During another long hike on Cumberland Island, my friend and I finally made it to the grand yard of the Dungeness ruins. This area was were the horses preferred to feed on the grass. We tried to get closer and closer to take full advantage of our camera’s zooms. They paid us no mind but we could tell they stayed on their P’s and Q’s about our whereabouts.
The Rangers on the island warn us about the horses. They are untamed on the island for decades and won’t understand our compassion for their sweet souls. We are advised to stay far away and use our zoom feature to get the images we want. They go so far as to give us an example of a woman who decided to walk up on a horse. Of course, the horse was startled and kicked her. She ended up being air-lifted off the island. No one knows what happened to her, but it was enough to drop complete understanding to the rest of us. Granted, we’d test our luck but we don’t get too crazy.
There’s something amazing about watching a horse that’s never known the life of stables, horse shows and riding crops being smacked against their bottoms. They appear so carefree and at peace. They graze with their ponies and they could care less what the world is like off the island. They are born, they live and die on the island. It’s amazing. You look at them and you couldn’t even fathom the peace and freedom they have in their lives. There are no predators waiting to hunt them. From an adult’s perspective, there are no bills to pay. Ha. Ha. Lucky them.
The best part about watching them is you get your own sense of peace and freedom. The happiness you get when you see them live so free. You almost wish you could see every horse be that way. In fact, when I see those ridiculous horse carriage rides tourist love so much in the city, it pisses me off. After you’ve seen what freedom looks like for a horse, it’s hard to imagine them any other way, in the grass and sweet sunshine.
One of the highlights of Cumberland island, besides the amazing horses, are the Dungeness Ruins. You can approach the ruins from many trail paths but what fun would that be? I prefer going right through the front gate.
I try to use my imagination every time I visit. I pretend I am coming to visit the tenants of the mansion. I stroll up through the stone gates and browse around at the massive front yard. I’d imagine workers tending to the yard keeping the place looking posh and neatly. I imagine approaching the large building awaiting my invite to tea. I take a detour around the side and gaze through the iron gates, there is a courtyard decked out with a fountain and bold blooms overfilling every flowerpot. There are proper small children playing chase and tag, a governess nearby steady clapping her hands telling the children not to play so rough.
I continue on the fence to the ever-expanding back yard. It is a dream how it stretches to the edge of the island with the Atlantic waiting just beyond the shore. The grass is healthy and bright green. Horses graze gracefully on the grass. Turkeys stroll in packs as they make for the cover of the distant forest. I stand there a moment taking in the ocean of green and nothing else feels better than this.
Suddenly, the the perfect home disappears. I am left with decaying bricks and a fallen home. The horses remain, the grass continues to sparkle, but the life is gone. The children’s voices fill my head, but they are gone until I see them again as I cross the yard to the family grave.
What is it like to live in the arms of nature with no one to answer to and to be protected from all the predators of the wild? Ask the feral horses of Cumberland Island of the coast of St. Mary’s Georgia.
I have visited Cumberland Island twice and it amazes me to see horses that answer to themselves and roam around in the wild as they should be. Cumberland Island is only partially developed but mostly abandoned. The horses can roam anywhere from the grass fields at the center of the island to the beautiful beaches surrounding the island.
Before visitors can visit the island (by ferry only), they are required to attend a short orientation about the rules of the island which including taking unauthorized artifacts from the island and staying far away from the feral horses and wild turkeys.
The horses stay on the island their entire lives unless removed for specific purposes. During the summer seasons you can see all the new ponies coming out with their mothers. It’s also mating season so the male horses will be more active than usual as they try to find their true loves.
The horses favorite areas to graze and socialize in would be the massive lawns of the Dungeness ruins. If your soul purpose to visit the island is to see these beauties, go straight for the ruins, this is where you will find most of them. Other’s will be exploring in abandoned parts of the island.
These horses have spent generations on the island and probably wouldn’t prefer it any other way. If you visit, take your photos, marvel at their magnificence but keep your distance. They love their home, let’s let them continue to love it. For a more in-depth insight and education to the horse on the island, visit Cumberland Island’s official page on the National Park Service website.