Arts & Culture
6:09 am
Tue May 8, 2007

"The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks" -- Carmine Prioli & Scott Taylor

"The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks" - Carmine Prioli & Scott Taylor

New Bern, NC – INTRO - How the wild horses of Shackleford Banks came to their place will always be a question. Some have them arriving as early as the late 1500s, dumped off ships that grounded on North Carolina's treacherous shoals. No matter how or when they arrived, they've long been a source of fascination for the state's citizens. A new book offers up a comprehensive look at the Shackleford Banks horses. George Olsen has more.

There is something innately exciting about wild horses, something N-C State English professor Carmine Prioli illustrates when discussing a ferry ride he took from Harker's Island while taking part in a teacher's workshop one summer at the Crystal Coast.

05:54 Inevitably, as we got to the eastern tip of Shackleford, there would be a few horses grazing in the marsh there and the skipper of the ferry would slow down the boat and would always point out to the people on the boat there are some horses and without exception everyone would stand up or dive for their cameras and take pictures of those horses in the marshes. And when this happened so many times people don't get that excited over wild pelicans, there used to be wild cattle and sheep on the island back in the 80's. They were all removed in 1985, but and I didn't see them but I'm almost positive that people weren't that excited about seeing a cow grazing in the marshes at Shackleford. But when the horses were pointed out, everybody did and they still do.

It's that reaction that led Prioli to collaborate with photographer Scott Taylor on the book The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks. He notes that the fascination for the horses extends beyond area visitors and perhaps is felt even more deeply by Down East residents.

05:54 I had a fellow yesterday I was talking to saying he remembered coming back one day in his skiff from a trip to Cape Lookout and he was coming along Back Sound heading to Beaufort, and he realized he was motoring not too far off the north shore of Shackleford, he noticed there were a few horses running with him along the marshes there and he said it was one of the most exciting times of his life, to see those horses running along the island.

Their impact even runs in places you wouldn't expect any type of animal to hold sway. In producing the book, Prioli was made aware of a 1939 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling which used the image of wild horses in this case, those of Ocracoke Island to illustrate the principle of legal equity.

29:00-32:40 Reading from page 76 Writing for the majority is equity on Ocracoke.

The case, incidentally, involved one group of people that contested a will and one group that chose not to. When the group that contested the will won, the group that didn't sued for a share of the gain. A lower court ruled for those who did not contest the will. The Supreme Court overruled the lower court.

32:00-ish How the plaintiffs responded to not found a record of.

To have wild banker ponies mentioned in a decision from the state's highest court was something Prioli referred to as a gem and quite remarkable. But while that type of find helped to make his case for the horses deep infusion in state history, its still their pull on those who see them like the man in the skiff mentioned earlier that has made its biggest impression on Prioli. He quotes Carolyn Mason, the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.

10:49 when I'm on Shackleford with those horses it gives me a whole new perspective on this universe and our place in it I think we all have our own responses to that comment. I, frankly, at times, feel trapped by technology, by the way in which I am tied to the computer at work. I do everything by e-mail nowadays, and of course when the computer goes down, you're essentially dead in the water. That and other things give me a sense of not having that kind of freedom we'd like to have and when we see the horses out there on their own, grazing on their own, they are metaphors essentially. I'm an English professor so I can not resist using literary terms to help explain this subject to me and especially to my students. What are they metaphors for? To paraphrase Carolyn, they're metaphors for the freedom we really don't have.

The irony in the metaphor is that Prioli acknowledges that the wild horses of Shackleford Banks are wild in only the most superficial way managed by the Foundation for Shackleford Horses and the National Park Service. Prioli notes the horses aren't fed or groomed by anyone. They aren't even offered medical care unless one is euthanized because of serious injury. But still, following passage of the Shackleford Banks Wild Horses Protection Act in 1998, the size of the herd is monitored, with an immunocontraception program utlilized to maintain the herd's genetic viability. It's why, in addition to being a metaphor, the horses also exemplify another literary term.

18:46 It has spawned what I think is an oxymoron, the concept of wilderness management. Think of it. If it's wild, it's not being managed. The very definition of wildness is non-management or at least non-interference by human beings. So we see these horses on the island and we see them as wonderful symbols and inspiring icons of freedom and of the American experience, but if it wasn't for the science of technology they wouldn't be there.

Prioli says his realization that this herd of wild horses was pretty much wild in name only was a little dismaying. But it's not a deal-breaker. Managed or not, Prioli marvels at their ability to survive for such a long time, no matter when they first got here. He notes the herd has faced countless storms, encountered disease, they've even gone through the legislative process yet they're still here.

10:49 They really represent the story of the underdog which fundamentally is the American story, it's the little guy fighting city hall and winning. Most people who see the horses don't know all that history, but I think intuitively we feel that's what the horses come to represent, just seeing them there.

34:00-35:08 Reads from page 87 It's hard to say exactly why identity as Americans.

Carmine Prioli is a professor and director of graduate programs in the English Department at N-C State University. The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks, with photographs by Scott Taylor of Beaufort, is published by John F. Blair. I'm George Olsen.