For five hundred years, the Outer Banks has been home to horses brought over by Spanish colonizers either directly or after having swum to safety after a shipwreck. Confirmed by DNA testing to be Colonial Spanish Mustangs, the legendary herd numbers just 100 and resides just in Corolla after development slashed their numbers and pushed them to the outskirts.
“Seeing the wild horses is just a wondrous thing,” said Jo Langone, Corolla Wild Horse Fund's chief operating officer. “Seeing them up there on their own, because they don’t need anything from us really unless — God forbid — something really terrible happens.”
Should something unexpected happen, Corolla Wild Horse Fund is there to ride to the rescue. The nonprofit organization manages the Corolla herd, doing regular helicopter flyovers to track their numbers, working to keep them safe, and, as a last resort, stepping in to help ease suffering when no other option exists.
“We have Corolla rescues that are under our care whether they came to us through illness, injury, or they had to be removed because they were too habituated to humans. We get them in various ways, unfortunately [...] that’s why we need that facility,” Langone said of the Betsy Dowdy Equine Center in Grandy. “We have 15 Corollas right now,” she adds.
The Equine Center, also known as the Rescue Farm, encompasses 31 acres of land the foundation purchased in October 2018.
“This is a working farm. We have some of our dogs roaming,” she said, laughing. “We have a couple of cats that do their job out there. We also have five chickens that also do a job; it’s like natural pest control.” But, she adds, “the working farm is really about the horses. We try not to remove any from the wild herd.”
Once the horses are removed, they are unable to be released back into the wild, “because we risk bringing disease to the wild herd — they haven’t been inoculated to anything.”
Unfortunately, she said, “we had an entire harem removed last year. It’s really, in essence, due to habituation. Between the months of January to May, they kept circumventing the north fence, going into False Cape State Park and then beyond. They were almost threatening to go into Sandbridge. which was the real fear,” Langone said. “We tried desperately to coerce them to stay on the south side of that fence, but the stallion really was very attracted.”
The stallion, Ducky, along with four mares, and a yearling were moved to the rescue farm.
“We probably lost in total 11 either to death or removals last calendar year. The year before, we were quite lucky. We didn’t lose anyone. We sort of made up for it last year.”
In an effort to raise awareness for the unique needs of the wild herd, the farm will, for the first time, open its doors to the public. Every Wednesday morning, May 27 through Sept.11, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., members and visitors alike are invited to visit the Betsy Dowdy Equine Center to meet the Corolla horses that now call the farm home.
“We’re terming it “Member Mornings,” but we are hoping other people who are not members become members or donors [will come]. We would like that,” said Langone.
Attendees will be able to learn about the care and training offered to the horses at the farm. Things to note:
• Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times
• No outside food permitted
• Please do no bring apples, carrots or any treats for the horses
• Event is rain or shine except in case of lightening/dangerous weather
“They get more of a feel of what we do. We talk about our daily routine and training and how the trainers work. Just the way we go about things, kind of makes it a little more real.”
Langone also said certain horses are habituated enough that they can be pet by visitors, should the horses be in the right mood.
When asked about the training and how comfortable the horses are with people, Langone said they let the horses decide.
“The horses dictate how far it can go. The hope is after being tamed and gentled, they can be brought under saddle," she said. "Now, how much time that takes varies according to the horse.”
She is hopeful the weekly event will make up for days when the weather is too hot to transport horses to Meet A Mustang events in historic Corolla.
“It’s not standing out at the event that bothers them, that’s like being at home for them, but it’s that travel. It’s really not a healthy thing to do to them,” she said, adding that a horse trailer is, essentially, “a tin box.”
“We’ll still be doing regular outreach events, but we thought for various reasons this would really help.”
In addition to a suggested donation of $5. per vehicle — all of which goes directly the care of the Corolla horses — visitors will also have chance to show their support through symbolic adoption. Though the Fund’s website currently offers five horses available to sponsor, visitors to the farm won’t be so limited.
“We just can’t do this every day, so that’s going to be a bit of a transition.”
Member Mornings, she hopes, will allow people to “just see the breadth and width of what the Fund does. It’s a really feel good event, I think.”