Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn
Posted July 12, 2013on:
I’m cheating to include Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn in my round-up of picture books, because it’s actually more of a coffee table book. However, during my many searches in tourist shops and bookstores, it’s the only book I’ve found on Newfoundland’s first heritage animal. And so I’m asking you to indulge me as I tell you about a unique animal which once numbered over twelve thousand but then almost faced extinction when in the 1980’s the number dwindled to less than one hundred. It’s now on the critical list.
What makes Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn a coffee table book? According to Wikipedia, a coffee table book is intended to sit in an area where guests are entertained and to inspire conversation. Coffee table books tend to be nonfiction of a larger size and visually oriented, rather than portable and of heavy subject matter. They also have distinctive lay-flat pages. All of this accurately describes Newfoundland Pony, including the fact that almost every page contains multiple photos with captions. For the most part, the photos do not seem to be arranged in any particular order. Certain spreads consist of a historical photo contrasted with a current photo, which together illustrate that the once-invaluable ponies have been replaced by technology. As one reaches the middle of the book, the photos seem to more organized. There’s a collection grouped by location, such as the French island of Miquelon and the province of Ontario, a section called “Horsin’ Around” which shows these ponies in their more playful moments, and a final grouping titled “Behind the Scenes” which provides brief biographies of advocates for the pony’s survival. Through photos of his own and from archives, Dennis Flynn has created a beautiful photo essay about an animal once valuable to Newfoundland and still worthy of our respect.
What information can one glean from the Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn? As recent as the last century, families were using the ponies to “plough the ground, gather wood, rake hay, collect kelp, harvest crops, spread capelin for fertilizer on meadows, move freight, and for nearby deliveries”. In other words, for people in rural Newfoundland owning a pony wasn’t about keeping a pet. Sadly, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Newfoundland pony fell upon dark times. Once their usefulness ended, the ponies became a luxury that many families couldn’t afford, and many owners sold them to the mainland horse meat industry. By the 1990’s, this hard-working and intelligent animal, who at times had even saved lives, was almost annihilated. If not for the efforts of a few dedicated pony groups who convinced the Newfoundland government to create the Heritage Animal Act, the Newfoundland pony have disappeared into oblivion. Today it’s numbers have rebounded to over three hundred. It also has found new purposes, such as being used in Ontario to train young riders for equestrian shows. If you’re interested in seeing these hardy creatures in real life, Newfoundland Pony contains a map of rescuers and breeders.
Why should anyone outside of Newfoundland care about obscure and obsolete livestock? When reading this book, many of my thoughts revolved around animal welfare and protection, an issue which effects everyone. I began to think of the classic Black Beauty, which has been described as the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time. Although there isn’t any indication that the Newfoundland pony was ill-treated during its service to families, it should be of equal concern that in the face of progress it struggles to maintain an existence. According to Horsetalk, a fact startling to me is that the Labrador husky is facing a similar dilemma. The dog was bred specifically for heavy, long-haul sledding in neighboring Labrador. Now that snowmobiles have made it obsolete as well, it is “not uncommon for packs of the dogs to be destroyed by the same communities that once relied upon them”. We’re not talking here about the demise of the fountain pen, record players, or other inanimate objects for which we might feel nostalgia, but about unique creatures that could still die out without continued protection.
As I browsed Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn, I also felt struck by how keen it would be if this information were presented in a picture book format. At least two such books do exist! Coincidentally, they share the same title: Newfoundland Pony Tales. One is by Marion Quinton-Brake who still lives in Newfoundland and the other is by the deceased Andrew Fraser whose book The Newfoundland Pony: The Lone Member of the Moorland Family of Horses in North America is considered the Bible on this breed. Has anyone read either of these picture books or know of other examples? Finally, to conclude my review, if you wish to read more about the author Dennis Flynn, the Compass has written an article about him called The Endangered Newfoundland Pony.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?