Life is Easy for Raymond the Outer Banks Mule
The rains came down and the winds from the nor’easter howled but Raymond was snug in his shelter away from the storm. It was the first time in the mule’s 20 years that he had shelter from the elements, and he was relishing every minute of the experience.
Raymond’s life changed drastically in late September 2019 when he was moved from the beach to a rescue farm in Grandy by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. The Fund’s decision to move him was based on his worsening laminitis which Herd Manager Meg Puckett says would certainly have killed him in a few days if they had not intervened.
The mule, the product of a domestic donkey that escaped from a petting zoo in Carova and a wild mare, lived in the wild his entire life. He acted like a stallion, leading and protecting groups of mares from wild stallions in the herd. In the wild, mules normally live to their mid-20s but in captivity, they can live to their 40s.
He always had problems with his hooves because they grew abnormally and made it difficult for him to walk. Puckett said, “For domestic animals, hooves would normally be trimmed regularly. For Raymond, they would curl up making it very painful for him to walk.”
She explained that the bone in the foot starts to turn like a corkscrew. “It’s not curable but it’s manageable.” Several years ago, she said, a vet sedated him in the field and trimmed his feet. The wild horses in the herd adapted to the local conditions since their arrival with the Spanish, but Raymond was a first-generation wild mule and his hooves had not adapted to this environment.
Hurricane Dorian proved to be the catalyst for the decision to move Raymond. The herd had been displaced from Swan Beach by the hurricane’s flooding. They moved south and crossed a dilapidated fence which was easily breached at low tide. They began wandering the paved roads and neighborhoods of Corolla. CWHF members tried unsuccessfully to keep the horses out by doing temporary repairs to the fence and chasing them away at night.
After 10 days on the asphalt, Raymond’s lameness had reached a crisis point which volunteers could see and the Fund’s vet said he needed special care. At that point, CWHF members arranged to move him to his retirement home in Grandy.
When he first arrived at the farm, Raymond was sedated while standing, and a vet x-rayed his feet and trimmed the hooves while looking at the x-rays. He also had an infection in his mouth and poor teeth which had to be treated with antibiotics.
Puckett said he is fed a special diet because of his teeth. “We buy hay that is second cutting because it is easier to chew and digest,” she said. He is also given a daily vitamin supplement. He eats about 25 pounds of hay each day. During the winter, it costs about $400 for a 10 day supply of that hay.
Raymond’s inability to get along with other horses meant that he had to be kept in a pasture by himself, but he needed a new maximum-security enclosure to prevent his escape. “We learned that if he could fit his head through something (a fence rail, the stall partitions) he would be able to escape,” Puckett said. “We built him a small paddock off the back of the barn with 12-foot metal fence panels wrapped in tarps. He settled down after the first day and seemed content with his little area.”
The group began constructing a new one-acre pen using zoo specifications. It features thick wooden posts held in place by concrete, heavy-gauge wire fencing, and two lines of electrified rope. It is divided into two sections so it could be used for another horse if needed and has a small shelter from the elements.
Not long after his arrival, Puckett received a call about a goat that had wandered into a yard in northern Currituck. The homeowner said the goat wasn’t very friendly and wondered if the fund could help. Puckett hitched up her trailer and traveled to bring the goat to the farm. She really wasn’t sure if Sonny would be a good companion for Raymond because the goat was aggressive with horses.
“When the goat arrived, Raymond began to make aggressive moves toward him and Sonny simply stared him down,” she said. “Sonny stamped his feet and they have been pen companions ever since. They argue with each other and Raymond sometimes kicks Sonny but they co-exist well.”
In the six months since his arrival, Puckett says Raymond has decompressed and is “pretty friendly” to his caretakers, even accepting a halter. She says he is one of the nicest of the 18 animals currently cared for on the farm, most of whom are not adoptable.
Puckett has managed the herd for four and a half years but has been around horses all her life. “The Corolla horses were the first horses I ever saw,” she says.
The Corolla herd currently has 90-100 horses based on aerial surveys as well as volunteer spotters who track their locations. DNA testing has confirmed that they have Spanish markers and are the only herd in the world descended from the stock first brought to the Americas by the Spanish 500 years ago. This herd has remained more isolated than other wild horses like the ponies found at Chincoteague, Virginia.
The CWHF began in the early 80s when drivers on the newly paved road between Duck and Corolla caused twenty horse fatalities. The founders established a “horse sanctuary” from the Virginia border south to Corolla. The fund is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity and accepts donations for the support of the horses. Donations may be made to the fund through corollawildhorses.com.
Jane Elfring, a freelance writer and photographer, lives in Elizabeth City. She writes about the history and life in Northeastern North Carolina.