|The water was like ice, but I couldn't leave without dipping my toes in! (SmartPak sandles anyone?)|
|This guy was huge and he kept giving me the eye... the locals said he'll catch seagulls and take them under water!|
|Can you hear the waves crashing into the shore?|
|The Laughing Gulls were everywhere!|
The exact origin of the Shackleford Horses is a mystery, but it seems the most accepted version of the story is that Spanish Mustangs swam ashore from wrecked ships nearly 400 years ago. The English colonists also had Spanish Horses that could have been left behind when their attempts to colonize the area failed. They rode mostly stallions, but it is said that Christopher Columbus also brought mares to breed with the stallions so the soldiers would have mounts.
Either way, the horses are the direct descendants of a 400 year old line of Spanish Horses that are linked by the specific genetic marker, Q-ac. This marker is easily lost through genetic drift, and has only been documented in Puerto Rican Paso Finos, the isolated mustang population of Montana's Pryor Mountains, and the horses of Shackleford Banks.
These "banker ponies" (as some call them) are more like feral ponies than wild horses, but they're unique and rich with history. They're also federally protected and rounded up frequently to be checked for EIA. Some of the mares are also given birth control (Porcine Zonae Pellucidae), and occasionally there are foals available for adoption.
Another interesting fact about these ponies is the stallions are territorial. Stallions establish territories and defend them from other stallions, which is a behavior not known to occur in equine populations anywhere else in the world.
I believe the ferry guide said there are 114 horses on the island. As luck would have it, I only managed to find two of them. The first pony is a mare, and the second is a stallion. Well, I assume he's a stallion because I haven't read anything about the male horses being gelded.
I was hoping to see more ponies, but I didn't figure I could cover 2,500 acres in a few hours. I'm just glad I was able to see the two of them. :)