March 26, 2010

A tale of two Banker ponies


It was a week of beginnings and endings for the Banker ponies of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

The first milestone came on Monday, one of the first warm spring days of the year, when Ocracokers celebrated the birth of a new Banker pony in the island’s herd at the Pony Pen.

The foal was named Paloma, which means dove in Spanish, by children at Ocracoke School.

Standing on her long but spindly legs, little Paloma posed next to her mother, Spirit, for a photo op at the Ocracoke Pony Pen.

Just two days later, Hatteras islanders bade farewell to one of the two Banker ponies left on this island.

Ginger, the Banker pony raised by the late Dale Burrus and whose care was inherited by Sue Garrett after Dale’s death two years ago, died on Wednesday.

Ginger was 34 years old, which is very old for a Banker pony.

So within two days, islanders had welcomed a new pony and parted with one who had been part of Hatteras history.

Paloma is settling into her life as the newest member of the Ocracoke pony pen.

Her mother, Spirit, is a full-blooded Ocracoke pony and among the youngest ponies in the herd.  Her father is Wentzel, a traditional Outer Banks pony on loan to the Ocracoke pen for breeding.

Wentzel is currently the only stallion in the Ocracoke herd and has fathered many of the mares, so the pony pen managers were hoping for a colt to help maintain the genetic diversity of the herd.

Instead, they got Paloma, but you can’t help but love her.

The wild ponies of the Outer Banks are documented as descended from Spanish mustangs.  Legend has it that the ponies swam ashore from early shipwrecks and made the Outer Banks their home.

The two remaining herds on the Outer Banks are on Ocracoke and in Corolla to the north. There are also pony herds on the Shackleford Banks to the south.

For many years, the ponies roamed free on the islands until the federal government ordered that animals be penned. Also, the Park Service built a pen for the Ocracoke herd after Highway 12 was built in the 1950s.

Dale Burrus of Hatteras village and his father, Bill, were fans of the Banker ponies and took in several, providing them a home in a fenced pasture of green grasses on the edge of the Pam
lico Sound in Hatteras village.  Dale Burrus was instrumental in getting the Banker ponies recognized as a legitimate American horse breed.

The Burrus Banker pony herd eventually dwindled to two, Ginger and her daughter, Honey Bee, who is 19 years old.
Ginger’s full name was Virginia Dare, and she was the first foal born into the Burrus’ protected herd.  She was the daughter of a stallion, Sailor, and a mare, Ocracoke Missy.

After Dale Burrus died, Sue Garrett took over the care of the two ponies, who were participants in the Hatteras Village Christmas Parade every year, including last year.

However, Garrett said, Ginger started having problems a few days after Christmas.  She was choking and couldn’t swallow or eat because of problems with her esophagus. 

Ginger was taken to a clinic in Virginia and was critically ill.  Sue says she was “despairing.”

However, the old horse bounced back and Sue brought her back to the pasture on the sound.

And for about a month, Ginger roamed the pasture, knee-deep in grass.

“That’s how I will remember her,” Sue said this week, “in the pasture just like a regular horse.”

However, Ginger’s recovery did not last and she started having problems again.  This time there was nothing that vets could do for the horse, so Sue made the very difficult and emotional decision to have her euthanized.

Ginger was returned to Hatteras and buried on Wednesday evening with other Banker ponies from the Burrus herd on a hill in the pasture that she roamed for 34 years.

Honey Bee is doing well, Sue says, and for now she is the only Banker pony on Hatteras.

That could change, but right now Sue says she is not ready to make any plans for the future.

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