We are down to one horse: a mare, 20-year-old Nunki, a bay with four white socks. We have hope that there could still be a lone stallion, the pinto Capella, roaming the wilderness somewhere. But he has not been seen in many years and his body has never been discovered.
Historically, the horses are between 13 and 13 and a half hands tall and weigh from 850 to 1000 lbs.
Nunki once roamed freely in 600 acres of pine forest that grows on gentle petrified sand dune hills. Due to the influx of poisonous, invasive plants which have killed horses, the horses were restricted from outside pastures and moved into the 3,800 acre Preserve. Nunki is being fed fresh cut grass, Nutrina senior, alfalfa nuggets and an herbal supplement. She is getting over a long session with diarrhea caused by prescription of antibiotics for a cut, which wiped out her gut flora.
One day we hope to prepare new, clean pastures. There are at least a dozen water holes in the fenced area.
The horses eat: Shepherds needle, cow grass, various other grasses, Thatch Palms (dried leaves, green leaves and blossoms), Poison Wood after a fire when the oil has been burned away from it, small portions of Senna, at least one leguminous vine, briar, thistle, Amaranth and other plants not yet identified.
Mares have not foaled since Hurricane Floyd (1999) when the forest was so badly damaged they spent full time on a nearby citrus farm where they were exposed to a broad range of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers). They grazed full time on over rich feed, became obese and developed hoof problems. It is not known (and probably never will be) if the foot problems were the result of the obesity, the over rich diet, or the chemicals. Likely a combination of all factors produced the deadly results.
Similarly, the lack of reproduction is likely a result of several factors; the horses foaled successfully and consistently before their extended time on the farm. While they had other problems before they were brought into the Preserve, when they were able to ‘commute’ between forest and farm (before the hurricane) they had no reproductive problems.
Two deaths during the summer of 2009, Mare Bellatrix II and Stallion Mimosa, have been attributed to accidental ingestion of poisonous Lantana Sage. The death of Achernar in 2010 had some similarities but no necropsy was possible. The nearby farm was clear cut and left fallow and has been invaded by Brazilian Pepper and the sage. The horses know to not eat the sage but it became so thick in the pastures that we have assumed they ate it by accident and we have closed the pastures.
The horses’ origins are open to debate, with few facts available but since the horses were imported from Cuba for logging work, and Columbus once had two horse farms in Cuba, and since the horses’ DNA very specifically indicates Spanish Colonial, their lineage seems fairly certain. When the horses were slaughtered nearly to extinction in the late 1960s, the gene pool became so small that they now all are genetically very similar.
The horses in Cuba today in no way resemble ours. DNA work is not available for Cuban horses.
Barbs? Colonial Spanish? Initially, we were quite certain that we had Barbs. However, the terminology is not clear and definitions are open to debate. It was thought that when the Moors invaded Spain they upgraded the Spanish Horse with their Barb horses. Recent research and thought indicate that the reverse may be true: The Moors found the Spanish horse superior and upgraded their Barbs. No matter what they are named, our horses show Spanish Colonial, and are much closer to the Colonial than the derivative Paso Fino.
Why do we call them wild?
When most people think of wild horses they think of flying manes and tails and pounding hooves. These are signs of panic, not wildness. Many of our visitors have said they have more trouble being close enough to their own horses in pasture to take pictures than they do with ours. Our horses are wild because even without the protective fence and our presence, they would still survive (once the reproductive problems are solved). They don’t need us, they are in no way domesticated. They are feral, the preferable word.
Because they are wild they are used to their diet, but it is not rich and they need a lot of it (20 lbs. a day) to stay healthy. We’ve had to add grain supplement because their pastures have had to be closed. Still, they remain independent. Their lives are tranquil and generally predictable.
We have about five miles of electric fence around the Preserve and it takes constant maintenance to keep it weed free. We would like to fence in more area, but at this time we are limited to two workmen and often have trouble paying them.
Power on the Preserve is from a solar array (except for a small propane stove and refrigerator). A composting toilet deals with waste and cannot contaminate the water supply. Our supplies and facilities are in 20’ steel shipping containers. We use VHF radios for on Preserve communications and cell phones for emergencies.
We have learned that fire is Not necessary for the health of the forest. At least, not when the fires are deliberately set annually by humans. Pine cones fall to the ground and respond to humidity, opening on dry days, closing on damp days, until the seeds are released. Fire is not needed to make the cones open. Brush can and does build up, bracken grows rampant. New growth can be choked off. Burns every five or ten years would be more normal. At this time, orchids once seen in the forest on the Preserve have been completely burned out. In the ‘spring of 2007 a fire raged around and through the Preserve for five weeks. We lost a great deal of fence. Every winter, if fronts do not bring rain, fires set by humans burn all over the island.
We receive NO financial assistance from the Government of the Bahamas. We survive solely on the funds we raise through this web site, visits from tourists, and occasional grants and donations. All funds go directly to pay the two men who maintain the Preserve, to buy gas for the truck, diesel for the tractor, and to pay for all repairs and new equipment when we can afford it.
Please join us in our work to keep these wonderful horses alive, and to expand the sanctuary into a haven for other abandoned and abused animals. And help us make it a haven for people too.