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Cumberland Ruins And Wildhorses

Cumberland Island, GA: So much of Cumberland Island's allure lies in the unspoiled, wild spirit of the place, with pristine white sand beaches fronting the Atlantic and dense salt marshes buffering it from the civilized mainland. There are no phones, no roads to speak of, and very few full-time human residents. On the other hand, there are haunting reminders of the people who, over the centuries, inhabited the island for exploration, for commerce or for pleasure—foremost among them the crumbling mansions of the Gilded Age, overcome by wind, water and the island's ever-creeping moss.

On Cumberland, the balance between the wild and the civilized definitely favors the wild, and there is no better symbol of this tension, and a living symbol at that, as the bands of feral horses who roam the dunes, marshes and even old estate lawns in dignified, ghostly beauty. They've been here perhaps as far back as the 16th century, as long or longer than some of the oldest grandfather oaks on the island. And while on one hand they seem to embody the essence of wild freedom, they were still brought here by civilization, and their existence on the island troubles as many people as they enchant.

Cumberland Island is one of a handful of places on the East Coast that are home to bands of feral horses. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia and Maryland are the best-known, popularized by the Misty books by Marguerite Henry which were published in the early 50s and still devoured by horse-crazy kids today. The horses on Cumberland Island may have similar ancestors to the Chincoteague/Assateague ponies, which are thought to have been either shipwrecked or abandoned there by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Plantation owners, various military activities, and influxes of pleasure horses brought by the island's more recent residents blended into the population over the centuries, resulting in a horse that's still very tough, but not as stubby and fuzzy as its cousins to the North. It's not unusual for the Cumberland horses to reach 15 hands (5 feet tall at the shoulder), and they are longer legged and longer backed than other East Coast feral horses.



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