May 24, 2013

Ocracoke pony herd welcomes a new colt


The Ocracoke pony herd welcomed a new member with the birth of Captain Marvin Howard, a colt born May 9 to the mare Jitterbug.

The herd of Banker ponies, housed at the Ocracoke Pony Pen, now numbers 17, said Jocelyn Wright, lead biological science technician with the National Park Service on Ocracoke, which manages the herd. The Park Service ultimately wants the herd to number 20 to 25.

Captain, as he is nicknamed, is the brother of Rayo, born last year, and both are offspring of Alonzo, a stallion which arrived last spring from the Corolla herd and then tragically died last fall, Wright said.

“We don’t have a definite reason for that,” Wright said about Alonzo’s death.

Captain, who’s only two weeks old, will not be on view to the public for about six months while he is stays close to his mother.

Captain is named after the man on Ocracoke who started the nation’s first and only mounted Boy Scout troop Wright said. 

According to Pat Garber’s book “Ocracoke Island: Your Questions Answered,” Howard, after retiring from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, organized about a dozen island boys into the troop and assisted them in capturing and breaking some of the ponies to ride in formation. They were featured in the March 1956 issue of “Boy’s Life” magazine.

In 1957, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill requiring all livestock on the Outer Banks to be confined.  Although the Ocracoke ponies were exempted at that time, when Highway 12 was built, the NPS decided to pen the ponies to prevent them from being hit by cars. 

In 1959, they were confined in a corral near the current 160-acre location.

Young Captain is available for “adoption,” as are all of the herd’s horses.

Any member of the public can adopt as many members of the herd as they want for $25 each, Wright said. It’s a program started years ago by retired NPS Ranger Bill Caswell.   With that payment, the adopter receives a photo of his or her horse and a certificate.

The adoption can be accomplished either online or at the NPS Visitor Center near the south ferry docks on the island, where there are photos of all the ponies.

“Some people are collecting them,” Wright said about the program.

All the ponies can be adopted by more than one person, Wright said, but the donation is used exclusively to defray the costs of their care, such as food, veterinary care, and repair of the pasture and facilities.

The oldest in the herd is Okie’s Rainbow at age 34, Wright said, which is nearing the upper end of a horse’s lifespan.

The Park Service may try to get another stallion for the herd, possibly from the Shackleford Banks herd at Cape Lookout or the Corolla herd, Wright said.

But until then, the more than a dozen volunteers on Ocracoke will help care for the 12 females and five males of the herd.

“Volunteers are just integral to us,” Wright said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Volunteers help in most all aspects of the pony herd: cleaning troughs, feeding and scooping manure.


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