The Spanish mustang is officially our prize pony

Staff WriterJune 3, 2010 

— Buffeted by hurricanes and harassed by centuries of sand fleas, the humble colonial Spanish mustang has been enshrined as North Carolina's official horse.

The state House voted 116-0 Wednesday to embrace the descendents of steeds said to have been marooned on the Outer Banks by 16th century conquistadors. The Senate approved the bill last week, and Gov. Bev Perdue is expected to sign the measure into law.

The measure was herded through the legislature by one of its most powerful members, Senate leader Marc Basnight.

"They are part of our heritage," said Basnight, a Manteo Democrat whose coastal district includes islands where the horses roam wild. "They are a small horse in stature. They are quick. They are relatively tame, when not in season."

Just to clarify, that's mating season, not hunting season.

Basnight said some persuasive, pint-sized lobbyists pushed for the recognition - students from Shawboro Elementary School in Currituck County.

The mustangs join cardinals, honey bees, Eastern box turtles, gray squirrels and Plott hounds as animals deemed worthy of special status by the state's elected officials. North Carolina also has an official saltwater fish, the channel bass, and an official freshwater fish, the Southern Appalachian brook trout.

Lots of official stuff

Though a lack of competing indigenous horse breeds eased the bill's passage, such legislation is not always without controversy.

In 2001, students from Goldsboro proposed naming the strawberry as the state fruit, winning the backing of the state House. But then students from Basnight's home nominated the native scuppernong grape. In a carefully crafted compromise, legislators ended up designating the strawberry as the state's official red berry, the blueberry as the official blue berry and the scuppernong as the undisputed top fruit.

In honoring the mustang, legislators from the Old North State (one of two official nicknames) followed their colleagues in South Carolina, who on Tuesday named the marsh tacky as their official state steed.

For the record, there were five senators from the Tar Heel State (that's the other official nickname) who voted nay on honoring the nags.

Sen. Richard Stevens said he opposed the bill on principle.

"I've been here eight years, and I've voted against every one of these things," said Stevens, a Cary Republican. "We have more than enough state symbols, but I think the ones we do have should honor the whole state. Pine trees grow throughout the whole state. Cardinals fly throughout the state. But honoring a lily that grows in only one county? That's ridiculous."

It's worth noting that there is no official state barbecue. That's a blood feud that neither Down East lawmakers nor red-slawed representatives of the Piedmont are willing to concede.

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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