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King George County couple turn their horse farm into a menagerie with exotic animals
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By CATHY DYSON
Afew years ago, Wilma Ward heard that someone in King George County was painting
She and her husband, Charlie, have been around horses all their lives. They even met at a horse show.
But the Wards never needed to change the color of their horses to get that exotic feeling.
They have the real thing.
Since the couple got their first zebra nine years ago, they've turned their horse farm off State Route 3 into a menagerie that includes five adult zebras, a yearling that Charlie will try to break for riding and a dromedary camel named Lemac ("camel" spelled backward).
As much as the Wards enjoy the equines they grew up with, they've developed a devotion to the exotics.
"Trust me, I'd give up all the horses before I'd give up the zebras," Wilma said. "When they bond with you and love you, it's forever."
As she talked, Zadonia, the zebra who turned 1 on Thursday, nuzzled against Wilma and nipped at her scrunchie, trying to pull it from her ponytail.
Zadonia continued to cuddle until Hollie, the Australian shepherd, barked when a strange car entered the driveway.
The sound alarmed the zebra. She dashed away, headed for the safety of her stall.
"Their first instinct is survival," Wilma said.
"Like any wild animal, if something moves and scares them, they bolt," Charlie added.
KIDS AND ANIMALS
The Wards have full-time jobs away from their 10-acre farm. She's a financial administrative assistant for King George County schools, and he has taught building trades at King George High School since 1998.
Every day, they get up at 4:15 a.m. to clean stalls and feed animals. During the summer, Charlie farms the 150 acres the couple rents to raise hay and grain for the herds.
The Wards also have led the King George 4-H Horse and Pony Club for 21 years and have taught riding lessons using the two dozen horses at the farm.
"We wouldn't have dreamed of trying to mess with zebras if we hadn't had horses," Wilma said.
Charlie always liked zebras, and enjoyed a challenge, so they bought a male first to see if they could handle a horse of a different color.
FAMILY: Charlie and Wilma Ward have two grown sons, Charlie Jr. and David, and two grandchildren, Carlos, 8, and Kaylee, 4. Their grandchildren will be the fourth generation of their family to graduate from King George High School. ANNIVERSARY: The Wards will celebrate 37 years of marriage on Thursday, the same day Zadonia the zebra turns 1. IN THEIR WILL: Camels can live up to 65 years, so the Wards already have noted that Lemac will go to one of their sons. IN THE BARN, which the Wards built, are signs announcing "Ward for Treasurer." Wilma ran unsuccessfully for the office in 1995. NO PERMITS or special licenses are needed to raise exotic animals unless the Wards plan to charge admission to see them. WHEN THEY TAKE the zebras or camels out in public, they ask for a donation, which they give to a local family in need.