Survival of the fittest truly defines the members of the Equus caballus species that for more than 400 years have freely roamed the environmentally challenging Outer Banks of North Carolina.
About 60 wild horses, the descendants of Spanish mustangs, continue to thrive among the hot sands, freezing winds and salty sprays from the Atlantic Ocean with help, only recently, from an organization formed in 1989. Donna Snow, co-director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, took a few minutes to discuss the attributes and history of these majestic creatures.
Q: Where did the horses come from?
A: The horses were brought to North Carolina’s Outer Banks as early as 1521, when Spanish explorer Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon landed near what was thought to be Cape Fear. The Spanish brought horses bred in the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico. Upon meeting resistance from American Indians, they were forced to flee, leaving behind their livestock, including the horses.
Other Spanish-bred horses made their way to the Outer Banks aboard English ships bound for the English colony on Roanoke Island. The Roanoke voyages of 1584, 1586 and 1590 provided other opportunities for horses to have disembarked from or survived the wrecks of English ships.
Q: How do you know they are true Spanish mustangs?
A: A combination of science and recorded history. We have historical documents that help us trace the horses, where they came from and how they have changed or not changed over the past 400 years.
In addition, in 1991, experts from the Spanish Mustang Registry, a nonprofit organization formed to preserve the last of the true Spanish mustangs, came to visit the wild horses of Corolla.
They compared a number of physical characteristics of Spanish mustangs and the Corolla horses, including size and stature of the horses, the facial quality, the gait, how the legs are positioned, the tails and so forth. The Corolla horses are equal to the original Spanish mustangs.
More scientific evidence also was gathered. Using past autopsies, it can be shown that the wild horses of Corolla share skeletal similarities with the Spanish horses that American-bred horses don’t. The Spanish and Corolla horses both have 13 pairs of ribs, as opposed to 12, and they are missing their sixth vertebra.
The Spanish Mustang Registry concluded that the horses are true blood descendants but also suggested that we have further genetic, or DNA, testing done.
Q: Did you have that blood testing done?
A: Yes, between 1992 and 1994, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, working with the University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science, drew blood samples from 17 of the horses and put them through a series of DNA tests.
Those scientific tests confirmed that the horses of Corolla are close blood descendants, possibly the purest known, to the original Spanish horses. This purity is attributed to the fact that the Outer Banks, until the last 40 years or so, were secluded and that the horses did not breed with other strains of horse, domestic or wild. Instead, they were allowed to live and run free with relatively little change or interference for more than 400 years.View Entire Story
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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