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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

horses

Once Again, Mother Needs to Find a New Bet




Always Dreaming, mentioned in my last post only because he was the stablemate of the pretty gray Fast and Furious, won the Kentucky Derby by about 12 lengths. And he's a bay (brownish with black points), not by any measure a gray horse.

Fast and Furious put on a good show for a while. He ran a steady 5th place until the final turn. Then he decided to step back and see what was happening in the rear. He ambled across the finish line in 17th place.

As for my other gray--and the one I picked as the winner--Tapwrit came in 6th. Not disgraceful, but he won't make us rich, either. And the others were somewhere in the middle of the pack. Gunnevera was 7th (not bad for an orphan), Gormley was 9th (despite a good jockey). And Patch was  14th.

So there you have my full confession.  You can trust me on a lot of things. I give good advice about writing. And I know a lot about cats. But horses? No. Mama didn't raise me to win at the racetrack.

The Small Animal Residents of South Carolina

I've been thinking about South Carolina a lot lately, as I imagine many of you have because of the terrible storms that have raked it recently.  As the setting for my Civil War books, it has become something of a second home for me, and I frequently find myself defending it for its unique qualities -- not just climate, and glorious antebellum mansions and great seafood, but also its fondness for nature and its animal inhabitants. Does any other state have both a state horse and a state dog? And if so, are they both unique and small breeds? 

I learned for the first time in March of this year that South Carolina is one of only 14 states to have its very own breed of horse -- The Carolina Marsh Tacky. [Tacky, by the way, is the Gullah word for horse.] This rare breed, descended from the mounts of the 16th-century Spanish explorers, was once thought to be extinct. It is still an endangered breed with less than 100 breeding mares in existence.  I can only hope that the small herd of wild  marsh ponies has managed to survive the recent storms.

The animals were popular in South Carolina because of their ability to traverse the marshy ground of the Lowcountry. Francis Marion ("The Swamp Fox") used them in the Revolutionary War, and after the  Civil War they became the favorite horse of the Gullah population of South Carolina because they were small (around 14 hands), cheap, easy to feed, and strong enough to handle the farm work of the Lowcountry. Their numbers decreased in the 20th century because they were no longer needed as plow animals. The had something of a resurgence, however, in World War II, when they were used for beach patrols against Nazi invasion. Today, efforts are underway to restore the breed, and it became the State Horse of South Carolina in 2010.

Every year I get my basic "dog fix" by watching the Westminster Show.  And in 2011, I discovered a new favorite.  One of the six new breeds admitted to the show for the first time was the Boykin Spaniel, the official dog of the State of South Carolina. The Boykin is a small dog (about 40 pounds, max.) and 15 to 18 inches high.  It is bred to be a hunter and agile enough to jump in and out of small swamp boats without upsetting the boat. Since most of my books are set in the Low Country of South Carolina,  I can understand the appeal of this energetic little dog.

I have no real hope that a Boykin will end up as "Best of Show." Newcomers seldom do.  But while the breed is making its mark among usual favorites, I'll be cheering it on.  If  you're looking for me on a Monday or Tuesday night in February, you'll find me wrapped in something fleecy, glued to the TV, and rooting for aSouth Carolina  breed that produces the the cutest pups I've seen in a long time.


What's a Pony's Life Worth?

The following excerpt from a recent newspaper article explains some of the efforts being made to preserve the wild ponies of South Carolina's Lowcountry.  I wish iIknew someone at one of these organizations, so that I could twist an arm or two and get these wonderful people some help.  If you know anyone who can do that, please pass this information along.


It's been a long, difficult season for the marsh ponies of northern Beaufort County, not to mention the humans working to ensure their health. That's why Venaye Reece McGlashan is happy to report: "Everybody is very happy the ponies have made it through the winter."

The feral marsh ponies -- hybrids of Shetland ponies and marsh tackies -- have roamed the tidal flats near Little Horse Island for about five decades. The herd included about 20 animals as recently as this past fall, when when one wandered into a road and was struck and killed by a car. That's when residents banded together and enlisted veterinarians and animal control officials to help protect the horses.

The marsh ponies were corralled. All were vaccinated. Some were gelded and returned to the marsh, others sent to adoptive homes, according to McGlashan, a retired vet who moved to St. Helena Island several years ago.

The volunteers' action thinned the herd to seven adults and one colt, reducing pressure on their primary food source -- marsh grass, which was becoming scarce. The animals that kept wandering away likely were seeking other places to graze, McGlashan said. Now, the marsh grass is showing signs of new growth, although the horses have been challenged by an unusually cold winter.

McGlashan said she and her husband, Dave, made daily trips to the marsh to supplement the ponies' diet with pellet feed and hay. Neighbors have donated $400 to $500 to purchase the feed, which costs about $15 for a 50-pound bag, she said. Others have donated hay.
The horses seem to be doing well, McGlashan said.

McGlashan said that although the population seems to again be stabilized, a more permanent solution is needed.

"This is not a long-term solution. We cannot do this forever," she said.

Pat Snow, a Horse Island resident who has helped collect and account for donations to help the horses, said this past November that she wants a government agency to declare the area a sanctuary for the ponies. Beaufort County Animal Control director Tallulah Trice suggested that might be possible through the county's Rural and Critical Lands Program.

McGlashan said she also is reaching out to the Fripp Audubon Club, which might have an interest in preserving the surroundings, as well. The tidal flats are attract many birds, and there are rookeries and roosting spots nearby, she said.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.islandpacket.com/2015/03/09/3634196_little-horse-island-revisited.html?rh=1

Pony Pictures

These are the pictures of the current herd of marsh ponies or "swamp tackies." They were taken by Susan Trogdon and posted on the Beaufort Online Facebook page.  I use them here with the permission of both.  Enjoy!

Stories of Survival: The Marsh Tackies

Back in March, I wrote a blog post about efforts being made to strengthen a breed of small horses now known as Carolina Swamp Tackies. 


I was fascinated by the story and almost immediately decided to incorporate their story in my work-in-progress, Yankee Reconstructed.  In that book, set in 1868,  one of the Grenville daughters is a horse-lover, and I thought she would be the perfect person to go out and try to work with this elusive breed.  So I posted a couple of pictures, and then put the idea into a side pocket to think about later.

Coincidentally, on the same day I posted my blog, an article appeared in the Lowcountry's local paper "The Island Packet." Jeff Kidd reported that a small herd of "marsh ponies" had made it through this past rough winter. The author started by offering a quick explanation of where the breed came from and what happened to them:

"The herd dates to the late 1950s, when St. Helena Island resident John Henry "Buster" Gay cross-bred Shetland ponies, popular then as a family pet, with marsh tackies, a breed genetically linked to the horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. A population has roamed the area since, at some point becoming feral. They proved quite adaptable, subsisting on what they could graze and learning to find sand paths through the flats to avoid the grip of pluff mud."

Well, today, I have reached a point in my story where Mary Sue Grenville and several members of her family have a reason to travel to St. Helena Island. Mary Sue has a specific purpose in mind -- to find a place where she could start her own horse farm. But that goal depends on whether she can find some of the original Marsh Tacky horses and work to improve them.

As I've been writing, I've had a worrisome thought niggling at the edges of my mind. It warns that some reader somewhere is going to object to a story in which people go out and round up wild horses to tame them into submission for human uses. I've already been taken to task once lately by an animal lover for letting someone shoot two mules in The Road to Frogmore. What to do?

Quite by accident, today's Facebook came to Mary Sue's rescue (and mine, too!). The  website "Beaufort Online" posted an article on the descendants of the Marsh Tackie horses. A reader of the local paper had gone out to see the ponies  of Little Horse island and discovered that while they were surviving the winter, they were in poor shape.  Here's Susan Trogden's story:

"We did our research and kayaked the difficult waters in hopes of seeing them. Our first trip was early last year, and as we got closer, we could see them grazing in the marsh and paying us no attention. We couldn’t help but notice how thin they were, but we thought this was normal since they are wild and live on marsh grass.

"Before: In this photograph from 2014, we see prominent ribs and a lackluster coat. Click to enlarge.


"I snapped a few photos and shared them on my Facebook page. A friend and horse lover, Terry Aitken Long, contacted me privately out of concern for how thin they appeared. She asked if they were the wild ponies and immediately made some calls to get the ball rolling on getting them help. Hay has been delivered occasionally, and they received veterinary treatment last winter.

"Since that first sighting, my friend and I have paddled the waters surrounding this island several times, and we have witnessed their dramatic transformation.  For those of you who don’t feel people should intervene with wildlife preservation, please take a look at the before and after photographs to see what locals have done for these beautiful animals. We no longer see the ribs of poorly-nourished ponies—instead, these photographs show that the animals are a healthy weight with thick coats."

There's much more to her story, and Susan has given me her permission to post the rest of her pictures, but this post has gone on long enough. Stay tuned for the weekend, when I'll post the rest of the story.