Assateague Island’s Wild Horses & the famous Chincoteague Ponies.
Most likely not the romantic notion that the horses are escapees from a shipwrecked Spanish Galion is not true. They are most likely descendants of domestic animals transported to Assateague Island in the 1600s to graze on marsh grasses, enabling their owners to avoid fencing laws and taxes on livestock. Sturdy animals, they are able to withstand the island’s heat, mosquitos, winds, salt spray, storms, and relatively poor food supply.
There are two separate herds, one in Maryland & one in Virginia on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. They are kept apart by a fence at the MD line. The herds have divided themselves into bands of 2 to 12 animals, each occupying their own home range. The MD herd is managed by the National Park Service and the horses have been left in a relatively wild state. The wild horses attract visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore, a favorite sighting amongst visitors. The herd size is controlled by using birth control. The southern herd is located on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept. They are visited by a veterinarian periodically, vaccinated, and provided with food when supplies of short. They are allow to graze on the National Wildlife Refuge by special permit and their numbers are limited to 150 in order to protect critical wildlife habitat and to avoid disturbing nesting birds such as the piping plover. Each year at the end of July, during the festival called “pony penning”, the horses are rounded up by the fire department’s “salt water cowboys” and swim from Assateague to Chincoteague Island where young foals are sold at auction, proceeds benefiting the Volunteer Fire Dept.
It’s a joy to watch the horses interact, but this is best done at a distance. Each year people get bitten or kicked when they approach too closely. Despite their friendly, docile appearance, they are still wild animals, not to be trusted. See my face book page (facebook.com/ospreyphotoworkshops) for a series of images of these magnificent animals.
Join me in a photo workshop on Assateague Island National Seashore, April 19-21, 2013. For info, contact Christina Hulslander 443-614-3547 or the Assateague Island Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check facebook.com/ospreyphotoworkshops for more images and details.