The en­dan­gered New­found­land Pony

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Rare Breeds Canada has iden­ti­fied the New­found­land Pony as a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species. The num­bers plum­meted, from an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of more than 12,000 in the early 1970s, to fewer than 100 world­wide by the late 1980s. The cur­rent pop­u­la­tion is about 350 known an­i­mals. The provin­cial gov­ern­ment cur­rently rec­og­nizes it as a her­itage an­i­mal.

Den­nis Flynn of Col­liers is no stranger to writ­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, hav­ing pro­duced a well-re­ceived photo es­say, “Voy­age: Re­trac­ing the 1612 Jour­ney of John Guy’s Ship, the In­deav­our.”

He has now re­leased the story of the re­mark­able New­found­land Pony. He de­scribes his new book, “The Long Haul: Track­ing the Path of the En­dan­gered New­found­land Pony,” as a “user-friendly vis­ual jour­ney.”

His is a labour of love, pro­vid­ing what he calls “a pos­i­tive mes­sage that the New­found­land Pony is still here, that it can and should be saved, and is a rugged lov­able sur­vivor that is in it for the long haul.”

He also hopes to cap­ture “the search to find new uses and new rel­e­vance, giv­ing the ponies some ap­pro­pri­ate work to do in a mod­ern world.” Though some peo­ple con­tinue to use th­ese spe­cial an­i­mals in tra­di­tional ways, in­clud­ing plough­ing land, haul­ing wood and gath­er­ing kelp, oth­ers re­gard them as large pets.

“I was, how­ever, sur­prised and en­cour­aged find­ing New­found­land ponies used in On­tario teach­ing chil­dren eques­trian skills,” he says, thereby al­low­ing the pony to “gain a foothold in a mar­ket thou­sands of miles from their home­land.” He says the own­ers are “pro­fuse in their praise for the work ethic, the rel­a­tive strength for size, and the tem­per­a­ment of the New­found­land Pony.”

Flynn’s con­nec­tion with the pony is, he says, “an eter­nal part of and an iconic im­age from my youth.” He ex­plains that his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, John M. Daw­son (Farmer Jack) of Bay Roberts, “al­ways had ponies, even when the herds dis­ap­peared … We would get to go for hay rides in sum­mer, sleigh rides in win­ter, or even take the odd sad­dle ride up to Mis­sion Lane to wa­ter the ponies in a lit­tle brook that crossed un­der the for­mer rail­way tracks.”

Flynn’s photo es­say com­bines archival im­ages with his own shots. There is a vin­tage de­pic­tion of a sol­dier stand­ing with a New­found­land Pony and box cart on Wa­ter Street, Bay Roberts, circa 1940. Black­smith Wil­liam H. Lit­tle­john shoe­ing a pony at his forge in Co­ley’s Point makes for a keen nos­tal­gic mo­ment. Horses and ponies pull sleighs on Duck­worth Street, St. John’s, in the early 1900s. There’s even a shot of Cupids and the Guy Ter­cente­nary cel­e­bra­tions in 1910.

Other towns fea­tured in­clude Trin­ity, Bad­ger’s Quay, Trepassey, Re­news, Corner Brook, St. An­thony, Cap­pa­hay­den, Bishop’s Falls, Port de Grave, Salmon Cove, Bri­gus, Roaches Line and Car­bon­ear, among oth­ers.

Flynn has very spe­cific as­pi­ra­tions for read­ers and view­ers of his book, say­ing, “I hope they come away with a sense of the deep con­nec­tion and im­por­tance to this place that the New­found­land Pony has and that we should con­tinue to pro­tect and pro­mote this an­i­mal every­where. It needs peo­ple to give it a help­ing hand to sur­vive and thrive.”

He says that, metaphor­i­cally speak­ing, the pony’s fu­ture is on “thin ice, but a lit­tle closer to the prover­bial safe shore than they were 10 or 15 years ago … Many hands from all quar­ters, near and far, must pull to­gether to save the pony.”

Not without rea­son has the pony been de­scribed as “one of the best kept se­crets.” How­ever, “in or­der to sur­vive, the New­found­land Pony can’t be kept a se­cret any longer. It must be shared and en­joyed as the cul­tural trea­sure it is, both at home and away. The time for de­bate is done and the time to pull to­gether in united ac­tion is now. If that hap­pens, and I have faith that it will in some fash­ion, then the pony will sur­vive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy.”

The book’s use­ful­ness is en­hanced by ju­di­cious con­tri­bu­tions from chief vet­eri­nary of­fi­cer, NL De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Dr. Hugh Whit­ney; first pres­i­dent of the New­found­land Pony So­ci­ety, Dr. An­drew Fraser; pres­i­dent of the New­found­land Pony Breed As­so­ci­a­tion, John Scan­lan; and New­found­land Pony breeder, Pat Mor­ris.

There’s a list­ing of res­cuers and breed­ers, along with the in­for­ma­tion about the evo­lu­tion of the New­found­land Pony.

If the New­found­land Pony could speak, it could ask for no greater cru­sader for its cause than Den­nis Flynn, who en­joys projects which, he says, “have some­thing pos­i­tive about them to keep you mo­ti­vated” and have “roots in the cul­ture of New­found­land and Labrador.”

“The Long Haul: Trac­ing the Path of the En­dan­gered New­found­land Pony” is pub­lished by James Lane Pub­lish­ing, St. John’s.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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