March 19, 2012
The new stallion settles into his new home at the
Ocracoke Pony Pen and meets a mate….WITH VIDEO

By PAT GARBER

The wild ponies of Ocracoke Island and Corolla have been an important part of Outer Banks heritage for centuries. Separated by two major inlets and a distance of more than 100 miles, the two herds have, until now, had no contact with each other.

That changed in February when the National Park Service, which oversees the Ocracoke ponies, imported a young stallion from the Corolla herd to bring new blood to the Ocracoke ponies.

Alonso, as he is called, is a 3-year-old chestnut with a white nose. He was chosen because a DNA test proved that he retains the original Banker characteristics that distinguish these ponies from most other horses. He is registered in the nationally recognized Spanish Mustang Registry.

Until his move to Ocracoke, he ran free with the Corolla herd, which roams the northern part of the Outer Banks, well beloved of residents and visitors to Corolla. From here on, it is hoped that he will become a mate to some of the Ocracoke pony mares and father to their foals.

The Outer Banks ponies -- they are actually not ponies but small horses -- are descendants of horses that arrived on North Carolina's barrier islands as far back as the 16th century, brought across the sea on Spanish, and perhaps English, ships.

Of Spanish origin, they had the characteristics of the small, hardy horses bred by the Moors, who combined their Iberian stock with North African Barbs and Arabians. They were sturdy, dependable steeds with short backs (having one fewer lumbar vertebra than other horses), short legs, and a sloping croup.

There are several theories about how the ponies actually came to run wild on the Outer Banks. Some may have arrived on Spanish ships that may have wrecked on the shoals, allowing the ponies to escape to the islands. Another theory is that Sir Richard Grenville, leading an expedition from England in 1580, stopped at a Spanish island to pick up supplies and livestock (including some of the Spanish ponies) on his way to Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His ship ran aground at Ocracoke Inlet, and some of the ponies were released to lighten the load so the ship could break free.

However they may have arrived, once here, the ponies adapted to island life, learning to dig deep for fresh water, digest the tough marsh grasses, and seek relief from the ravenous insects by wading into the waters of the sound. They continued to run wild, although on Ocracoke the residents began using some of them to pull carts, plow gardens, and for riding.

When Cape Hatteras National Seashore was established in the 1950s and Highway 12 was finished in 1957, it was deemed unsafe for the Ocracoke ponies to continue to roam free. They were confined to a corral near where the Pony Pens stand today.

Ocracoke's Mounted Boy Scout Troop maintained them for a while, but when they were no longer able to keep them, the ponies' fate was uncertain. In response to public sentiment, the National Park Service agreed to take over their care in 1967.

By then, the herd had been reduced by illness and inbreeding to only 19 ponies. Their numbers dropped even farther before park rangers, through new breeding programs and veterinary care, reversed the downward trend.

During the 1980s their numbers rose to 28, and they thrived in the 160-acre enclosure the Park Service set aside for them.

The horses at Corolla have a different story. They still live a wild life, unconfined by fences, roaming on public and private land at will. A number of the horses have been killed by cars, however, which has led to great public concern.

In 1989 the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was established by individual volunteers to help provide better lives for the horses while maintaining their wildness. Fences have been built along roads to protect them from places where the traffic is especially dangerous, and the group holds fundraisers and maintains a wild horse gift shop.

In recent years, the Ocracoke pony herd has again declined, due in part to health issues believed to be related to inbreeding. There were only 16 ponies and no healthy Banker stallion in the herd when 2012 began.

It is hoped that Alonso will change that.

His arrival is the result of three years District Park Ranger Kenny Ballance spent in search of a new stallion, which he hoped would re-vitalize the herd while maintaining the original Banker pony characteristics. He visited the herds at Cape Lookout National Seashore and at Corolla before finding what he wanted.

The little Corolla stallion, Alonso, had been hand-fed by visitors to the area and become too tame to live the life of a wild horse. He seemed like the perfect choice to be adopted into the Ocracoke herd.

Alonso rode on the ferry and arrived at Ocracoke in a horse trailer on Feb. 2. He was introduced to the corral and stable that would be his new home. 

He soon met his first prospective mate, Luna, a white pony who will hopefully soon be carrying his foal.

It is hoped that this foal, and others like it, will carry on the heritage and history of Ocracoke's beloved wild ponies.


FOR MORE INFORMATION

You can see a video about Alonso’s trip to Ocracoke at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSbzE7gdInc&feature=share

For more information, go to the Corolla Wild Horse website at:
http://www.corollawildhorses.org/  or for information about the Ocracoke ponies, go to http://www.nps.gov/caha/historyculture/ocracokeponies.htm.


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