Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jersey Shore, Barrier Islands and Pony Penning

In case you've been living peacefully under a rock where the name Snookie means nothing , Jersey Shore is a reality show from MTV which follows a pack of trashy kids in their early twenties on their adventures in a shore town in New Jersey. Last year, Italian-Americans were displeased by the characters' endless use of the word 'guido' to proudly describe themselves and others as low-life, crass, obnoxious morons endlessly preoccupied by shiny things, not least themselves. This year, the story is how the wildly popular show is presenting New Jersey residents to the rest of the country, and Americans to the rest of the world. Leading to the currently high-profile governor of the state being jovially asked about the show's impact on his state's reputation.

The gist of Christie's reply:

"It takes a bunch of New Yorkers, drops them at the Jersey shore and tries to make America feel like this is New Jersey."

I promise this is horse-related.

Jersey Shore is shot at Seaside Heights, a shore town pretty much smack dab in the center of the Garden State's Atlantic coastline. I've been there and the show is accurate. Seaside Heights is one teeming mass of two groups of Americans you never want to get drunk and half-naked - New Yorkers and Canadians - amidst a general backdrop of nightclubs, bars, and a boardwalk scene from out of The Lost Boys.

But Christie's right. The New Jersey shore is beautiful. Even Seaside Heights. Like most beaches on the East Coast, it is on a barrier island. Barrier islands are long, flat strips of land lying just off the coast - their openness and general lack of trees or hills makes for an unlimited landscape that meets the endless vista of the ocean and act as a respite from the urban Northeast corridor.

Barrier islands occur naturally, though the exact process seesm to be debated among geologists, and they help protect the mainland from the current and the weather. Although most are very close to America's largest cities and the land generally has a high real estate value, there is still a reasonable amount of undeveloped land included. Partly, this is due to the inherent instability of building on borrowed sand, on what is essentially, a living piece of ground, one that changes with the wind and tide. Partly, it's because many barrier islands are too small and shallow to build on at all.

Which creates the phenomenon of the barrier island horses. Chincoteague, whose Pony Penning Day is this week, is the most famous, but there are herds of feral ponies and horses on barrier islands from Georgia to Canada. South Carolina's contribution, the Marsh Tacky, has just been made the state's horse breed. The National Park Service, which manages the National Seashore of Assateague and the National Wildlife Refuge of Chincoteague, also has a hand in the feral herds of North Carolina's Outer Banks, a long series of barrier islands off the coast of that state that gave these horses the name Bankers.

As with the mustang herds out west, barrier island horses have often run afoul of the government agencies charged with overseeing the public lands they typically inhabit. The National Park Service's priority is with the wildlife and the fairly fragile ecosystem of these islands, and argue that the well-being of the feral horses can come at the expense of both. Proponents for the horses say they can co-exist. The annual roundup at Chincoteague and Assateague are now a way to curb the population, as well as raise money.

And further north, Canada has Sable Island. Though not a barrier island (it lies much too far offshore to qualify and is instead classified as a continental island), I've included it because there's a very cute children's book by the mid-century writer/illustrator Margaret S. Johnson about Sable Island ponies.

But enough of that. What about books? Well, the first one is obvious.


Misty Of Chincoteague (1947) introduced the rest of the nation to Virginia's wild herd, and remains a classic children's book.

Marguerite Henry wrote four other books about Misty and Chincoteague Ponies: Sea Star, Orphan Of Chincoteague (1949); Stormy, Misty's Foal (1963), A Pictorial Life Story Of Misty (1976), and Misty's Twilight (1992).

Other books about that most famous of herds are:Hundred Acre Welcome by Ronald Rood (1967)and Charming Ponies: A Pony Named Patches (aka Patches) and A Pony In Need by Lois Szymanski (2008)

Hundred Acre Welcome, about naturalist Rood's adventures bringing a Chincoteague pony home to his Vermont farm, is due to be reprinted this summer from Blue Mustang Press, which also publishes Kendy Allen's The Ponies Of Chincoteague series: Misty's Heart Of The Storm, Misty's Black Mist And The Christmas Parade, Chincoteague Cowboy, The Story Of A Chincoteague Pony Named Misty III, and Ember's Story: The Misty Miracle Pony.

There are several picture books, including one by a very nice illustrator, Susan Jeffers - My Chincoteague Pony (2008); also Once A Pony Time by Lynne Lockhart (1992).

And a romance novel!

One Of A Kind by Jo Calloway (1983)

The wild herds of the Carolinas

A children's book reviewed here last year, Stephen W. Meader's Wild Pony Island. Outer Banks horses are also featured in the WWII-era children's adventure tale Taffy Of Torpedo Junction by Nell Wise Wechter (1957) which is now available from the University of North Carolina Press and the 2006 book Pale As The Moon by Donna Campbell Smith.

Sable Island

Pit Pony by Joyce Barkhouse (1990) and Dixie Dobie: A Sable Island Pony by Margaret S. Johnson and Helen Losing Johnson (1945) both feature Sable Island ponies. Pit Pony, which was made into a television series, will be released by Formac in a new edition on August 20, 2010.


North Carolina - the Banker Horse


Cumberland Island, Georgia

Tribe Equus

Gateway to the Golden Isles


Chincoteague and Assateague

National Park Service website

The Misty of Chincoteague Foundation

Breed Organizations

The Marsh Tacky

Chincoteague Pony Association

1 comment:

AC said...

Nice comprehensive roundup! I'm going to look for Hundred Acre Welcome.

BTW, I received the Velma Johnson book and I'm reading it now. Thanks!