Herd chief: Horses key to US history


Meg Puckett, herd manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, discusses the importance of the Colonial Spanish Mustangs — the ancestors of today's Corolla wild horses — to the history of North Carolina and the United States during a "History for Lunch" presentation at Museum of the Albemarle, Wednesday.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, March 22, 2019

Outer Banks horses are integral to the history of both North Carolina and the United States, the herd manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund said Wednesday.

Speaking before a large and enthusiastic audience at Museum of the Albemarle, Meg Puckett discussed the similarities between the “banker” Colonial Spanish Mustangs of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the Highland Pony that was prevalent in Scotland in the 1700s. Puckett’s “History for Lunch” presentation was related to the museum’s current “Outlander” exhibit, which is named for the popular Starz television series and features artifacts of early Scottish settlers in North Carolina.

Although there is not a direct genetic link between the “banker” horses and the Highland Ponies of 1700s Scotland, the two breeds are similar in stature and in many other respects, according to Puckett.

“They’re small, they’re hardy, they’re scruffy, they’re easy to take care of,” Puckett said.

Puckett said the “Outlander” TV series shows North Carolina’s importance in the history of the nation. She also said horses have played an important role in the nation’s history.

“The history of the American horse is the history of America,” Puckett said. “(Horses) tell the history of the country.”

For instance, as settlers moved westward the horses became bigger both because they needed to be and because the wide open spaces enabled them to become bigger, she said.

Other American breeds such as the Quarter Horse and the Tennessee Walker can be traced back to the Colonial Spanish Mustang, she said. For instance, the “gaiting” trait that is so pronounced in the Tennessee Walker because of selective breeding can be observed in the Corolla herd, she said.

“The Colonial Spanish Mustangs are the foundation for every American breed that we have today,” Puckett said.

The Colonial Spanish Mustang is the official state horse of North Carolina.

The horses on Corolla are an especially hardy breed.

“The transatlantic voyage for these horses was not easy,” Puckett said. “They were brought here, they were left here, and they adapted — they survived.”

One important characteristic of Outer Banks horses is their ability to thrive on a relatively light diet by horse standards.

“They can survive off an amazingly small amount of food,” Puckett said.

John Lawson, who wrote a history of the Carolina Colony in the 1700s, described Colonial Spanish Mustangs he encountered as “well-shaped and swift,” Puckett noted.

The Corolla herd currently consists of 80-90 horses. Puckett said 120 is the target number, which is the lowest number that enables a genetically healthy herd.

“We try to be as hands-off as possible because we want them to stay wild,” Puckett said, referring to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s management approach.

Occasionally the horse fund’s staff has to euthanize an animal when it’s deemed strictly necessary, she said. The fund’s staff also employ contraceptive techniques with a number of mares so that not every one of them gives birth every year, she said.

Puckett said one of the major challenges for the Corolla herd is encroaching development. The nonprofit seeks to set aside as much land as possible to ensure the horses have adequate habitat, she said.

“Part of what we do at the fund is work to protect and preserve habitat,” Puckett said.

She encouraged people to participate in one of the wild horse tours, explaining that you’re much more likely to see horses if you go with an experienced tour operator and that using the tours helps limit the traffic on Corolla’s beaches.