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