Saving Hardy’s horse: Homeschoolers move mascot ‘Spirit’ to horse farm

Published 4:49 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:49 a.m. on Sept. 19 to correct that the horse will stay at Edwards’ farm, and not return to the new Hardy Elementary and with additional comments by IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs.

A group of students have stepped in to save a piece of Hardy Elementary’s history.

For 21 years, a full-sized horse statue frozen in mid-gallop has stood outside the circa-1961 school that’s slated for demolition this fall after its replacement opened recently next door.

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On Sept. 15, roughly a dozen homeschoolers enrolled in Mill Swamp Indian Horses’ youth program, and Mill Swamp founder Steve Edwards, hoisted the horse onto a flatbed trailer destined for Edwards’ farm.

Isle of Wight County Schools has gifted the horse to the Isle of Wight County Historical Society, which in turn gifted it to Mill Swamp Indian Horses. The statue will be repainted and re-erected on the farm.

According to Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, school officials have decided to purchase a new horse statue rather than move the current one to the new school, citing the existing statue’s structural issues.

In 2002, Hardy students began collecting spare change to fund the purchase and repair of the statue, intending it to represent the school’s mustang mascot. The horse, a landmark in Smithfield since at least the 1970s, had fallen from the roof of the former Tastee Freez restaurant in Smithfield during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, according to past reporting by The Smithfield Times.

Three months after Hardy students and the school’s Parent-Teacher Association began their fundraising effort, they’d raised $1,500, enough to buy the horse. By June 2002, it had been re-erected outside the old school and Hardy’s PTA had repainted it.

At the start of the 2002-03 school year, students voted by secret ballot to name the horse “Spirit.”

Spirit was repainted again in 2012 to commemorate Hardy’s 50th anniversary.

According to Edwards, the homeschoolers plan to repaint Spirit to resemble “Croatoan,” the first Corolla mustang Edwards brought to his farm.

Sixteen years ago, Edwards adopted his first Corolla mustangs, an endangered breed that’s lived wild in North Carolina’s Outer Banks since the 16th century, when Spanish colonists brought them over from Europe nearly 100 years before English settlers founded Jamestown. 

Most of Mill Swamp’s Corollas, Edwards said during an interview with the Times earlier this year, either have had health problems or behavioral issues that necessitated their removal from the wild.

Gwaltney Family Farm Inc. is the nonprofit breed conservation corporation that administers the Mill Swamp Indian Horses preservation program.

The farm itself, which has been in Edwards’ family for five generations, dates to 1635 when the original Gwaltney family came to Isle of Wight County.