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Mr & Misses May 2010 - Harry, Hedy and Veronica
Pony Greeters At River Dunes

ndividually, they’ve flooded their barn, leapt tall fences and coaxed treats out of visiting guests. As a herd, they’ve been model equine citizens greeting visitors to the River Dunes community. For knowing when to act like horses and when to act like hosts, TownDock.net celebrates Banker ponies Harry, Hedy and Veronica as its Misses and Mister May – Pet of The Month.

Veronica, Harry and Hedy greet visitors to their barn at the entrance of the River Dunes community
Veronica, Harry and Hedy, descendants of North Carolina’s Banker ponies, inhabit the barn and pasture at the entrance to River Dunes. While taking care of the threesome is a community effort, it’s River Dunes staff member Louise Stevens who organizes and executes the bulk of their day to day care.

River life: while the ponies enjoy the shade of the barn next to the boat house, they also enjoy taking in fine weather, and Bermuda hay, in the pasture behind their cupola-topped home.
Food helps: by observing, and catering to, the ponies’ individual personalities, Louise has helped socialize the previously unhandled ponies. Hay helps, too.

Louise says Veronica is the “alpha mare”. She is named after Veronica Lake, Hollywood actress and pin-up girl best known for the forelock of golden hair that earned her the nickname “the Peek-a-boo blonde”.

Veronica Lake (the pony’s) eye.

In the wild, the alpha mare calls the shots. And so it is with Veronica. Louise says she “always has to be the one in charge. She’s the one that turns her rear to the others” which in equine body language means “it’s gonna be this way, guys.” This applies to eating as well. Come feed time, Veronica dines separately. If grain is on the menu, she has hers outside while Harry and Hedy eat theirs in the barn. If hay is served in the pasture, she has her own pile away from the others.

Which is not to say that Veronica doesn’t enjoy a little company. And gauging from her bulging belly, she occasionally lets down her guard. When we first visited, we learned a foal was due any day.

Still, even though she’s head of the herd and has no problem calling the shots, with humans she’s not so forward. In fact, she’s still warming to them.

A few months ago,when Veronica arrived at River Dunes from the farm she’d been staying on, she was wary of human interaction. “She wasn’t abused”, Louise says, “just unhandled”. In the months since then, Louise has worked on winning the long-maned pony’s trust. She says “patience is the secret. It just takes as long as it takes”. Scratching the pony’s withers is a sure fire way to win ground.

Ahhhhh….! Veronica and Louise enjoy a grooming session.

While Veronica is the lone, herd-leading type, Harry and Hedy are the social couple. They spend most of their time lingering in the barn, eating hay or grooming one another with their teeth. That’s when they’re not misbehaving. For their misadventures, they’ve earned the nicknames Trouble One and Trouble Two.

With Hedy, named after film star Hedy Lamarr, it was the fence.

Hedy hopes: “Dang, ‘bet I could jump this thing…..”

In her early days, Hedy decided to sample the patch of grass next to her paddock. Which she did – by scrambling over a fence almost as tall as she. Trouble is, the enclosure she jumped into was completely fenced in. There was no gate out. She was trapped in her new found pasture.

Fortunately, Ed Mitchell showed up.

Ed is president of the River Dunes Corporation. It was his idea to bring the Banker ponies to River Dunes.

“As a coastal community” he says, “we wanted a pony that fit the environment”. The Banker ponies fit the bill. “Bankers” as they’re called in coastal communities, are the ponies that inhabit the chain of islands that fringe the North Carolina coast. Unlike the ponies that come to most peoples’ mind, short, stocky, plump, the Banker ponies are more lightly built, more horse like, in their appearance. Eds says that even though Veronica, Hedy and Harry were born “off-island” (he found them in Wake and Franklin Counties), they trace their roots back to coastal ponies.

But bringing the ponies of island descent to River Dunes wasn’t Ed’s only idea. In Hedy’s case, after she found herself on the wrong side of a fence, it was Ed who helped free her from the pasture with no exit. Convincing the pony to jump back over the fence wasn’t an option. Neither was installing a new gate. So Ed sawed through the fence’s top two boards and Hedy was led to freedom.

With Harry, or Dirty Harry as he’s called for the way he soils the white parts of his coat with Pamlico County dirt, it was the hunt for fresh water that earned him the Trouble Two nickname.

Harry showing off how he earned the “Dirty” part of his name.

In the wild, Banker ponies have to scour their island habitat for pools of fresh and brackish drinking water. At River Dunes, their drinking water comes easier. It flows from a tap into a stock tank where the ponies can enjoy as much as they like. For Harry, that wasn’t enough.

One day when Louise came check on her charges, she discovered the barn flooded. Harry had, “learned how to turn on the water”. These days, spigots within Harry’s reach grace special covers to prevent a repeat flood.

While Louise provides the bulk of the ponies’ care, their upkeep remains a community effort. River Dunes home owners and guests drop by from time to time to feed and water the equines. Which would work fine if it weren’t for the ponies’ persuasive ways.

Trouble is, Veronica, Harry and Hedy, like all ponies, prefer eating above all else. Which can lead to trouble. Failing the reflex to stop eating when their bellies are full, the human equivalent of binge eating, they can easily overeat and become sick. With so many well-meaning volunteers taking care of them, it would be easy for the ponies to coax meal after sweat feed meal out of their caretakers.

Hence the signs.

To avoid overfeeding, signs have been printed to clarify when the last meal was served. Despite the long faces and famished looks, the sign says dinner hour has passed.

The galley is now closed.

There’s even a sign, posted fence-side, to ensure the ponies enjoy one carrot, not one five-pound bag of carrots, from visiting guests. Sweet stuff, like sugar, is strongly discouraged.

Harry hides the sign: the strands of hair across the sign attest to the pony’s attempts at obscuring the rules.

So will Veronica, Harry and Hedy, who arrived at River Dunes showing the wild side of their Banker predecessors, loose their prankster edge? Will their newfound life of carrots, barn and sweet feed steal their spark? Probably not. They were brought here as a reminder of the region’s wild, coastal heritage. The goal is to expand on that theme. Soon, their roaming grounds will be increased. Louise says the next project is to expand their paddock into the pasture next door.

They’ll need the room. In the days since TownDock.net visited the herd, Veronica, the pregnant mare with the Peek-a-boo forelock, gave birth to a colt.

Now there are four: the bulge comes out of Veronica’s belly.(Ron Stevens photo)

As with all young equines, the colt was soon up and running. Then came nursing. Then, faster than it might happen in the wild, the newest River Dunes member started looking for something harder than mother’s milk – like grain. Louise reports the colt “put his head in his mother’s feed bucket and started kicking the bucket and the dirt in front of it with his front leg as he is pretending to eat…. he thinks this is what you do when you eat.”

Next up – a name for the new addition.

The wild horse heritage continues. The Banker pony legacy will carry on. In the meantime, Harry would like another carrot.

“Please, can I have another…?”
Veronica’s Bio

Celebrity Pet Most Resembles: Veronica Lake
Likes: Being in charge
Dislikes: Sharing her grain with others
Favorite Movie: Seabiscuit
Favorite Food: Carrots with Mare and Foal chow
Unfulfilled Dream: That folks will start ignoring the signs regarding her feeding schedule
Favorite Day: First Saturday in May – Derby Day

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