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The Ponies of Assateague

Two separate populations of wild horses inhabit the island divided by a fence at the State Line. The one the Virginia Side belongs to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department which leases grazing rights from the Federal Government for 150 horses. The horses are allowed to run free but are provided veterinary care if needed.

Every year the Volunteer Fire Department auctions off some of the horses to pay for equipment and help fund it's operations.

On the Maryland, side the ponies, like the other wildlife are left to fend for themselves. The National Park Service only interceeds in order to limit the population or to remove particularly aggressive horses.

While the ponies are a big draw for both the State and National Park, they do have their drawbacks. As a relatively recent invader, they compete with native wildlife for the relatively limited food resources on the island as well as feeding on vegetation growing on the sand dunes which makes dunes more prone to wind and water erosion .

In the State Park, solar powered electric fencing has been installed around the outer dunes in an effort to protect the dunes from horse damage.

The horses have little fear of humans and can be a nuisance at campsites by looking for food in peoples tents. I should say at the outset that I have never been bothered by horses on any of the many occasions that I have camped on the island. However I seen a few situations where somebody's vacation has been cut short by their own carelessness.

Never store Food in Your Tent

It doesn't matter if it is only a baggie of cherrios that you toddler was munching on or your entire food supply for the week. An unattended tent containing food is just asking for a visit from one of the islands ponies seeking a more palatable meal than the saltwater cord grass and other vegetation that they usually eat.

Assateague State park September 2003- Three wild horses shredded this tent and every thing inside to get at some hamburger buns that they sniffed out.

No amount of noise or pot banging would shift them. They were finally driven away when buckets of cold water were thrown at them.

Another incident that I was witness to, occured in May 2005. Again the horses smelled food and made a mess of the campsite and damaged the tent and other items before being driven away. Note that the ponies have left their calling card in front of the picnic table.


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