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The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

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Meghan Balogh
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The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Meghan Balogh on Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:31 pm

The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink
(All images and text © Meghan Balogh)

This story is about four horses, the last of their kind in the world.

But it is also about one woman’s determination, and her resolve to save a historically-significant herd on the brink of extinction.


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The horses
Great Abaco Island is characteristic of any tropical island —it has beautiful white-sand beaches, tourists, sail boats, leathery fishermen delivering the day's catch to local fish markets. The ocean is clear, the sun is bright.

But Great Abaco is unique in the world of Bahamian island living, because Great Abaco was once home to hundreds of wild horses.

The story of these horses is a long and complicated one, with many intersecting lives and very little certainty aside from the resolve of one woman to save them.

Their origins are most definitely Spanish (as shown by DNA tests), and most likely tracing back to the animals that Christopher Columbus brought with him to Cuba on his second voyage to the New World. They are short and sturdy creatures with the generous mane and tail and roman noses that bely their Spanish blood. They carry the rare splash white gene, and the colours of the herd were breathtaking several decades ago.

In the 1800s the horses were first brought to the island for logging, and were subsequently release upon mechanization of the process. Their numbers reached into the hundreds, but in the 1960s a mass slaughter took place when a child was killed after trying to ride one of the horses.

Though the period in the ‘60s reduced the hundreds to only a handful of remaining animals, the Abaco Colonials, as they have come to be called, replenished their numbers in the following decades. New foals were born, splashed white pintos and bright bays, blacks and war bonnets. 

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Today, there are four Abaco horses left: three mares living in a reserve, and a stallion who lives a solitary life in the wilderness, persistently out of reach of the rescuers who would help him.

The woman
Mim is not young anymore, but she does not know this. She lives on a boat, with two dogs. She has a motorcycle, and an old pickup truck full of tools, horse supplies, and everyday items of life. She is a carpenter, a sailor, a writer, and an artist. Necessity has made her a fence-builder, a horsewoman, a photographer, a firefighter, a tour guide, an activist.


She has a background in philosophy, journalism, audio and visual communication, advertising, and academia. She left behind a career in Manhattan to escape the suffocation of city life, and the freezing temperatures of the New England winters.

“Everything in my past has prepared me for this.”

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“This” is the role of guardian. She is the keeper of Abaco’s horses, on self-appointed watch, hovering on the perimeter of the horses’ lives for two decades. Her arrival in the Abaco Islands was timely, and though in the beginning she thought she was stepping into a childhood fairytale – the time-capsuled Spanish bloodlines of these island-bound mares and stallions bringing to mind the writings of Henry, Farley, and the other great children’s authors who brought wild horses to life in young minds – she discovered them just as a shadow descended over the horses’ future.

Rehor's first sighting in 1992 was of 35 horses, bays, blacks, chestnuts, roans, and pinto combinations of all, standing amidst the tall, thin Caribbean pine trees. She says she cried as she first set eyes on them.

She returned two years later, to find several of the herd missing or dead. She made Abaco her home then.

The romanticism wore off quickly. It fell away from Mim’s perception with the knowledge she acquired, and the deaths she witnessed and recorded, leaving in its wake a dogged determination that continues 20 years later.

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Mim has rescued animals wherever she has been, she says. From her first meeting with the horses, a meeting that overwhelmed her to tears, to the subsequent waning of the herd (with deaths due to poison, pesticides, murder, improper diet) she has known that she will commit her time and energy to the preservation of these horses.

Despite her physical and emotional exhaustion, Mim continues day after day to champion the horses that captured her devotion so many years ago. Akamar, Alnitak, Nunki, and Hadar, are all that are left.

Mim’s island is not Abaco. Her island is a vision for the horses’ sustainable future, and it is surrounded by an ocean of apathy. Her fear of leaving behind a herd with no one to watch out for them is second only to her dread of losing the race against time, losing the last horse.

The race
“It is not the eleventh hour for these horses. It is 11:55.”

Mim was on the verge of defeat, mere months ago. She has been running full throttle for two decades, facing disappointment after disappointment in the course of the horses’ story. In the 1980s, when she arrived on the scene, there were 30-some seemingly healthy horses, fat, beautiful, the colours of the horse rainbow.

But things began to unravel steadily. It became apparent that the horses were beautiful and fat, but not healthy. Four years came and went, and the two bands of mares and stallions, plus young bachelor stallions, failed to reproduce. And then the mysterious deaths began. Horses staggered to the ground, developed breathing problems, died. 

The land where the horses were thriving was an old orange plantation, with lush pastures, plentiful grazing, and seemingly the perfect balance of forest forage and open land. But as their health went downhill, M. and others began to realize that the lush pastures were poisoned with Lantana Sage, which intertwined its tender young shoots with the plants the horses knew were safe to eat.

Also, the farm’s use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which were stored in open-access areas, were adding to the vet necropsy findings: the horses were dying of liver failure.

And finally, the overabundance of farm-type land and near obesity of some of the horses led to instances of founder, a crippling hoof disease that often leads to the need for euthanasia.

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Mim points to dozens of horses who have died in the past 20 years, many of whom she watched being born.

Thus began the reduction of the herd to the five remaining today, during M.’s involvement. She has been instrumental in the acquisition of 3800 acres of land from the Bahamian government for the horses’ use. They have not had access to “the farm” for years now, and the farm itself is not in use any longer.

In 2003 the Bahamian government designated a 3800-acre forest preserve for the horses. 700 acres of the horses’ Bahamian government-designated land has been fenced, but much of that fencing has been lost to continual battles against regular seasonal forest fires.

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There is not enough land fenced today to provide the forage necessary for adequate caloric intake to keep the mares in good flesh. There is not enough money to build more fencing. There is not enough public interest to get beyond keeping the Wild Horses of Abaco foundation afloat day-to-day, paying the labourers who maintain current fence lines, buying grain to keep the mares healthy, feeding the dogs who guard the solar panels that power the fence, repairing foundation vehicles and maintaining the old logging roads that let them access the far reaches of the property.

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And there is not enough time to hope that things will fall into place. They must be forced into place now, or they will be in place never.

The mares are 16, 16, and 13. The one stallion that M. and Doc (the vet) can locate is 20. In the near future Hadar, the stallion, will be tranquilized and brought into the fenced area to be with the mares, and everyone involved is holding their breath to see if he will do his job. He has been living in a different area for years…the reasons why are a long story, just like everything to do with the herd’s history.

Pregnancies are the first step. Herd sustainability, health, and safety are the next steps -- more like leaps that overwhelm Mim and she forces herself to focus on the tasks at hand, instead of worrying about the huge endeavours that must occur in the future.

As she describes it, this is the culmination of the past, and the Abaco Colonial Horse (as bestowed upon the breed by equine genetic researchers at universities in the US and Germany) is on the brink of extinction, the edge of the cliff.

"Not only do we have a problem of having gotten them back into a clean environment, they may be so damaged that we cannot bring them back," she says. "But we are still hopeful. We have three mares, two of them look very very healthy, and we do have a stallion, and we may have another stallion out there.

"We're going to try. Until the last one stops breathing."

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To learn more about the wild horses of Abaco, and the woman who is trying to save them, or to donate, please visit: abacohorses.com, facebook.com/abacohorses, and youtube.com/arkwild.


Meghan Balogh is a journalist and photographer living and working in eastern Ontario, Canada. Contact her at meghan.balogh (at) gmail (dot) com.
Last edited by Meghan Balogh on Sat Jan 26, 2013 1:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Michelle Twohig
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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Michelle Twohig on Fri Jan 25, 2013 11:21 pm

Thank you, Meghan! Beautiful job. So heartbreaking. So compelling. I found some links for more information, to spread the word and get donations...the video on the web site shows the beautiful variation in color within the strain. Amazing black and white patterns.

Web site: http://arkwild.org/blog/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/abacohorses
YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/arkwild
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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Meghan Balogh on Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:45 am

Thank you so much Michelle, I had intended to include that information.

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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Michelle Twohig on Sat Jan 26, 2013 2:05 am

I was just so taken with the story and Mim's devotion to the cause. Thank you so much for documenting it here.
:: All children are born artists—the problem is to remain one as we grow up :: Picasso

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Carol Lynn Coronios
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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Carol Lynn Coronios on Mon Jan 28, 2013 12:47 pm

Wow. I'll try to get this info out to the regional Paso Fino people, since it sounds as though these ACHs may be distant relatives. And, of course, to others through my FB page.

God bless Mim.

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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Bev Pettit on Wed May 22, 2013 4:32 pm

thank you for researching and posting this story Meghan. Thank god for people like Mim. I will also spread the story to whomever I can. She is a wonderfully dedicated person. It's people like Mim that make a difference in all of our lives.
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Re: The Eleventh Hour: a herd on the brink

Postby Barb Young on Thu May 23, 2013 7:49 am

This is wonderful Meghan. I sure hope it helps!
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