Mystery of nomadic old horse roaming Outer Banks leads to heartwarming discovery

An Outer Banks mystery involving a tenderhearted old horse has been solved, and it’s either heartwarming or heartbreaking, depending on your perspective.

The horse is a past-her-prime mare named Hazel, who has been going missing from her harem family for weeks at a time on Corolla.

Corolla herd manager Meg Puckett says it was never clear what Hazel up to — until last week.

This is elder wild horse Hazel (left) and spring foal Bridget, just after they got up from their nap.
This is elder wild horse Hazel (left) and spring foal Bridget, just after they got up from their nap.

The puzzle was coincidentally solved when Puckett learned another horse was missing, a foal named Bridget born on April 23 to a different harem.

“I came across Bridget’s mom, sister, and dad but there was no sign of Bridget,” Puckett wrote on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund Facebook.

“Sat there for a minute trying not to panic when I noticed that about 100 ft away from the main group there was a fourth horse lying down. As I watched, the horse (it was Hazel) rolled and stood up, and then up popped Bridget! She and Hazel had been napping together while the rest of the group grazed.”

It then dawned on Puckett that elderly Hazel has been “harem hopping” for that particular reason.

“She’s going to visit the babies!” Puckett said on Facebook. “Hazel did the same thing after Allejandra was born last fall, and has visited with Betsy this spring too. There is no question that these horses form lifelong bonds with each other, have unique personalities, and communicate between the different harems.”

As Puckett watched, she also realized Hazel was actually standing guard over the foal. “What a sweet moment to witness.” she said.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is in the midst of a DNA project that is determining the ages of the herd members and how they are related to each other. The study intends to eventually trace the herd’s origins, which historians believe is linked to Spanish explorers who visited the islands in the 16th Century.

It is believed Hazel is among the oldest in the herd, Puckett told McClatchy News.

“We have identified one offspring (of Hazel) so far, a mare in her late teens. That would make Hazel at least 22-25 years old,” Puckett said.

“Not sure how many total foals she’s had over the years yet, but assuming it was quite a few. It’s not entirely unusual for the mares to switch harems from time to time, but not like Hazel does. She is very independent!”