Monday, July 18, 2011

Island Colonial Mustangs: Chincoteague Ponies Swimming Challenge Painting #150

The fascinating thing about the horses of Assateague Island and I'm sure all the wild horses of the barrier islands is that the Ocean and inland waterways are their play ground.

Chincoteague Ponies in the Ocean
5 by 5 inch watercolor
by LindaLMartinArtist

From the time they are foals their mothers lead them out into the surf. Like all mustangs the love of water play is natural to them. However there is a more practical aspect for those off the coast of Virginia. The mosquitoes!

Generally a roll in the mud will thwart the flies but on an island made of sand, mud is a precious commodity, usually found only at low tide on the bay side of the island. With crabs and other critters awaking out of their holes to search for food the mud might not seem the best place for a pony to roll.  And not to mention the egg like smell of  rotted vegetation and fish that also is released at low tide from the marshes and the mud flats between Chincoteague and Assateague when the tide goes out.

So the horses use their best options.. The entire herd heads for the ocean, for a swim or a stand in the waves. They get cool and the bugs are held at bay. According to one spokesman it is not unusual to look out and see nothing but noses and ears poking up from the surf as the Chicoteague ponies find relief from the bugs and heat.

I remember asking on a visit to the islands about a decade ago what about sharks. Sharks were always a bane to my ocean visits as a child because sand sharks stay close to the beach edge. For a while we heard stories weekly that this fisherman had been bitten because he stepped on a sand shark while tending their "long poles" on the beach. There was one comforting thought that I had forgotten. " if you see dolphins there will not be sharks in the water." I was reminded that there are lots of dolphins off the shores of the islands and thus not a pleasant place for sharks to habitat.  Dolphins will aggressively go after sharks. Thus rarely do the sea predators attack a pony in the ocean.

I have a feeling that the ponies have probably developed a keen sense of sea knowledge over the generations and probably know when its dangerous to head for the water or which parts of the marshes to stay away from.

The annual pony swim is not the only time the horses go into the water. And even though directed by man and somewhat of a specital its really isn't a cruel thing. In times past it hasn't been unheard of for a pony to take a liking to a horse on Chincoteague and on their own make the swim to come for a little visit or perhaps steal a mare? These days with all the development  I rather think that the horses have found their safe harbor in the fenced off areas of Assateague that keep them safe from direct contact with the thousands of tourists that visit the islands each year.

The tourist season starts in  late April and goes through October  with a number of festivals and tours around the Islands. I don't have permission to post the photos of the  Assateague Explorer Cruises & Kayaking Company of Chincoteague, Va but if you want to see some amazing photos of the ponies in one of the least invasive ways to view them  go to their facebook page to see some of their phenomenal photography. I think it would be an awesome trip out and hope eventually to take one of their guided tours one day. You can see their page here:!/AssateagueExplorer

Reference photography for tonight's paintings was provided by the US Coast Guard and is in public domaine. Thank you for all you do in keeping our shores safe and for your participation in our historic events.

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