Just picture it. You’re sitting on the beach and in the distance you can see wild horses running free, playing in the waves. Sounds pretty amazing, huh? Almost like a dream. Well, guess what, it’s all real and it’s all in North Carolina.
What sounds like the ideal backdrop to a Nicholas Sparks book, is a really a sanctuary for these incredible animals. And no one knows more about these Colonial Spanish Mustangs than Karen H. McCalpin, the Executive Director of Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Inc., it’s their mission to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage this herd.
A Tale of Sea Horses
Rumored to have been shipwrecked more than 400 years ago, these descendants of Spanish horses have an even more exciting history. “The most documented way the horses arrived involved ships running aground on the shifting sand bars that dot the 175 mile coast of the Outer Banks,” says Karen. So in order for sea captains to lighten the load and refloat the ship, the heavy cargo was thrown overboard—and horses were heavy cargo! But never fear, this breed is made up of excellent swimmers.
And that’s how they got their nickname, “Banker Ponies.” Although, Karen is quick to point out that the Corollas and Shacklefords are small horses, not actual ponies and they’re listed as a “critically endangered breed” by the American Livestock conservancy and the Equus Foundation Trust. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund tries to monitor every foal that’s born. That’s no easy task when you’re talking about 7,544 acres, but so worth it. Especially in the case of William, the baby boy who captured the hearts of thousands across the country.
A Symbol of Strength & Perseverance
When Karen first saw William, the newborn foal was exceptionally small and lacked the vigor babies should have, so she kept a watchful eye on him—and his mom. The plan was to collect both mother and child in a horse trailer if he seemed to be in distress. But at just five days old with a heat index of 107, he was suddenly deathly ill and she knew there was no time to waste. So with the help of tourists in a nearby rental home, Karen scooped him up and drove with him in the backseat of her car to the nearest equine clinic—three hours away.
There it became clear that he needed a much higher level of care and the tiny horse was taken to the ICU at North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh. After leaving William there, the ride back to Corolla was an agonizing one for Karen, “I cried off and on and prayed that we weren’t too late.”
Back home, Karen decided to chronicle William’s journey on Facebook because, “so many people love wild horses for the freedom, rich heritage, and iron clad spirit that they represent.” And she hoped that sharing his story would somehow help get him through this life-threatening moment, but she wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming outpouring of love and support for this little wild foal. More than 1.6 million people read and interacted with her posts, “I read every comment and each one lifted my spirits,” she says. Kids sent their birthday money, mothers to children born with serious health issues sent love and prayers to help the Corolla Wild Horse Fund raise more than $25,000 for William’s medical costs.
After surgery and being introduced to his surrogate mother, Pebbles, the two horses were brought back to Karen and her team in Currituck County. “When they stepped out of the trailer and into the paddock of our rescue barn, it was nothing short of miraculous,” says Karen. So while William will never be able to return to the wild, he will have a happy ending thanks to the incredible efforts of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and his new home with a veterinarian in Delaware.
Preserving Natural Beauty
So while intervention was necessary in William’s case, the staff at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund treats these Mustangs with respect, observing their brilliance from a distance. According to National Geographic, there were close to 6,000 of these brilliant horses on the Outer Banks in 1926. Today, only 102 remain in Corolla and 107 on Shackleford Banks. So for Karen, the struggle to protect these horses is something that she is constantly focused on, especially in a selfie-loving society.
She worries who might be trying to snap a picture of themselves with the horses, feeding them something that could make them sick or even reaching out to touch them. Then there is the concern that someone may be speeding on the beach or driving impaired, “We have had four horses hit by vehicles on the beach since I took this job.” she adds. “There have been seven horses intentionally shot since 2001 with no arrests.” And with every house built along the shoreline their habitat is shrinking, so she wonders, “How much longer can the horses of kings be free?”
Wild horses are untamed by human hands and are almost a completely different animal from the domesticated horses we are all used to interacting with. Part of their allure is not being able to touch them, to observe and learn from them at a distance. In the article, What We Can Learn from Loving Wild Horses, Caitlin Jill Anders says, “The beauty in wild horses is due to their free spirits, and how much they don’t need us to thrive. Watching them is one of the best things about loving wild horses.”
Experience These Animals Up Close
Aside from catching a glimpse of them while at the beach, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund offers trips, where they take small groups to see the horses. Karen says they call it the Trip of a Lifetime because, “it really, really is.” And all funds generated go directly back to protecting the caring for the horses, which further deepens the connection between visitors and their mission.
About The Corolla Wild Horse Fund
Their mission is to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, and to promote the continued preservation of the land as a permanent sanctuary for horses designated as the State Horse and defined as a cultural treasure by the state of North Carolina. The CWHF was organized in 1989 when a group of caring citizens recognized the need to heighten awareness about the presence of wild horses between Duck, NC and the VA border. Eleven horses had been hit and killed on Highway 12 between 1985 (when the road from Duck to Corolla was paved) and 1995.The Fund incorporated as a 501 c 3 not for profit in 2001.
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