current member of the herd.

Kelly Wilkes, a CWHF volunteer, and Janet Martin, an artist/songwriter from Richmond, wrote the song and donated it to CWHF. Inspired by Castaño, one of her favorite horses in the herd, Wilkes formed an idea for the song and asked her friend Martin for help.

“I contacted Janet with a song idea and just a few lines I had struggled with, and she ran with it, and it turned into more than I could have ever expected,” Wilkes says.

The two worked on the song when they were together on the Outer Banks in early March.

“I spent part of the day walking on the beach, mulling over the history of this place, how free these horses have been for centuries here and what they’ve endured,” Martin says. “I went back to the cottage, picked up my notepad and guitar, and the song pretty much wrote itself.”

A few of the lyrics:

Just a chestnut colt against a sky so blue

Mighty little colt, ain’t nothing he can’t do

The sand and surf know the mystery

of his legacy…

Castaño, you thunderbolt

Castaño, mighty little colt

Castaño, you’re a sight to behold

You’re a legend age old, Castaño

The recorded version “Castaño” features Janet Martin on vocals, guitars and bass; Daniel Clarke, noted pianist for K.D. Lang and Ryan Adams, on piano and organ; and music producer Bruce Olsen on drums/percussion and song engineering/producing. Linwood Bell, known for his work with Graham Nash, Josh Grobin and the Boston Pops, composed and performed the orchestral arrangement.

A 60-second song clip/video preview is available on YouTube, and the full song, video and lyrics can be downloaded through the CWHF website.

The video production of the song features images and videos of the horses in Corolla. It’s a beautiful tribute to the horses and will be loved by anyone who appreciates them.

“This song is for everyone who loves these legendary horses and the Outer Banks,” CWHF Herd Manager Meg Puckett. “It will resonate with this community as well as those who visit here.”

After a tough summer, which has included a few tragic events for the herd, Langone is thrilled with this pleasant offering for her supporters.

“This has been such a pleasure,” Langone says. “It’s nice to have something positive and uplifting to focus on.”

How to Buy the Song

The “Castaño” song, video and lyrics are available on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s website as a download for $5. Supporters will be given an opportunity to donate more.

Outer Banks wild horses get mass DNA testing to uncover true lineage


by Mark Price, The Charlotte Observer and found on phys.org –  https://phys.org/news/2020-06-outer-banks-wild-horses-mass.html

The history of those wild horses roaming North Carolina’s Outer Banks has long been shrouded in mystery, with most historians believing they descend from mustangs brought by Spanish settlers 500 years ago.

An exact origin may never be proven, but an ambitious DNA project has been launched to nail down the true lineage of every horse roaming the Corolla area, which is about 100.

Herd manager Meg Puckett says the Corolla Wild Horse Fund intends to create family trees “charting all of the relationships among the  … through many different generations.”

The data will also be used to help manage breeding, she said.

“The results do also give us information on breeds most highly represented in each horse, and eventually we would like to be able to learn more about both Spanish and other ancestry but that’s a bit down the road,” Puckett told McClatchy News.

“Right now, we’ve just thrown the net out. As we drag it in, we’ll learn more and more about what we’ve ‘caught.’ We are recording the percentage of Spanish, American and European blood in each horse. Spanish is highest in all of them, obviously,” she said.

The first 10 DNA samples from free roaming horses were collected last week and are currently being analyzed, she said.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is a nonprofit that protects the herd on Corolla, including a farm that takes in horses removed from the wild for health reasons. DNA samples have already been collected from horses living at the farm, Puckett said.

In some respects, the DNA project could introduce some drama into the herd. The wild horse hierarchy in Corolla includes stallions that travel with harems of females for breeding purposes. DNA could prove “hanky-panky” has been going on in the maritime forest when those stallions weren’t paying attention.

“Relationships have been tracked by CWHF for many years, based on observations,” Puckett said in a Facebook post.

“But stallions with foals aren’t always necessarily the father of that foal, and often there are other stallions in and out of the harem throughout the year. The DNA samples will allow us to determine without a doubt exactly what the family line looks like,” she wrote.

If all goes as planned, the study will include photos of each horse tested and a final report on findings, Puckett said.

Announcement of New Program: PORCH PICK-UP

As North Carolina has moved into Phase 2 of a 3-phase approach to slowly lift and ease restrictions while combatting COVID-19 in order to protect visitors and North Carolinians alike, we find that we still do not have the space capacity that would allow us to welcome visitors inside of our facility without limiting this capacity to such a small number that it would encumber the resources of the Fund drastically. Moreover, Phase 2 does call for museums to remain closed.

We have, however, come up with an idea that may, we hope, offer visitors a way to “shop” our gift shop locally, purchase any item that we presently have, and support our mission as they generally look forward to doing when visiting each year. We’re calling it Porch Pick-up and are fashioning it like the curb-side pick-ups many of you have seen some restaurants doing for take-out.

As most of you know, we have an online store www.corollawildhorses.com/cwhf-gift-shop/ that features select items that are sold in our gift shop. These items are the ones that we can readily ship across the country. However, for Porch Pick-up, we will be offering all the items that are in our store since we do not have the constraint that shipping can sometimes pose. We will be adding these additional items to the online store in the coming days. When purchasing any item for Porch Pick-up, just select the Local Pick-up option for shipping.

We will start this new program on Monday, June 1st. Initially, we will offer pick-up just a couple of days per week because we are still social distancing amongst ourselves too and it will give us the time to get your order together.

We are now open for Porch Pick-up Monday through Friday. Place your order by 12 noon and pick up on our porch between 2pm and 4pm the same day. Orders placed after 12 noon will be available for pick-up the next day.

We will also accept orders by phone (252-453-8002) on select days and times. Please call us Mondays through Fridays between 10am and 12 noon and we will be able to arrange for your pick-up order.

We are excited to offer this new program and hope that it will be a way that we can continue to be connected to the wild horses’ supporters while we get through these challenging times! Staying apart brings us together.


Ancestors of Outer Banks wild horses landed in Currituck 500 years ago

By Jeff Hampton

Virginian-Pilot – May 26, 2020

Spanish explorers landed in Currituck County 500 years ago looking for gold, a good port and maybe a place to settle. When they found nothing that worked for them, they sailed for other lands.

In the process, however, they left behind some small, sturdy horses that were able to thrive in the harsh habitat — and become one of the Outer Banks’ biggest tourist attractions.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund and the Museum of the Albemarle are making exhibits and producing an online video to commemorate the arrival of the famous horses, said Don Pendergraft, director of regional museums for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

They are also working with Currituck-based Sanctuary Vineyards to produce a wine named for Pedro de Quexoia, the Spanish explorer who first came here. A percentage of sales will go to education programs at the museum, he said.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is taking DNA samples from about 100 horses roaming the Currituck beaches and a farm in Grandy, where many retire after they can no longer live in the wild.

The plan is to create a genealogy chart for each horse and breed some of the horses on the Grandy farm, said Jo Langone, chief operating officer of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

DNA tests taken years ago confirmed Spanish ancestry, but sampling did not include the entire herd, she said.

“This is more validation,” Langone said.

Even Raymond the mule, who lived with the wild horses until he retired last year to the farm, has Spanish mustang ancestry from his mother, said Meg Puckett, manager of the Corolla wild horse herd.

The Corolla horses are short and sturdy with unique bones in their vertebra and legs that make them strong like Spanish mustangs.

Puckett has tried to separate history from myth as much as possible while researching the wild horse’s history.

Spanish law required the explorers bring horses to the new world, Puckett said. They later raised horses on ranches in Central and South America. The DNA tests are showing that the horses hail from Spanish ranches in the 1500s and some came from wrecks of Spanish ships off the coast, Puckett said.

The genetics are nearly pure, despite the occasional mix with domestic horses over the decades. Locals once farmed on the Outer Banks, she said.

The Spanish came here a few times with their horses.

De Quexoia sailed to Currituck and planted a flag in 1520, more than 60 years before the English arrived, Pendergraft said. Not much else is known except he did not stay long. In some accounts, his name is de Quejo.

“The Spanish in North Carolina is a little known subject since history is more related to England and the Lost Colony,” Pendergraft said.

A few years later, the Spanish established a temporary colony near what is now Cape Fear River, he said.

“The colony failed in much the same circumstances as the Lost Colony,” he said.

The Spanish returned to the region in the 1560s, creating outposts on the Baya de Santa Maria — the name for the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina sounds, said Currituck historian Barbara Snowden.

A group led by Pedro de Coronas landed in Currituck County in 1566 and explored for days before departing, according to the North Carolina Museum of History.

In 1567, a group of Spaniards built a fort in western North Carolina marking the earliest European settlement in the interior of the United States, Pendergraft said. Natives attacked and destroyed the fort.

The Spanish gave way to the English by the late 1500s, when Sir Walter Raleigh sent his expeditions across the Atlantic Ocean — including the party that became known as The Lost Colony.

John Lawson called the Outer Banks horses “well shaped and swift” in 1701, according to a history on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund website.

Historian Edmund Ruffin recorded seeing them in 1856.

“They are capable of great endurance of labor and hardship, and live so roughly that any others from abroad seldom live a year on such food and other such great exposure,” he wrote.

They are much the same today, Langone said.

“They are so fascinating,” she said. “They represent so much of the American spirit.”

Correction: An original version of this story had a different spelling for Baya de Santa Maria.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

Care and Management – Removing a Horse From the Wild (or not)

Our post about Valor yesterday generated a lot of discussion about why we remove horses from the beach, what motivates that decision, and the reasons why a horse cannot be returned to the wild once it’s removed. Today we’ll try to answer those questions and provide some examples of other ways we manage and care for the horses. 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that these decisions do not happen in a vacuum. Before removing any horse, our veterinarian is consulted, our board of directors is notified, and protocols set forth in the Wild Horse Management Agreement are followed. Our trainer and herd manager have nearly 70 combined years of experience working with horses, and we never hesitate to reach out to other wildlife professionals for input and advice. Even during an intense emergency situation like Valor’s, these phone calls are made and proper procedures are followed at all times. 

Removing a horse from the wild is not a decision that we take lightly. It’s the last-resort option and the decision is only made when it’s clear the horse is suffering from catastrophic, fatal injury or illness that prevents it from keeping up with its family group, traveling to fresh water, and/or eating. If the condition is being caused by end-of-life complications (failing teeth, arthritis, etc.) we do our best to monitor the horse but allow it to live out its life naturally. We will intervene and humanely euthanize in the field when it becomes clear the horse is needlessly suffering and clearly not going to recover. 

Why can’t a horse be returned to the wild once it’s removed? The Corolla herd is not vaccinated. Due to the isolation of the herd, it is naturally protected from disease spread by domestic horses. No domestic livestock is allowed into the horses’ habitat, and once we put a horse on a trailer and take it across the cattle guard, it is considered domestic livestock. Once at the farm, the horse is exposed to vaccinated horses (even though horses are quarantined for 30 days…disease can still spread) and could potentially pick up something easily treated in captivity (an upper respiratory infection, for example), that would be devastating should it spread to the wild herd. Horses removed from the beach are vaccinated as soon as it is safe to do so (Valor has already been vaccinated). 

Horses that are removed from the wild require intensive, hands-on treatment and receive a crash course in domestication. Valor is already enjoying being scratched and pet, she is not leery of humans anymore at all, and she is being fed and offered fresh water regularly. Removing her from the wild and then keeping her isolated and only interacting with her for medical treatment would be incredibly inhumane. Additionally, it’s highly unlikely Valor would be easily accepted back into her family group if she were returned to the wild after months of treatment at the farm. The stress of a transition like that could very easily kill a horse.

It’s also important not to anthropomorphize wild animals. They do not process emotions in the same way that humans do, and assuming so can be very harmful. Horses, like most animals, are very good at living in the moment as long as their basic needs are being met. A healthy, enriched, horse is not standing in the field longing for its days in the wild. It is our responsibility to make sure the horses’ needs are being met in captivity, and this includes not only the basics like food and water, but also physical and mental activity, companionship, and a living environment that is as close to natural as we can make it. 

Every situation is different, but here are some examples that might help demonstrate all the ways we manage the horses, and how we arrive at many of these decisions. 


  1. You may remember Trooper, the horse that was bit by another stallion several years ago. What a nasty wound, huh? Naturally the first reaction is “yikes we need to bring him in!” But upon closer observation, we saw that Trooper was maintaining decent body condition (no, he is not skinny…body condition scoring is a post for another day, though), he was active, he had full range of motion, and the wound was clean and healing despite the severity of it. Our vet recommended leaving him in the wild and closely monitoring him. We consulted several wildlife experts who all agreed that leaving him in the wild to heal was the best thing for him. We watched Trooper’s injury grow smaller and smaller all summer, and by the fall only a small scare remained. The following summer, Trooper was fatally kicked by another stallion and we euthanized him, sad but also grateful that the old stallion got to live one more year in the wild and then die in the place he’d always called home. 

Anne Bonny

  1. Anne Bonny lost her eye last year, most likely from the same condition Amadeo suffered from. We kept a close watch on her as the eye deteriorated, kept our vet posted with photos, and remained ready to intervene should she begin to struggle at all. However, she stayed in excellent body condition, kept up with her harem, and didn’t seem otherwise affected so we left her alone. Was it painful? Probably. But the side effects of losing the eye did not amount to enough of a reason to remove her. Anne’s quality of life never deteriorated so there was no need to intervene. If, like Amadeo, she begins to lose the other eye we will take her to the farm because a completely blind horse would not survive in the wild. For now she is managing just fine with one eye. 


  1. Oh Captain. Such a cool old guy, and a great example of how we manage the horses. Early last spring we noticed that he had started dropping weight, but decided to wait and watch as the grass started to come back in. By June, he was still very skinny but he was very active, travelling significant distances to graze and drink, and hunkering down in the shade to rest during the heat of the day. He was bright and alert, and always got annoyed when we bothered him to check in. Always a good sign. It was clear that while Captain was quickly approaching the end of his life, he didn’t want any help from us in the meantime. So we got into the routine of checking on him every day, and got regular updates from the residents of the houses whose carports he napped under every afternoon. In August he was spotted with a significant amount of discharge coming from his nose and eye. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent he had an abscess under his eye that had ruptured, indicating an infection likely caused by a rotten tooth. Captain would not survive this without intervention, so we were faced with a choice. Euthanize him in the wild or remove him and see if we could treat the infection and give him a little bit more time to live peacefully on the farm. Captain was still alert and active, so we decided to give him a chance. Ultimately, we made the decision to euthanize him but for about a month Captain was spoiled rotten by everyone at the farm. He died with a full belly and surrounded by love, and we knew the right call had been made. 


  1. If we had a nickel for every call we got about Taco we’d be rich! Yep, that’s a big lump. No, it doesn’t seem to bother him. It’s been there for years and has never slowed him down. But over the last couple months it has gotten noticeably bigger. so a couple weeks ago we brought our vet up to get a look at it in person. It’s mostly fluid, probably nothing to be concerned about, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t drain it once the weather cools off and the bugs aren’t bad. So in the fall we will catch him and perform the procedure in the field, then release him to heal up while we keep a close eye on him. He’s a young, healthy stallion and should have no problem recovering from a simple procedure like that on his own. There is always a chance the vet might find something unexpected once she begins the procedure, or the wound may require more care than we can provide in the field, and we have to remove Taco anyway. Hopefully that won’t be the case but we will be prepared for anything.

Every horse is different, and no case will ever be the same. We learn from each removal, birth, death, and emergency, and then apply that knowledge to the next situation. With fewer than 100 of these horses left here in the wild, it’s critically important that we give each and every one of them the chance to contribute their genes to the herd. We won’t lose a valuable member of this highly threatened breed when we can remove them and potentially save their life. And their lives do go on! We are developing a conservation program for the farm that includes breeding to Shackleford stallions, we do tons of outreach and education with the horses, and some of them are even adopted out to new families. But no matter what, all of the horses have one true purpose – be a Banker. That’s all we expect from them. Coming off the beach doesn’t make them any less a Banker horse, or any less important to the herd.

We strive to do everything possible to keep them wild, in the place where they’ve lived for the last five centuries. But when that’s not possible, we will provide them with a safe home for the rest of their lives where they will continue to contribute to the conservation of the herd in many different ways.