A wild horse found choking days ago on the Outer Banks can no longer survive in the wild, according to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
The horse, named Junior, was found with a mysterious lump in his throat, a condition typically associated with the wild horses being given “human food” by well-meaning visitors to the barrier islands.
There are only about 100 horses in the herd on Corolla.
Herd manager Meg Puckett says the horse was saved only because quick-thinking witnesses recognized what was happening and contacted authorities. However, the horse must now live out its life on a rescue farm on the mainland in nearby Grandy, N.C., she said.
“Junior, as we call him, was running around frantically, rolling, and in a lot of discomfort. We thought that he might be colicking, but upon arrival it was clear he was choking,” Puckett said in a Facebook post.
“His ancestors have called that area home for hundreds of years and Junior’s loss from the wild herd is truly devastating. Of course we are happy to have him on the farm, happy that we saved him, and happy knowing he will be safe and comfortable for the rest of his life. But he should be wild.”
Among the reasons he can’t go back into the wild is a fear Junior now will associate people with food. There is also a risk Junior could introduce diseases into the herd, since wild horses are not vaccinated against common horse ailments, Puckett said.
A veterinarian was on hand at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund rescue farm as the blockage cleared Junior’s throat, she said. It remains a mystery exactly what the horse ate and where he got it, she said. The herd has been stranded on the barrier island for 500 years and adapted to a coastal diet that includes “sea oats, coarse grasses, acorns, persimmons, and other native vegetation,” according to Visitcurrituck.com.
“In addition to the choke, he also lacerated his eyes pretty badly when he was rolling in the sand,” Puckett said in the Facebook post. “We are medicating them twice a day and they are starting to look better but without treatment he probably would have had permanent damage to his eyes.”
It’s the second time in 12 months a horse has been found choking on Corolla. In July 2020, a tourist gave an apple to a yearling and it died three days later, the fund reported.
County laws forbid the public to get within 50 feet of the horses, which are wild and prone to kick and bite. It is also illegal to feed them.
“We can’t say for sure if Junior was choking on something he was fed, or on something he got out of the garbage,” Puckett said.
“Either way, the message is the same ..: Anyone who feeds a horse is doing it knowing they could potentially kill that horse.”