Hitching a Ride

Hitching a Ride

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When the Chincoteague ponies were driven into the corrals during the spring roundup last Friday and Saturday this newborn foal was perhaps the only one that got a ride.

cowboy_with_foal1Thanks to cowboy Brian Lewis of Snow Hill, Maryland, this little one arrived safely after not quite being able to keep up as the ponies were driven in from the range by the world famous saltwater cowboys.

Lewis said his dad, David, a cowboy for 45 years, picked up the struggling pony and handed it up to him. When he arrived at the corral, Lewis, lowered the pony to Bryan Harris, another cowboy, who carried him into the corral on Beach Road where he soon found his mom.img_8121

The cowboys said they thought he was about two weeks old and weighed about 65 pounds. “He just got tired and got mixed up on the way in,” said Lewis. “He just sat across my saddle, looking around,” said Brian who works for Worcester County. Once in the corrals, the ponies had an appointment with their vet, Dr. Charlie Cameron.

Dr. Cameron drew blood for testing, squirted liquid medicine down their throats and implanted microchips into the shoulders of about 25 ponies born since last summer. The next roundup will take place in July at the annual Pony Penning, an event that draws as many as 40,000 visitors img_8124to Chincoteague.

Photo credits:
Pony on horseback, by Raven Sobel, a student at Arcadia Middle School.
Other two photos by Robert Boswell for www.wildponytales.info

Getting My Own Pony Was a Dream Come True

By Morgan Wills

It’s the classic thing that every child dreams of, the thing that almost every little kid has begged his or her parents nonstop about: getting a pony.

Ponies are seen as novelties; it seems to be the classic American child’s wish. Ever heard the song Jingle Bells? If I am correct, the lyrics go -”in a one horse open sleigh” and “bells on bobtails ring,” going on and on about this wonderful winter wonderland horse ride.

However, the novelty and pure amazement – to some extent worship – of ponies often fades as the child grows older. Sadly, the majority of the kids who do manage to get their hands on a pony or horse lose interest in this amazing animal. Not many retain their love of equestrians, usually even fewer if the one wishing so long for a horse has never really had a chance to get one.

I was the perfect example of an American child; for who knows how long every birthday and Christmas I would ask – well, perhaps some of my relatives would say “beg” is a better term – for a horse. When I was younger, approximately three, I had lived on a farm with several horses along with my Mom and older sister, Shannon. When we left for California, I still had the imprint of our horses in my mind’s eye, and that sort of an imprint is hard to get rid of. Thus my craving to be a horse owner once more was born. And boy oh boy did I have a case of horse-wanting fever!

Now, I’ve returned to the Eastern Shore and am now the proud owner of two wonderful horses: a beautiful Arabian mare named Trinity, and a simply gorgeous Chincoteague gelding named Rajah’s Dream Watcher. Rajah was my first horse, who I brought home to my family’s small farm exactly one year ago today. Actually, when I sat down to write this article, I was thinking back to the first day he arrived…and, on that day, where he took his first run – literally. It’s funny, I’ve heard that everything is supposed to be seen with a light air in hindsight, and I’m still struggling to laugh over Rajah’s little “morning jog” down Tasley Road into town.

That’s really where it all began – where my little fantasy of horse perfection met the real world with a very sudden, very painful blast that left the glass shattered into a million, unfixable pieces. But I’ve already told that story. This article is about the glorious months Rajah and I have had since our rocky beginning.

This isn’t just my story, it’s Rajah’s story as well. After he got out and nearly got lost, it was hard recovering. I saw him alive and well in the pasture, but when I closed my eyes I couldn’t help but see his bloody, car-hit corpse strewn across the road.

Things got better, though. But as school started up again and the weather turned cold, things…happened. Between homework and my extreme dislike of the cold, Rajah and I started spending less and less time together. Looking back, I can see where I went wrong, but it’s hard to see the consequences in the present. By the time the weather warmed up a bit and I started spending more time out with Rajah, his hormones had started kicking in; my little man was thinking he was a stallion. All talk, nothing doing, really, but that didn’t stop him from rearing up, biting, kicking and acting like a complete and royal butthead.

It really wouldn’t have been too bad, really, but then I got stupid. Yes, I am admitting that I acted like a complete and total goof and paid dearly for it. Please, don’t get used to it! Anyway, it is common knowledge that you do not walk behind a horse without letting him know that you are there. Well, I walked behind Rajah all right…I just kind of forgot the last bit.

He got spooked, and there was my perfect luck. A hoof right in my arm… Yeah, ouch. Oh, it hurt like a son of a gun! So, I wound up in a sling, and I’ll admit, there was a certain tension between Rajah and myself after that.

Things didn’t get better. His temper only got worse as his little wanna-be stallion hormones kicked in even further. That was when I started thinking – maybe I did make a mistake with Rajah. My first quote-on-quote real horse, just a baby? A male, for that matter? I mean, who was I kidding, taking on a horse like that?

I started looking in The Guide for horses, though I never really…was serious. It was sort of my little anti-drug from my problems with Rajah. I stumbled on a horse trainer’s session that I was tempted to take Raj to, just to give him one more chance, but I didn’t have the money for it.

Then I found Trinity.

It seemed too good to be real. A purebred Arabian mare for only $400? But I wrote the owner, and she confirmed the price. I was ecstatic, and suddenly it felt like a whole new avenue had opened for me. But, I still had Rajah.

What to do? He wasn’t just some thing that I could go and throw out on the streets – he was a living, breathing animal that I had known since he was practically born. Sell him then? Not with his behavior, no sir! So, it finally came down to the following: my parents and I would go and look at Trinity, and in the mean time plan on gelding Rajah. Money we didn’t have, but. We’d go from there; though ‘from there’ seemed to look like it would end in selling Rajah.

Well, we went up to see Trinity and bought her the very same day. She seemed so perfect. I was in love all over again. But, love is a tricky thing to mess with, as I soon learned.

Rajah…was like my child. Selling him would be like sending my own kin away. It just…didn’t seem doable. When we gelded him, and his personality improved fifteen-and-a-half fold, selling him seemed even more wrong.
Mom and I started talking. We both agreed that keeping Rajah would seem to be the best. When we brought Trinity back, Raj’s attitude only improved more. He became the sweet, cuddly horse I had once known.

Rajah’s still here. We decided to keep him. Dad, who had said “only one horse” found out about my mom’s and mine plans, though how I do not remember. It sort of just became accepted. Despite my Dad’s looks, he is an old softie, at least when it comes to Mom and me.

Now Rajah’s an angel. I love him and it’s hard to believe that I ever considered selling. Let me say it here. You cannot travel the road to horse ownership without your parents’ support. And money. I am a lucky girl and I know it.

Horses are amazing creatures – they can be your best friends in the whole vast expanse of our world. Rough times can happen, some worse than others, like getting out of the pasture and running down the road! But, if you can stick it through, you’ll find that you have a true companion. Who can blame the millions of young kids who plead for a pony of their own?

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “bad horse.” There are ones with their own personalities, just like humans, but none are what some would call the “bad seed.” It just takes time, patience, love, and training like you’re a member of the herd. Yes, I’m continuing on the horse trail, but this time, not only do I have Rajah, I’ve got Trinity, too. And I’m glad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With Rajah, I Get a Feeling I Can’t Explain

We think of relationships as being between a man and a woman, a boyfriend and girlfriend. There are relationships between friends, family members, and yes, even between a rider and a horse.

Rajah and I share such a relationship. It’s not just going out there to do the work of taking care of him. There’s something about just being out there, feeling his touch and he feeling mine. It’s the smells, sounds, warmth – every feeling imaginable thrown in with just the joy of being out in the open air. It’s almost like we know what the other is thinking or feeling. I give him a rub on the nose and get back a nuzzle on my arm. I don’t really know how to put the exact feeling down on paper. Perhaps one could go as far as to call it a love obsession. Everything that has to do with working with a horse reaches far past the average everyday things that almost everyone experiences. There’s just something about it all. It’s just amazing.
Taking Care of a Horse is a Year-Round Job

It’s one thing to say that you own a horse; it’s a completely different story when it comes down to taking care of them. Horses are primarily herd animals – and thus, interacting with them like a horse, not a human, can be important. Horses are prey animals, whereas humans are predatory, and so the relationship between a horse and human can be strange at first.

When I first met Rajah, I used an old Native American trick that includes exhaling softly onto their nose. You then let them do the same to you. It’s how you let them gain your scent. However, interacting with a horse like a herd member is not the only thing that is included. There is always the grand joy of shoveling their ‘waste products’ (or, to be totally politically incorrect, their POOP). In the summer it’s refilling their water bucket several times and wiping them down with fly spray. In the winter there is hauling out warm water to defreeze their current water. And, year-round, there is the task of feeding them hay, getting hay, hauling bales of hay…yeah, there is a lot of hay involved! You see, horses do require a lot of work, not to mention attention. It’s not a task that the light-of-heart should take on for kicks. But I’m not trying to be discouraging; horses can be rewarding and be like another member of the family. It just requires accepting the fact that you will have to work – even go and muck out items that aren’t on your top 10 list to go and scrounge around it.
Note: I suggest rubber boots.

Morgan Wills is a sophomore at Nandua High School. She was a journalism student for her three years of middle school in Accomack County, Virginia. She has authored several books she hopes to get published. She is active in many activities and has been chosen for Honors English classes at Nandua High.

Rain, Cold Doesn’t Slow Cowboys

By Leslie Adkins
Editor, Wild Pony Tales

For the Saltwater Cowboys October came, it seems, right on the heels of the July 2008 Chincoteague pony swim that brought thousands of people to this Island on the Virginia coast.

Three times a year the cowboys load their mounts into trailers and leave homes in North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and other distant places and travel to Chincoteague where they meet up on the range at Assateague Island, where the famous wild ponies roam.

The cowboys’ primary mission is to bring the ponies into their corrals where they have a date withtheir vet, Dr. Charlie Cameron. It is Dr. Cameron and his assistants who squirt medicine into resisting mouths to protect the ponies from the ills that can await them. It was fall round-up time again and this October weekend the Cowboys had to round up the ponies in wind, rain and a harsh fall chill. To a small crowd waiting for the ponies to come in it was cold right through jackets and sweaters but no one left.

In July the cowboys and the ponies had to put up with the heat, flies, ticks, and biting bugs of all kinds. But by October everything had changed except the mosquitoes. Even in the dampness of the late afternoon a can of mosquito spray was welcome.

By the time the riders gathered on the southern range Friday afternoon, it was in conditions far different than in July. The cowboys came with raincoats and trench coats, bundled up from head to toe, looking like old Wild West cowboys.

On this Friday, the Cowboys had harsh weather. Not only did they have the usual water from the marsh on the island, but they had the rain from a low pressure system from the west.

Brian Lewis, a cowboy member of a family of veteran riders from Maryland, who has been riding for six years, said, “It wasn’t too bad, just a little bit of bad weather.” We’ve had worse weather, he said, remembering times when the cowboys rode in snow, sleet and hail.
“The weather doesn’t make it that much harder. It’s just cold and damp, a little harder on the people and horses.”

The men had their horses ready at 5 p.m. that afternoon, and herded the ponies along from the marsh to the south side of Beach Road. The cowboys herded them to a fenced holding area just off the Woodland Trail. Then, the whole southern herd is taken through the marsh and woodland to the big Beach Road corral where they spend the night.

In the wild the stallions each command a band of five to seven mares. Once the whole herd of ponies is mixed together the stallions have trouble keeping their bands together and their displeasure sometimes explodes.

On this Friday evening after the ponies were in the Woodland holding area, two stallions got into it, rearing up against each other with one of them being knocked to the ground.

On Saturday, the cowboys got underway at daybreak, confronting wind and mist as they went to find the much larger northern herd. By 10:30 a.m., the horses, with their riders, and the ponies were well on their way into the northern corral, which is nearly four miles out into the Assateague wilderness.

The ponies, as wild as the wind, were scattered all over the area, taking the Cowboys a little longer to get them in order. But some of the ponies came in on their own, ahead of the riders, having been throughthe routine many times.

Usually, in the spring, there are many foals running next to their mothers. But this fall day there was one foal, a little brown with a white streak going down it muzzle that brought oohs and aahs from the smallcrowd of onlookers.

Once the ponies were in the pen, it was time to take a break. The cowboys paused for lunch,delivered to the corral area by the fire department. Then, it was time to load up and leave. Even though the round-up for the cowboys was over more work was ahead for Dr. Cameron and his staff. The veterinarian started his day with the southern herd, then moved out to the northern corral where he waited for the ponies to arrive.

While the cowboys were loading their horses into trailers for the ride home, Dr. Cameron and his helpers opened mouths, one by one, squirting in a liquid medication until every pony had gotten a dose. The next roundup is in April.