Island Horses
 By Winniefield Park   •   10th May 2018   •   757 views   •   0 comments
The eastern shoreline of North and South America is dotted with innumerable islands, many of them small, remote and seemingly insignificant. But, these islands are home to many feral horse bands, some well known, others less so. Most of us are familiar with the Chincoteague, Assateague Island ponies off the coast of Maryland and Virginia and Sable Island Ponies off the coast of Nova Scotia. But these are only a few of the bands that exist.

Feral island herds that live in isolation share some common characteristics. They are often small, but hardy. They may share specific conformation faults, and if the gene pool is very small, they may have difficulty reproducing. Where man has interfered, the horses tend to be larger, more refined and benefited from the introduction of other breeds.

The Outer Banks is a string of islands and other small landforms off of the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. The waters surrounding these islands, spits and sandbars is called the graveyard of the Atlantic, because in the days before sophisticated navigation, so many ships were lost. As a result, some the cargo of these ships, horses, escaped and made it to the various shores of these islands. Many are generally referred to as Banker horses although there are distinctions made between the various feral bands. There are Shackleford Bank horses, a band of about 100 horses that roam freely on the island of Shackleford Banks. Corolla Horses are thought to be the descendents of Spanish horses shipwrecked in the 1600s and Ocracoke Island Banker Horses have a similar history.

Cumberland Horses
South east of the state of Georgia is Cumberland Island. Itís home to 200 feral horses believed to be of Spanish descent. These horses share many of the same characteristics as their hardy cousins, but tend to be a bit larger. Itís thought that they may not have been shipwrecked, but brought there when Spanish missions were established. Throughout their history, the horses have been used as riding and driving horses, some horses were sold, and new horses introduced.

Santa Cruz Island Horses
On the western coast of the United States sit the Channel Islands, a string of eight islands northwest of Los Angeles. The largest of these islands is Santa Cruz, and it is home to a band of feral horses with genetics that trace back horses brought from Spain in the 1800s. The breed is almost extinct. Researchers from UC Davis are working to preserve the breed and outcross it to increase its wellbeing. Inbreeding has resulted in low birth rates and conformation problems. Potentially, Spanish breeds may be introduced and horses descended from the herd are being located across the U.S.

Eriskay Island Ponies
These may be the last of a breed developed on the Hebrides Islands, off of the west coast of Scotland. While these ponies were originally used for draft and riding and some still, there is a small feral population on Eriskay Island. There the ponies live in the wild, with little interference from humans.

The Vieques Island Horses
Off the main island of the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico is the island of Vieques. Itís been used for military bombing practice and maneuvers. On this island live about 2000 feral horses, many descendants of Paso Finos. Technically, they are feral, but how Ďwildí these horses are is debatable, as the herd has been supported by locals for a long time. Many have been turned loose by owners not able to keep them. The HSUS has started to manage the feral herd because their numbers are exceeding what the environment can sustain. The welfare of the horses, and well as the humans living there has come under sharp focus since the 2017 hurricanes.

The Abaco Barb
Abaco Barbs have disappeared because of humans, but they may exist once again thanks to human effort. These horses, now extinct, were descendents of Spanish horses. Many are splash white pintos and are gaited. After a child tried to ride an Abaco BArb and was killed, they were ruthlessly hunted down and destroyed. The last Abaco Barb died in the late 1960s. But, some individuals hope that the science of cloning may bring the horses back to the island. DNA testing has proven the horses to be Spanish Barbs and they may be related to the Sulphur Springs Mustangs. Funding is the major roadblock.
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