KBR Wild Horse and Burro Information Sheet


By Carolyn Mason

Background: In 1996, 1997, and 1998, the National Park Service contracted for wild horse roundups at Shackleford Banks, one of the barrier islands in the chain called the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Shackleford is also part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO). In 1996 blood samples taken at the roundup identified in apparent carriers of the EIA virus in the herd, resulting in seventy six horses (41% of the herd) being killed. Subsequent to the next two roundups and testing, a total of eight more wild horses were removed from the island. In 1999, CALO was not funded to conduct another roundup at Shackleford.

The directors of the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc., were convinced that waiting until the year 2000, when CALO would be funded to re-test the horses, was not acceptable. If there was still a positive horse on the island, the herd was at risk for more positives to appear during the additional year's delay: Based on that conviction, Foundation directors met with the Superintendent of CALO and proposed that the Foundation and about sixty of its volunteers conduct a roundup of the wild horses. The Foundation requested the assistance of CALO personnel to transport equipment, hay, fencing, and some of the volunteers, and for the use of hand-held radios, water pumps, etc. The Superintendent agreed, and dates were set. The Foundation invited Dr. Charles Issel, from the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, who planned to drive down for the roundup. Due to schedule conflicts of seashore personnel, the dates had to be moved ahead a week, so the CALO Superintendent provided a plane ticket for Dr. Issel in order to get him here and back in time to meet some of his other obligations.

On Saturday, 16 January 1999, volunteer walkers and ATV drivers gathered at the west end of Shackleford Banks, ready to start a sweep down the length of the island to roundup the population of wild horses. Included were Foundation for Shackleford Horses directors, associates and about thirty of the volunteers; National Park Service personnel, including Superintendent Karren Brown; Dr. Charles Issel; and five Army Special Forces veterinary personnel, also volunteers. Each walker carded a bamboo reed with a small plastic bag tied on the end. The reeds were to make our arms look "longer". The walkers formed a line that thinly stretched from side to side of the island, beginning at the western end of Shackleford, at Beaufort Inlet.

Some of the walkers gathered at the western end of Shackleford ready to get started.
(The first day was cold!)

Looking over maps of the Island. Boat crew getting ready

I climbed onto an ATV for the first time in my life. The driver was Dallas Willis, who planned and led the entire roundup. When Dallas headed at full speed across the small hills and flats at the inlet on the west end, I grabbed the metal bars behind me, closed my eyes, and fleetingly thought I was about to die; however, it soon became apparent that my driver was very skilled, and within a few minutes, I had relaxed and just rolled with the flow and hung on tight. The half dozen ATVs spread out in a side to side pattern as had the walkers, and the slow drive toward the east began. I had a hand-held communications radio and was to look for horses that might be hiding or turning back. During the first wave of walkers and ATVs making its slow way from west to east, we saw very few horses. Periodically, from about a half mile ahead, a horse or two would look back at us over the top of a dune then turn and disappear. But the horses knew that the ATVs and all those people were back there, and they stayed well ahead of us as they moved eastward. When we were within a couple of miles of the holding pens, Dallas radioed ahead to let the crew know we were bringing in horses. This alerted the people at the ends of the leads to the pen to be on the lookout. We were told that there were already horses in the pens, and the people were ready for those horses moving just ahead of us.

The Stallion, Stanley, leads his horses through the high dunes as they head east, well ahead of the ATVs and the large group of walkers.

On her way east a mare stops for a bite of winter grass. Her foal seems to have spotted the hidden photographer.

When we arrived at the pens, about 68 horses (60%) were already in the holding areas. One black stallion, Dino, had come charging down the ocean beach with his herd, and upon seeing the volunteers standing between the end of the ocean- ide lead and the ocean (it was low tide), he simply took to the breakers and lead his group around the people posted at the leads. Their manes flying and their hooves sending up sea spray, the horses continued eastward. We took a snack and water break, then headed to the eastern end of the island to make a sweep. In a couple of hours, fourteen more eastern horses were brought in.

The walkers, who ranged in age from teens to mid-fifties, did an outstanding job. It is approximately six to seven miles from Beaufort Inlet at the western end of Shackleford to the pens near the east; it is three miles from the eastern end to the pens. Those miles are nearly doubled if you consider that these folks were climbing up and down dune after dune.., some of them thirty feet high, and much of the walking was in sand. Walking through knee-deep bogs and head high cattails and marshes is also extremely energy draining; but the volunteers were very dedicated and determined, and made the roundup a success.

On Sunday, 17 January, walkers and ATVs were positioned on the eastern end of the island. The eastern end of Shackleford is predominately much lower than the western end, with a large marsh and mud flat area referred to by biologists as the "daily submerge". This area is so named because of the influx and outgo of daily tides, which alternately submerge it or drain it. The submerge begins at the eastern tip of Shackleford, and continues westward for nearly a mile. There the elevation rises slightly and the submerge gives way to a great marsh of head-high needle-tipped grasses with narrow, deep drainage creeks that transverse it. This low area divides the east end into two peninsulas; a narrow peninsula between the submerge and Back Sound on the north, and a much wider peninsula between the submerge and the ocean on the south. There are some wax myrtle and pine "thickets" in this area, too.

Walkers (in this environment, "sloggers and waders" is a more accurate description) and an ATV were placed on the small peninsula; more walkers and most of the ATVs were placed on the larger peninsula between the submerge and the ocean. The drive began, and the eastern horses were herded to the pens, as were Dino and his sea-going herd. In the walk toward the pens, I passed him three times. Each time, I was walking west, and he was running east! He was cutting back, making gradually more westward circles each time. Finally, the stallion made his smooth, if unwilling, entrance into the holding pens, where he collected his mares and youngsters and stood guard over them.

One unique feature of the Shackleford horses is that they are territorial. Stallions establish territories and defend them from other stallions. Dr. Dan Rubenstein, Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, has been studying the behavior of the horses for nearly twenty years. He has published a number of interesting and informative papers as the result of his studies. Dr. Rubenstein and his graduate students come down each summer and fall to continue the studies, to complete an annual census of the population, and to name the new foals. The information that Dr. Rubenstein and one of his graduate students, Cassandra Nunez, have graciously shared with us has been invaluable in documenting the lives and activities of these wild horses.

Some of the walkers and drivers take a break near the pens. They have just walked over six miles

Inside the pens the stallion, Winston, watches as some of his group gather around a pile of hay.
On Monday 18 January, the remaining walkers and the ATV drivers headed once again to the West. The horses remaining were the most suspicious and wily of the population, and the entire day was spent bringing in a few horses at the time, often creeping along behind a mare and foal who decided to stop running and stroll casually down the ocean shore. It soon became apparent that bringing reluctant horses down the Back Sound side of the island was not going to be productive. The maritime forest and the major ponds and bogs are on that side of the island, and the horses had too many opportunities to dart into those areas to escape their "game but tiring" pursuers. Also, the ATVs were unable to operate in the swamp and bog areas.

As the day progressed, the effort began to concentrate on having the walkers sweep those areas in an oceanward move to push the horses out of the forest and into the high dune area so that the ATVs could then get behind them and head toward the ocean beach. Once on the beach, the drive picked up speed, as the wild ones made a speedy dash down the flat beach toward the east. There were some escapes though. Some of the ATVs were capable of 34 miles per hour speeds, but one stallion in particular could leave them in his dust, and cut back to the left back into the dunes, then back into the maritime forest. From there he turned west, and went back toward his territory. At the end of the day, all but a half dozen west end horses were safely in the capture pens. Two of the hold outs were stallions. "Lenon", a major herd stallion, had been out running and evading the ATVs for a couple of days. "Slash", a very quick young stallion, had been playing hide-and-seek in and out of the dunes and the maritime forest. These two could be spotted periodically on high dunes at the edge of the forest as they watched the drivers and walkers. As soon as any move was made in their directions, they would whirl and disappear back into the trees. All in all the day ended with over 90% of the horses captured.

The stallion, Lenon, fastest thing on four legs at Shackleford!

Two or three of the Foundation directors stayed on Shackleford each night, in a tent a few yards from the pens. On Monday night, I was in my sleeping bag and half asleep, when my eyes snapped open at what I thought was the sound of hoofbeats. Listening, I heard nothing else for a couple of minutes. Then, I heard a whinny that sounded very close to the tent. I woke the other tent occupant, Margaret Willis, and told her what I heard. Since we were so close to the corral, she speculated that the sounds came from the horses in the nearest pen. I heard a nearby whinny again. This time, I grabbed a flashlight and looked out the tent flap. A horse was looking back, and he wasn't inside the pent We grabbed our shoes and went outside to open the gate to the outermost enclosure, which contained no horses, so that he could get in. The next morning the horse, a yearling colt named Dale, was happily munching hay, and standing beside his dam who was just across the inner fence from him. The youngster had discovered that he was alone, and didn't like it; so under cover of darkness, he had come investigating, and found his herd.

At this point there was one more horse out, the young stallion, Slash

Tuesday, 19 January: The group gathered at the pen area, awaiting a small spotter plane to arrive from Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The ground crew had radios, and would be able to communicate with the pilot. The decision was made to have the first fly-over encompass the eastern end, to search for any horses that may have eluded roundup on Sunday. Two young bachelor males were spotted, and within seventeen minutes, herders had them in the capture pen, where they began whinnying to their acquaintances.

It should be made plain here that at no time were horses "chased" by ] the plane. The pilot simply made great, slow circles over the island, concentrating on areas of heavy vegetation, to spot locations of hiding horses and to radio the walkers and ATV drivers whether they should move forward, backward, right, left or just stop and wait. In observing (and videotaping) the horses, I have found that the wild horses rarely lift their heads from grazing when light planes fly over. As there is a small airport a couple of miles away in Beaufort, plane overflight is not an unusual phenomenon to these horses. It is helicopters, I have observed, that cause them to jerk up their heads and move quickly and nervously away.

Once more to the westward. Two stallions, Lenon and Slash, were still out. Lenon was spotted first, standing on a high dune near the inlet and surveying the situation. This horse is a dark bay with a white blaze that ends in a pointed V above his nostrils. Solidly built and strong, he had already given the herders a sampling of his speed, agility, stamina and horse sense. Anita Kimball and I had been dropped off near the center of the island at Whale Creek Bay so that we could climb the first of the high dunes at the line where the island's elevation begins to lower, and could radio in if we saw horses. Sprawled out on the dune on our stomachs, we listened to the west-end activity on our hand-held radio. For a couple of hours, Lenon and Slash flitted in and out of woods, marshes, and ponds; ran along the sound-side shore (which brought a radio call from my husband, who was spotting from his boat), then faded back into the forest, only to pop out later at the other side of the forest at the dune line.

Trish Hutchins and Anita Kimball walking two "younguns" into the inner pen.

Continue to Part 2

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