The wild and beautiful Assateague horses are famous throughout the world for their unique lifestyle. These feral animals live on the shorelines of a coastal barrier island shared by Virginia and Maryland. They have existed there, side by side with locals since the New World was the destination for settlers from Europe. The legends concerning their history are fascinating. Some say they were left by pirates, while others insist that Spanish galleon sunk off in the ocean and the horses escaped to the island. Their beauty and wild ways entice thousands to see them annually.
There are actually two distinct herds of ponies. One herd is called the Maryland herd and the other, the Virginia herd. It is the Maryland herd that is called Assateague, while the Virginia herd is known as the Chincoteague herd. They are named based on the area of land they occupy. They also are divided by the state line that divides the two states. The Maryland ponies are wild and freely range throughout their area.
Equine experts throughout the United States view these two herds as the most wild currently living in the country. Scientific groups observe and evaluate these animals regularly because their life style has allowed them to develop away from inbreeding. These fascinating ponies exhibit behaviors, group dynamics, and family patterns that are unique in the horse world.
The officials that manage each herd work hard to keep the population in check. Each group rarely numbers more than one hundred and fifty or so. This way, the animals will not exhaust the natural resources that help to sustain them. There will be enough space for them to live adequately and enough natural plants for them to eat. The veterinarians that care for them plan for appropriate vaccinations, medications, contraception and culling the herds through yearly public auctions.
When the Assateague herd drops below reasonable limits, it is common for members of the Chincoteague herd to be selected to add to the previous. In this way, each group of ponies is kept at a limit that helps them to remain healthy and find the foods they need on the island. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire company tends to the needs of its herd. The National Park Service manages the wilder Maryland herd.
Because thousands visit each year, a Pony Patrol roams throughout the area educating the public about them. These equines have a reputation for biting, kicking and even charging at humans. There are strict rules that demand absolutely no contact between humans and horses.
Literally thousands visit each year to watch as the annual swim and Pony Penning round up likely auction candidates among the herds. Some will bid for ponies that will be auctioned as soon as the swim is finished. Most will enjoy the proceedings and then spend the rest of their time at the yearly carnival.
There is a big movement to keep the feral Assateague horses completely wild. Through education and best management practices, those who care for these handsome horses work to develop public awareness about the history of these famous animals. With continued educational efforts, and by allowing camping and human activities to share their space, these animals continue to enjoy their interesting seaside lifestyle.
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Author: Celia HallThis author has published 202 articles so far.