Outer Banks wild horse dies after drinking contaminated water

Young Taco died after becoming ill from contaminated water. [Corolla Wild Horse Fund photo]

We are deeply saddened to announce the loss of a young stallion this week. Taco, as he was affectionately known, was one of the more recognizable horses in the herd. He stood out from the crowd due to a large lump that had been on his hip since he was about two years old.

The lump had nothing to do with his death (it was a sterile abscess that never impacted his quality of life, and was monitored closely and regularly by our vet), but most people knew Taco because of it. Our vet has determined that Taco died from consuming contaminated water. He is the fourth horse in the last two years that we’ve lost due to bacteria or other contaminants in the water.

Taco was only eight years old, and over the summer he managed to steal a large group of mares from another stallion. We were so hopeful that he would produce some offspring; perhaps he still will…there’s always a chance one of those mares is pregnant, though most of them are quite aged so it’s unlikely. Taco’s dam was Kitty Hawk, who lives on the rescue farm in Grandy (she was part of the group removed in 2018 for habitually going into False Cape State Park in Virginia), and his sire was Flint, who is still alive in the wild. Flint was the sire of Danny, who we tragically lost to choking on an apple in 2020, and also Sebastian, who was born last year and is growing up into a lovely young stallion. The loss of Taco’s genetics from the herd is truly devastating.

We have collected water from various locations in Taco’s territory, and will send it out for testing next week. This will give us an idea of the quality of the water, and will indicate the presence of contaminants like e. Coli and salmonella. Unfortunately there is not much we can do to rid the water of bacteria, but having this information on hand at least gives us an idea of which areas might be more problematic than others. It allows us to keep an eye on the horses in those areas for signs of intestinal distress or other issues. Thankfully this week we have seen all of the horses Taco has recently been associated with and they all seem fine. We are really hoping for an extended, solid freeze this winter.

Every single loss is a tragedy when you have such a small population to begin with, but some hit a bit harder than others. Taco had such a big personality, and so many people became attached to him and helped us keep a constant eye on him. My phone’s predictive text would start filling in Taco’s story automatically because we received so many messages about him. He was a permanent member of our staff’s “make sure you put eyes on this horse today” list, and it will take some time for us to break that habit. Maybe we will never stop looking for him; it’s hard to believe he’s gone.

Rest free and easy, Taco.

About Meg Puckett 35 Articles
Meg Puckett is the herd manager for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund