Hardy horse gets new lease on life at Mill Swamp

Published 6:21 pm Monday, June 3, 2024

Mill Swamp Indian Horses held a ceremony on June 1 to dedicate the newly refurbished horse statue that once stood at the circa-1961 Hardy Elementary School. Isle of Wight County Schools donated the statue of “Spirit,” named by former Hardy students in 2002, to the Isle of Wight County Historical Society in 2023, which then gifted the statue to the Gwaltney Frontier Farm Education Foundation that oversees Mill Swamp’s horsemanship program.

Roughly a dozen homeschoolers enrolled in Mill Swamp’s youth program repainted the originally white horse statue to resemble a brown Corolla horse, an endangered Spanish breed that’s lived wild in North Carolina’s Outer Banks since the 16th century. Mill Swamp was founded 16 years ago, originally as a Corolla breed conservation program for mustangs that due to health or behavioral issues had to be removed from the wild.

The horse statue has been a landmark in the Smithfield area for half a century. In the 1970s, it was painted to resemble an Appaloosa stallion and placed atop a tack shop behind the former Tastee Freez restaurant until it fell from the roof during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. In 2002, the students and Hardy Parent-Teacher Association collected $1,500 to purchase the horse as a mascot for the Hardy Mustangs.

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More than 50 people, including IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs and Historical Society President Carolyn Keen, attended the dedication ceremony. Steve Edwards, founder of Mill Swamp Indian Horses, dressed in period clothing and talked with the audience about what it was like to live in this area nearly 400 years ago, giving a historical presentation on Thomas Gwaltney from 1635 with his Spanish horse.