Saturday, April 9, 2011
No. 25 Horsepenning
(The video clip shown above is taken from the "Vernon Guthrie Collection." Vernon was the Island's first videographer, starting in the late 40's and continuing until the mid 50's when he moved with his family to Murray, UT.)
Some strangers called it “pony penning,” but we always called it “horsepenning” (one word). Every summer, on or close to Independence Day, Islanders would cross Back Sound in multitudes, in a mass exodus, headed into Banks Bay and the shore of what used to be Diamond City. There, on Shackleford Banks, they would gather by the hundreds in their boats, along the shoreline, and around a small pen, maybe 25 ft. square.
Men from the Island, and a select few teenage and twenty-something boys, would have arrived there hours earlier to begin the celebration. Under the direction of a chosen leader, Allen Moore when I was a child, the young boys and men would fan out all over the Banks. In groups of five or more they would herd the scattered groups of horses from the various nooks and crannies of the island towards the pen at Diamond City. Running, often on their bare feet, they would poke at and otherwise spook the horses to get them moving, and then, in concert with their friends, head the ponies in the right direction.
This was long before the days of motorized vehicles like the three and four wheelers that later overran the whole expanse. The ground was much too jagged to allow for cars or trucks, even if there had been any there (there weren’t) to have negotiated the terrain. And, for whatever reason, I don’t recall ever having seen someone actually riding a horse to help in the roundup. It was the speed, stamina and savvy of the Island boys, and that alone, that was responsible for finding and bringing in almost two hundred horses from the far corners of the Banks. Keep in mind that the distance from the Mullet Pond at the east end of Shackleford to Diamond City in the other direction was as much as four miles. But in a matter of only a few hours the horses; colts, mares and studs, would all be herded together in that small pen near the shore of what was called Banks Bay.
By the time the horses were corralled, the crowd would have grown to several hundred. As many as a hundred boats of all sizes would be anchored in the bay, and scores of small skiffs would be pulled up on the beach. Men, women, and lots of children were gathered in lines and in bunches to watch and await the arrival of the horses. Adding to the festivity were the many small fires that were started near the tide line, using driftwood and dead marsh grass, to roast oysters, conchs, and hotdogs for the swelling crowd.
Because of the numbers of people involved, and the relatively small space in which we gathered, the event could sometimes verge on the chaotic. Now and then one of the studs would get startled and break free, causing a panic among the onlookers until it could be restrained. Slightly less threatening were the men who celebrated the morning of horsepenning by getting drunk. It was usually the same ones, and most people knew who they might be and that they were to be avoided, especially by the kids.
One other risk was that if someone got too near the back side of a horse while it was restrained it might resort to “kicking.” I was made aware of that when one of my father’s horses, a beautiful tan colored stud, kicked me in the chest one 4th of July morning and I was carried to Beaufort in a boat to be checked out by Dr. Fulcher. There were no lasting effects except for a large bruise in my sternum and a lifetime of respect for what can happen when you approach a horse.
Once the horses were all secured, either in the pen, or tethered to a post or by a holder, the primary work of the day ensued as their numbers were noted, new colts were identified, some were branded, and many were traded or sold on the spot. My sister, Lillian, still has and displays my father branding iron of a large “H.” My uncle Calvin had a special skiff, with a very high freeboard, that was specially made for moving stock, including the horses, to and from the Banks. He might be charged with carrying as many as four at a time back to the Island where they would then be moved to their new home. Two of my older brothers, Bill and Mike, were allowed by my father to have ponies of their own, and to keep them at our home during the summer. But they were always ferried back to the Banks in the fall so that they could fend for themselves for the winter.
After the counting and trading of horsepenning day had been completed, the gates of the corral were opened, and the herds scurried away just as fast as they had arrived. Even before that, the cavalcade of boats that come from the north headed back in the opposite direction. By suppertime, many of the same boats, and their passengers would be at Academy Field on the Island to watch the boat races there that concluded the day’s celebration. It was always fun to be a boy at Harkers Island. But it was never better than on those special days when it seemed everybody was together as part of one big family, even the horses.