Raymond the mule taking his place among the most famous Corolla wild horses

COROLLA, N.C.

Raymond the mule posed dramatically on a dune overseeing his harem of mares — all three of them Corolla wild horses.

Nevermind that he is smaller than his mares and the stallions that regularly take them away. Forget that he is a mule and can’t reproduce. Don’t count it against him that he is more than 20 years old and a little worn. Oh, and his noisy braying doesn’t exactly conjure up visions of the mythical horse Pegasus.

He stood there with his large ears erect and his scrawny legs straight, ready to take on anything that challenged him.

“He’s a character, that’s for sure,” said Meg Puckett, herd manager for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. “I’ve never seen him look that majestic.”

Raymond has gained fame for his brash personality, his feistiness with larger stallions and his loud calls.

His presence and his mares Tuesday drew the attention of vacationers in the community of Swan Beach, a cluster of beach homes set within the four wheel drive area of the Currituck County Outer Banks. People stood on upper decks watching and taking photos.

At least six large open-air vehicles from wild horse tour operators drove by for a look as the driver guides explained the famous big-eared mule. People in the trucks ooohed and aaahed.

Raymond often scraps with bigger stallions trying to mate with his mares. He ducks in low and bites at their legs, and he flips around and kicks with his back legs. He often wins. Sometimes he doesn’t.

If he loses, he wanders alone for a while. The victorious stallion will take his mares and sometimes impregnate them. Raymond might win them back in a few days or weeks. If a mare gives birth while he’s in charge, Raymond adopts the foal and cares for it as if it were his own.

People unfamiliar with Raymond will come to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund office to say they thought they saw a mule among the horses. Could that be possible?

Puckett or chief operating officer Jo Langone confirms that, yes, they have. It’s Raymond.

Some approach herd officials to say they have heard loud, unnatural sounds coming from one of the horses. It must be sick. No, they say, it’s just Raymond.

He is the son of a donkey that once belonged to a petting zoo in Virginia Beach, said Ernie Bowden, a longtime Carova Beach resident and former cattle farmer in the area before all the development came.

Raymond’s father hails from a long line of Sicilian working animals, Bowden said. The donkey got frisky with one of the wild horse mares and sired a foal, Bowden said.

Raymond comes from naturally intelligent, hardy and adaptive stock, but he’s had his troubles.

Two years ago, his hooves grew too long and were causing him pain, Puckett said. Wild horses naturally wear down their hooves by being on the move in the abrasive sands. Raymond’s hooves were not wearing off. Puckett and a veterinarian reluctantly decided to try the risky procedure to sedate him and grind down his hooves. He recovered soon and returned to his aggressive ways.

“It was like he was a new mule,” Puckett said.

Raymond is an important part of the wild Corolla herd and takes his place in the lore of famous horses such as Little Red Man, Roamer and Amadeo.

Little Red Man frequently ventured into the village of Corolla where he would steal pizza from trash cans and raid roadside vegetable stands. Visitors often captured him in photos as he grazed in the neighborhoods. Roamer gained notoriety for often leading his mares around the fence intended to contain them in the four-wheel-drive area north of Corolla. He appeared on Currituck County brochures advertising the Outer Banks. Amadeo, who is blind, lives on the Grandy farm after being rescued from a rip tide a few years ago. He often appears at public events for showing off wild horses. 

Raymond is among the legends of the herd now, Puckett said.

The average age for a mule is 30 to 50 years. He could live on for a while. 

“I can’t express how good he looks for his age and the rough life he’s led,” Puckett said. “He is tough. He is too stubborn to die.”

Nature up close: Wild horses of the Outer Banks

CBS NEWS May 17, 2019, 4:04 PM

By “Sunday Morning” contributing videographer Carl Mrozek. 

We’ve all seen plenty of images in movies and on TV of mustangs on the prairies, high plains and deserts of the American West.  But wild horses on an East Coast beach? Not so much, except possibly recent escapees from a ranch or farm, because everyone knows that wild horses and beaches don’t mix. 

But they would be wrong, as there have been wild horses in and around the Outer Banks of Virginia and North Carolina for half a millennium – more than twice as long as there has been a United States of America.

The history of the “Bankers,” as they’re nicknamed, harks back to the earliest days of Spanish exploration and colonization of North America, in the early 16th century, when Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, launched a colony around Cape Fear. However, he and his minions enraged local natives by enslaving some of their children and sending them to the West Indies to toil on plantations. Eventually tensions boiled over as the natives rebelled and drove the Spaniards out of North Carolina and into Florida. In the tumult, the Spaniards abandoned many of their horses.

Apparently some of these mustangs were caught and raised by the natives, while others adapted to life in the coastal salt marshes, soon gaining a reputation as tough, hardy horses that thrived in the coastal zone, but which quickly died off when rounded up and sent inland where their new food fare did not suit their specially-evolved constitutions.

The Bankers proliferated throughout the Outer Banks from the Virginia state line to the Shackleford Banks 170 miles to the south.  At their peak, they numbered in the thousands even well beyond the mid- 20th century. However, the increasing popularity of the Outer Banks as an oceanfront playground gradually shrank their share of the barrier beaches and marshes to a fraction of what it once was. Consequently their population dwindled into the low hundreds by the end of the 2oth century, with one population on the southern end of the Outer Banks and another on the north end.

Today both herds retain the characteristics of Spanish mustangs, including having one less vertebra than most other horse breeds, plus their slender elegance and medium size, shaggy manes, even-temperament and endurance. In a nutshell, they are handsome, winsome horses.

Their ability to adapt to the harsh environment of the barrier beaches which is virtually devoid of standing fresh water and which supports only hardy vegetation, served them well for nearly five centuries. However, the proliferation of roads and beach houses throughout the Outer Banks has left them with less and less habitat. According to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, today’s herd shares 7,544 acres with 700 houses (plus thousands of people, pets and vehicles). 

Managing the northern Outer Banks for the benefit of wild horses, in addition to the tens of thousands of seasonal tourists and several thousand year-round residents, has proven challenging, requiring the cooperation of many agencies and individuals. Since 1989 this campaign has been spearheaded by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which conducts an active public education campaign to secure permanent protection for the Corolla herd at a genetically-sustainable level of at least 110 horses.  They also work with local tour guides and law enforcement to protect the horses from harassment by tourists and residents, including maintaining at least a 50′ safety zone between the horses and people, pets and vehicles.

The Corolla Wild Horses Fund is also championing legislation, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.  Similar legislation already protects the southern herd of “Bankers” on Shackleford Banks, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. In 2010 a state law spearheaded by a letter-writing campaign by local school kids declared the colonial Spanish mustang as the state horse of North Carolina, albeit without the long-term protections currently being sought by advocates. 

Local grassroots efforts to permanently protect wild horses of the Outer Banks enjoy broad support partly thanks to the importance of these herds to the local tourism business. Tens of thousands of tourists take guided dune buggy tours of the northern Outer Banks specifically to see and photograph “Bankers.” Many of them also shop and eat locally and stay in nearby motels, bed and breakfasts, etc. 

Despite their popularity, the future of wild horses in the northern Outer Banks remains uncertain. Even though they’ve been designated a critically-endangered horse by international equine agencies, they are not recognized as a native species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency, which manages the Endangered Species program. Hence they receive no special protection by the federal government, which manages some of the land they now utilize.

The native species status of horses remains a bone of contention among scientists, and between federal authorities and wild horse advocates who argue that not only did horses originate in North America, but that they did not all die out during the last Ice Age, with their genetic material now part of the wild equine genome in North America. While no one is specifically making that assertion on behalf of the wild horse herds on the Outer Banks, it does support the contention that many of America’s wild horses are “returned natives,” or a reintroduced native species, much like some populations of wolves, elk, and big horned sheep. Moreover, that once reintroduced, their behavior and ecological contributions are much like those of their native-born counterparts, and that they should be granted permanent resident status along with all of the pertinent protections.

For more information about the wild horses of the northern Outer Banks and the campaign to protect and preserve them visit the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

First New Foal of 2019 Born to Corolla Herd

Coastal Review Online

4.4.19 by Staff Reporter

COROLLA – The Corolla Wild Horse Fund announced Thursday that the first foal of 2019 was born March 31.

CWHF officials hadn’t determined the foal’s gender, but they said that both mom and baby were in good condition.

The foal was named Renzi in honor of Melissa Renzi, who has several terminal illnesses, has been in hospice care since 2017 and made her first visit to the Outer Banks last weekend in celebration of her birthday. Seeing the wild horses of Corolla was on her bucket list, CWHF officials said, and with the help of friends and the community, that dream came true on the same weekend the foal was born.

“It seemed only fitting to name the foal after Melissa, who is endlessly upbeat, strong, and kind. Traits the Banker horses share with her,” CWHF said in the announcement.

The herd of about 100 Colonial Spanish mustangs on the Currituck Outer Banks is one of only two groups of this threatened breed left in the wild. CWHF, the nonprofit group that manages the herd, said the horses were brought to the barrier islands by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The horses now roam freely on about 7,500 acres of habitat north of the paved section of N.C. 12

Jim and Melissa Renzi on their first visit to Carova, March 30. Photo: Jeff Kelly

CWHF uses darts to administer immuno-contraception using the federally approved substance porcine zona pelucida, or PZP. The program is conducted under the auspices of the Humane Society of the United States and the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana. PZP is administered annually and is the least invasive method of delivery and the most humane method to control population, CWHF said.

Mares younger than 4 or older than 15 and mares that have had at least one foal are darted annually in an effort to reduce inbreeding, improve the long-term health of the mares, and maintain a sustainable population of horses.

CWHF said there are usually about six births per year, but more foals are expected this year to offset an ageing population and the deaths and removals of more than 10 horses in 2018. The herd is maintained at between 110-120 horses.

Where do Outer Banks wild horses vanish to in winter?

Where do Outer Banks wild horses vanish to in winter? An aerial survey found out
BY MARK PRICE

FEBRUARY 04, 2019 04:35 PM,

UPDATED FEBRUARY 05, 2019 10:17 AM

North Carolina’s wild horses have been known for decades to vanish from the Outer Banks in the winter, leaving visitors to the barrier islands mystified.

On Friday, a survey located much of the elusive herd in the interior of Corolla, at a spot so remote that the herd managers needed a helicopter to reach it.

“We’re talking about an area thick with brush, standing water, mud and thorns,” said Meg Puckett, herd manager for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

“It’s in the middle of the island and it’s only from the air that we could see the trails to it created by the horses, wild pigs and the other animals. It’s a place you would need a boat to reach.”

It’s also a spot where freshwater marshes keep the grass green all year. The aerial survey crew, including Puckett, found the horses in this oasis, happily grazing in knee-deep water.

In the summer, the herd of nearly 100 horses can find that grass more easily near beaches, along roads and even in the yards of tourist condos.

It’s no surprise to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund that the horses found a fresh water marsh in the middle of the winter, but Puckett says it remains a revelation to see how the horses survive in such rugged terrain.

“Their main goal is to stay alive and they are very good at it, very resourceful,” said Puckett. “They have an institutional knowledge of their habitat, passed down from their parents. And their parents learned it from their parents. They always know where to go for food in winter.”

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund and Coastal Helicopters team up for six aerial surveys a year, in part to get a rough count of the herd population and to see where the horses are migrating. The fund is a nonprofit that manages the herd on Corolla.

It’s believed the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs came to the Outer Banks nearly 500 years ago, and were likely left behind by the Spanish explorers who evacuated after multiple attacks by Native Americans, according to OuterBanks.com.

The two largest herds today are at Corolla and at the Shackleford Banks, which is cared for by the Foundation for the Shackleford Horses.

NC Senator Thom Tillis Introduces Legistation to Protect Corolla Wild Horses

Tillis Introduces Legislation to Protect Corolla Wild Horses

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

 

CONTACTS:

Daniel Keylin or Adam Webb | (202) 224-6342

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act, legislation that would provide responsible management of the wild horse population around Corolla, North Carolina and the Outer Banks. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives in previous Congresses and has been a long time champion of protecting the Corolla wild horse population.
 
“A cherished part of our state’s history and an admired attraction, thousands of tourists visit North Carolina’s beaches each year to witness the majestic nature of the Corolla horses,” said Senator Tillis. “This legislation will take the necessary and proper steps in protecting the health and safety of the wild animals and their habitat, while encouraging continued tourism and economic investment for our local coastal communities.” 
 
The Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of North Carolina, Currituck County and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to craft a new management plan to care for the wild horses that inhabit the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 
 
The Corolla wild horses do not exist anywhere else in the world. Their lineage can be traced back to the arrival of Spanish explorers on the Outer Banks in the 16th century. They are Colonial Spanish mustangs that have survived in the wild for the last four centuries and now roam across Currituck County, North Carolina. 
 
This legislation is supported by the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Corolla Horses OK, But Va. Disease A Concern

Coastal Review Online 1.10.19

 

COROLLA – The recent deaths of seven Chincoteague, Virginia, ponies from a particularly nasty pathogen found in standing water has put the caretakers of the Corolla wild horses on alert, although so far there is no indication of the disease on the Outer Banks.

“Fingers crossed,” said Jo Langone, CEO of the nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which manages the herd. “We haven’t seen any signs here.”

Commonly known as “swamp cancer,” the sickness in the wild Chincoteague ponies was caused by a fungus-like organism in stagnant water that can enter cuts or scrapes, according to a Dec. 31 article in the Washington Post. An infected horse will typically develop large lesions on their legs, belly or genitals. If not caught early, the disease, pythiosis, is usually fatal.

About 100 horses roam freely on the northernmost tip of the Currituck Outer Banks, a 12-mile-long and a mile-wide, ocean-to-sound area bordering the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to undeveloped beach and marshland, the horses’ total 7,500-acre range includes the unpaved community of Carova, where about 200 residents live year-round and thousands more visit every summer.

Heavy rains in the last several years have created especially wet conditions in the horses’ habitat, Langone said, making it impossible for the animals to avoid standing water.

“There’s not much that we can do actively except make people aware about what they can do,” she said.

In an update posted on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund Facebook page Wednesday, residents and visitors in the off-road areas were asked to be on the lookout for any sharp items that could wound the wild horses.

“CWHF is currently working on an informational flyer that will be distributed to property owners on the 4 x4 (off-road area) encouraging them to clean up any debris or trash that could cause cuts or scrapes on the horses,” according to the post. “We will also be distributing examples of what to look for in case of an outbreak (like pictures of Pythiosis lesions) and ask people to call or report any horse they see with open cuts and scrapes, or suspicious wounds.”

Meg Puckett, the herd manager, said that they’ve received numerous inquiries from concerned Corolla wild horse lovers since the first Washington Post article about the infliction in the Chincoteague ponies came out in November.

 “It’s been on my radar for months,” she said in an interview.  “We’re not raising the alarm bells yet, but we’re being proactive.”

Puckett said she has talked in depth with the horse fund’s veterinarian with the Dominion Equine Clinic in Hampton Roads, Virginia, from whom she learned about a new vaccine that has had some success in treating infected horses at early signs of the disease.

But the vaccine, which has not been approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration, does not guarantee a cure and still has limited availability.

That’s why the horses’ caretakers need the public to keep an eye out for wounded or infected horses. Lesions, which are itchy, almost look like a boil – but worse, Puckett said.

“It looks like a big, open sore, basically,” she said. “Just fleshy and gross.”

Until recent years, swamp cancer outbreaks in horses had been mostly confined to the warm and muggy Gulf Coast region. Puckett said she had no knowledge of the disease in any domestic horses in southeastern Virginia or northeastern North Carolina, but she worries about warmer weather and fewer hard freezes in the region and on the Outer Banks creating the same conditions for the pathogen that befell Chincoteague’s ponies.

“Yeah, it’s climate change,” she said. “It’s been hot. It’s been wet. You’re going to start seeing things like this.”

Like the Chincoteague herd, the Corolla horses are a cultural icon rooted in centuries-old maritime history and legendary links to Colonial-era Spanish Mustangs. Both populations are managed with respect to their wild and free state, with mostly hands-off care. For instance, the Corolla horses are not vaccinated at all, Puckett said, although it doesn’t mean they’ll always be ruled out. But the only routine medical intervention the horses currently receive, she said, is non-hormonal birth control for the mares.

Until 1985, there was no paved road to Corolla, where the horses had lived in the wild for centuries. As development increased in the 1980s and 1990s, interactions between the public and the horses spiked dramatically and dangerously. According to the Wild Horse Fund website, between 1985 and 1996, 20 wild horses were killed by vehicles on N.C. 12, the highway between Duck and Corolla.

Eventually, volunteers built a fence on the northern end of Corolla and at the Virginia-North Carolina state line, where a sea-to-sound fence is occasionally defeated by some horses. Langone said that a persistent harem of six horses that kept circumventing the fence were recently relocated to the Horse Fund’s farm in Currituck County. A yearling colt from the group, she added, was just adopted to a new home where two other adopted Corolla horses reside.

The horses at the Currituck farm are being monitored closely, Puckett said. They are also removed from pastures that have not drained after storms.

And even though the wild horses cannot be monitored as closely, she is being extra vigilant and taking the risk of the deadly disease seriously.

“It is a real big concern,” Puckett said. “It makes you worried about what’s coming down the pike.”

We Bought the Farm!

Yep, we bought a farm! The Fund had been leasing the Betsy Dowdy Equine Center, a 31-acre facility in Grandy where our rescued mustangs live, since 2014. Over the summer, we were presented with the opportunity to purchase the property. Rescue and conservation are key components of our mission and we’ve recognized the need for a permanent “off-island” sanctuary for many years. Right now the farm houses 17 rescued horses in varying degrees of rehabilitation. 

Every horse that has to be removed from the wild will now have a stable, permanent home on our farm. It is a peaceful, quiet place where injured, ill, or otherwise suffering rescued horses can decompress, heal, and be slowly domesticated. After that, they may enter into our adoption program or they may live with us forever if they require special care. 

Since purchasing the farm, we’ve started on many improvements that need to be completed before the winter weather sets in. So far we’ve improved our water supply with new hydrants, a new well, and new lines and spigots. We’ve seeded our newly fenced 7 acres, we are planning on constructing a perimeter fence around the entire property, we have updated our electrical system and added new security lighting, and we’ve constructed one new shelter for the horses. 

This Giving Tuesday, you can help us reach our goal of constructing another new shelter so that the horses can use our new pastures through the winter. This will allow us to rotate horses more easily and give our smaller pastures a rest. It also gives the horses a nice change of scenery. The shelter will cost about $5000. 

Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. Think about it – if all 93k of our followers donated just $1 imagine what we could accomplish together! And on Giving Tuesday Nov 27, Facebook and PayPal will match a total of $7 Million in donations. 

Please consider a gift to the horses this holiday season. We thank you for your support!

Rescue Horses on the Farm Benefit from Nature Walks

Now that everything in the woods isn’t trying to kill us (ticks, snakes, poison ivy…) we are able to utilize the back part of our property. There are trails that we’re working on getting cleared, and in the meantime we’ve been taking the horses on “nature walks.” It’s proven to be wonderful enrichment for them, especially those that spent the majority of their lives in the wild. They love to browse through all the underbrush! Yesterday the boys – Buster, Felix, Roamer, Ducky, and Mateo, got to take a walk together. Roamer and Ducky love the wild rosemary that’s growing now, Mateo had fun stomping around in a dead tree, and Buster and Felix seemed to really enjoy all the new sights and smells too. Plus, they all got to interact with each other. It was a fun day.

 

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

The fence that separates Virginia and North Carolina was installed by volunteers in the early 2000s, and has held up remarkably well. However, it stops short of the sound because of the difficult, marshy terrain. For an intrepid horse, getting into Virginia is certainly possible, but over the past 15-20 years there have been very few instances of that happening.

In January of 2018 CWHF began receiving calls about a group of horses that were making their way around (or up, over, or through) the northern barrier fence and into False Cape State Park in Virginia. There are many reasons why this was unsafe for both horses and humans, and while we hoped that maybe it was just a one-time exploration, we were pretty sure that the horses were establishing patterns and territory up in Virginia.

The horses—four mares, a stallion, and a yearling colt, were moved back to Carova several times, and once even trailered to the southernmost part of the refuge and released, but they continuously made their way back up into Virginia. The stallion is young, and this group includes what we believe is his first foal and the first mares he was ever able keep, so he is very protective and territorial. We believe that he was moving away from the pressure of other stallions, and of course the fact that there was lots of green grass in the state park influenced his behavior too.

CWHF worked with the folks at False Cape and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to return the horses to North Carolina and figure out solutions to the fence problem. It was decided that the fence needed to be extended by about 1600 feet, which would require hiring a contractor with equipment that could be operated in the swampy marsh. Our mission is, first and foremost, to keep the horses wild, in their natural habitat, and we were hoping that this could be the case for the six that were starting to call Virginia their home. Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out.

There was big concern from the officials in Virginia that the horses would make their way into the populated areas of Virginia Beach. It would be several weeks before construction on the fence could start and in the meantime, the horses were deemed a nuisance by the Department of the Interior and we had no choice but to allow them to be removed and brought to our rescue farm. While they are no longer wild, at least they are now safe and in the Fund’s care.

The yearling colt is Mateo, who was born in April of last year. We named his father Lucky Duck (Ducky for short) after he got caught up in the cattle guard but luckily survived the incident. His mother is Virginia Dare, and the other three mares are Ocean Pearl, Bonita, and Kitty Hawk. 

Mateo has been adopted by a wonderful family who already has two other rescued Corolla horses, along with a few retired domestic horses and a mini donkey. He’ll be living on a big, beautiful, hilly farm just outside of Lexington, Virginia. 

As for the rest of the family, they will be staying at our rescue farm for the foreseeable future. We plan on keeping Ducky as an Ambassador horse for educational outreach, and also a breeding stallion for our captive herd. Bonita was diagnosed with Lyme disease not long after she arrived, so she’s being treated for that and showing some signs of improvement. Kitty Hawk and Ocean Pearl have already been saddled and worked in the round pen, and we’re looking forward to getting a rider on them both! 

Virginia Dare is the boss mare, and we’ve been taking it slow with her. She demands respect and space, and we’re happy to give it to her. She did an amazing job taking care of Mateo during their escapades, and she deserves an easy life now. Virginia is the mare who accepted orphaned foal Chris in June, and kept him company for his short time with us. She’s a very special girl. 

Here are some photos of their adventures around Carova, Corolla, False Cape State Park, and even down to Duck one day. 

And here are some photos of the horses once they came to the rescue farm. 

For now, all of the adult horses will be staying at the farm. We hope that some of them will make great candidates for our adoption program in the future, but for now we plan on continuing their training and domestication. Want to be a part of this? You can sponsor Ducky, or see all the other ways to help support the Fund like becoming a member or making a one-time donation.  

Dews Island Mares Celebrate First Year on the Rescue Farm

This week we are celebrating the year anniversary of the Dews Island mares coming to live at our rescue farm. It’s been quite a journey! They have taught us compromise, humor, and humility. They keep us on our toes, but their progress (and their hard-earned affection!) has been so rewarding.

You can read more about how they came to us here: http://www.northbeachsun.com/history-on-hooves/.

Luna, Little Star, Buttercup, Jasmine, Betty, Bella, and Moxie (aka Utter Chaos), we love you so much! Brownie, you’ll forever be in our hearts and we see glimpses of you every day in your amazing daughters.

Here’s to many more years with these special girls!