Monday, November 15, 2010

Wild Pony Photoshoot Adventure! :)


Since moving down here to North Carolina I've been wanting to go out to Shackleford Island (isolated island of the Grand Banks) and see these "wild horses". They're ponies by everyone's standards but they are the descendants of shipwrecked Spanish (primarily they believe) horses from hundreds of years ago. "Banker Ponies" is another moniker they have if you're curious to look em up. :)

Now as my friend here (Maggie Bennett - she's the one in the leather jacket in the first pic) who went out there with me can tell you - no full size horse would survive on this island! It's got this low scrub brush interior that's ideal for tucking into during hurricanes.... and we very nearly had to get on our knees to navigate around ourselves on the horse paths in our exploration!

It was just the most fun ever! From our ferry trip out where wild dolphins leapt around our little 15ft ferry... to being dropped off on our own to explore like naturalists. Mosquitoes and swamp lands and all. Finding ponies (as you can see hopefully in many of those pics), in all kinds of surprising nooks and crannies all along the way during our adventure. :)

There are a little over a 100 ponies on this nine mile island. In four and a half hours we only made it half way down the island - no small feat with the hilly dunes and grasses that were really strong & tripped you all the time! At first it seemed like we kept seeing only the same 5 or 6 horses but in reviewing these pictures - and even then, you realize the hip numbers are different. It's almost surreal.

I don't get too excited about horses in real life anymore to be honest. I've spent half my life working with horses on a daily basis and I adore them but I don't get all"eeee" excited like a little kid usually anymore... I love to work with them and enjoy seeing them do well at what they do, or in interacting with them... but on the whole, I'm not one to go to uncomfortable lengths like this to see them usually. Not to horse shows per say, unless there is something exceptionally different going on. But there is something really magical about sneaking around to see horses in bands behaving like horses really do. It really rejuvenated the childlike wonder somehow for me - I joke that it was a "magical island" but it sincerely was pretty mystical.

So thank you so much to Maggie for going with me! She and I drove 4hrs from different directions to converge on this place. I'm really glad to have had company - and she also convinced me to use my nicer Nikon camera I bought this spring (I'm so afraid to take this thing out of the studio! It's a D3000 and I'm still really barely able to use it).. And she also convinced me to skip the tripod biz and use the auto settings (she has nearly the same model - I'm so used to "auto" being awful!). My Samsung point and shoot 1st choice camera's batteries didn't hold a charge in the cold I guess...

I would absolutely recommend to anyone wanting to go see wild ponies to consider this particular island. I just can't wait to go back this coming spring. I did want to go first in the fall here when the ponies were at their heaviest & had sprouted woolen coats... I'm so glad we did. From spring through Oct there are other ferry services that converge on it with groups - typically guided type ones as near as I can tell... but this was just a ferry service. When we landed there we looked at each other and had no clue what direction to start off in! Anyhow, so hopefully my little photo essay gives you a real feel for it. The weather was wonderful! Light warm breeze on and off. Around 70 degrees F and believe me, any warmer with that dune and sand walking and I dunno... we both hike with our dogs regularly but neither of us was in shape so it was a good workout! Next time though, I hope we can get dropped off at the other end of the island to see what's down there... ;)

Edited to add in the dolphin picture!
Maggie just sent me these. I looked for dolphins when we went to Madeira Beach last winter the WHOLE time we were down there. Everywhere we drove, I was staring off at the water afraid to blink... since I was told they were out there "ALL the time"... well I did finally see a few... far far away and I was pretty goofy excited. I've seen lots of dolphins in aquariums too and they don't get me too hyped up either... but wild? Hanging around checking out the people??? Nothing is more cool than that! So when these guys sprouted up as we were crossing the water, I was blown away. Our ferry fellow stopped for us. Maggie at least was ready to snap pics within 30 seconds.. me? I'm swearing and cursing and happy at least I brought two camera... ;) But no really, I was mostly just fumbling because I was afraid to look away from the water. Dolphins just rock. Magical wild pony island protected by wild dolphins. What a blast! :D


elf said...

I have been trying to see those ponies for YEARS. I hate you for having such luck the first time! I would kill to have the chance to get in that close to them. Beautiful photos Morgen.

Morgen said...

Wait, you've been out there? GO OUT NOW -> sincerely! Tourist season is sure to be a bit of a reason for them to hide. Going out now, when only 1 ferry still will drop you off is the way to go. :D

Honestly the pics are just a good auto focus, and out of the box camera and I cropped them so they didn't look so tiny. We did get a little too close imo... I have more than few where one pony is giving me dirty looks. I suspect it stayed put because it's probably gotten treats from somewhere. It had that "look" about it, then got all peeved. ;)

elf said...

Unfortunately I'm in Washington. I get to your coast once a year, and it's usually in the summer. Maybe I should wait till Oct one year.

Morgen said...

Oh wow - ok you've got our 8hrs of driving topped! lol!

Well ok, for whatever it's worth the other ferry tour companies said that the ponies "go hide" during the middle part of the day. That was sort of a secondary reason for me wanting later in the year. All horses I've known, left to their own devices like to graze late in the day through the night to morning during warm months... and then sleep in the shade during the day.

Sooo hopefully that helps too. These guys were pretty sleepy/dull. The foal got them to trot at one point but only a few hundred feet. Course with how hard it was to get to the shore, just to traipse around altogether witht he marshes blocking off parts of the island (!) I wouldn't want to cut it too close to sunset, even though that time of day is gorgeous.

My 2 suggestions would be though to find a ferry company that will let you roam freely, and to get away from the main crowd of people. They were shy and we did have to pause and let them see we weren't going to hassle them. I'm betting they've been hassled before too, just because of how humans can be. They were wary at a tad at first. And we only did wind up seeing a little less than 1/4 of them... and considering how it's a sandy island and we walked to the midway 4.5mi marker...where were all of them was something we wondered too! lol!