Wild horses will ride out Dorian, as they have for centuries
By ALEX HORTON | The Washington Post | Published: September 5, 2019
The hurricane with no name threshed across the Atlantic coast in mid-September 1713, ripping at tobacco crops and sending panicked colonists inland, where the storm's destructive power found them. "Ships were drove from their anchors far within land, particularly a sloop in North Carolina was drove three miles over marshes into the woods," one observer wrote.
By then, the Spanish mustangs had already made a home on North Carolina's thin, boomerang-shaped Outer Banks for two centuries, passing down cyclone-survival skills to foals for generations that have spanned the state's earliest European settlements.
And now, with Hurricane Dorian whipping a path toward the barrier islands, residents and tourists have been advised to evacuate and seek shelter.
But the horses will stay and ride it out like they have since the 16th century — with their "butts to the wind," the Corolla Wild Horse Fund said.
"They go to high ground, under the sturdy live oak trees to ride the storm out," said the nonprofit group, which helps manage and conserve the few hundred horses that roam the extreme northern and southern edges of the nearly 200-mile stretch of sand-swept barrier islands.
A herd manager will remain on a rescue ranch on the northern edge of the island in Corolla, the group said, after stocking up on hay, grain and water, and ID tags braided into their manes will help track them should they break free.
Origin legends for the mustangs have persisted nearly as long as they have found a home on the islands and thrived in the salty marsh.
They are thought to be descendants of horses that swam ashore after the shipwrecks that ringed the Outer Banks with such frequency that it has been called "the Graveyard of the Atlantic."
Others believe they were simply abandoned by the Spaniards after various violent clashes with Native Americans and English settlers.
In 2010, the Spanish mustang became the state horse of North Carolina, even as conservationists feared their future was far from certain.
Their numbers, once in the thousands, have been whittled down to a few hundred, and they are imperiled by disease and human expansion. But since they are nonnative species, they don't meet some criteria for federal endangered-animal protection, CBS News reported.
In short: The wild mustangs may not survive another five centuries. But if they ever disappear, it's unlikely that a hurricane will be the culprit.