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The Wild Horses of Assateague Island, Maryland

Posted by Jody on March 7, 2012

A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.~Pam Brown, author

Wild Horse of Assateague Island National Seashore (PD-USGov-NPS)

The wild horses of Assateague Island National Seashore are descendants of domesticated horses brought to this beautiful, barrier island over 300 years ago.

This hardy herd has adapted to life on the sandy shores and marshes of Assateague Island. According to the National Park Service’s The Wild Horses of Assateague Island Brochure, “Horses tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant insects, stormy weather and poor quality food found on this windswept barrier island have formed a unique wild horse society.” Today’s Assateague horses are short of stature due to hundreds of years of grazing on the nutrient-poor beach grass, saltmeadow hay and saltmarsh cordgrass.

Wild Horses of Assateague (Photo by VitaleBaby/Wikipedia)

The horses on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore are owned and managed by the National Park Service.  Wild and roaming freely, they might be seen anywhere in the park. “During the summer months many bands can be found on the beach. You can often see the horses and other wildlife by driving slowly along park roads.”

…Cooler fall weather and fewer insects allow the bands to move from the beaches back to the marshes and their abundant grasses.”

When visiting, it is very important to respect these coastal residents as wild animals. They are fascinating to watch and photograph, but only do so from a distance. Every year, there are visitors who get a beating for getting too close (by the horses, that is). It’s also a harmful mistake to feed the horses. They can become sick from human food, and if they learn to beg for food by the road, they are likely to get hit and killed by a car. Be  sure to read the National Park Service’s brochure on Viewing the Assateague Horses Safely for more information.

What a great day at the beach:  surf, sand, sunshine and wild horses!

4 Responses to “The Wild Horses of Assateague Island, Maryland”

  1. […] original here: The Wild Horses of Assateague Island « Beach Treasures and … Related Posts:Protecting the Horses of Assateague Island National Seashore …Hunter Convicted […]

  2. Your article failed to address the legend that the horses are said to come from a wrecked Spanish galleon. This legend was made popular by Marguerite Henry in Misty of Chincoteague published in 1967. There was a Spanish warship named La Galga which ran asore on Assateague in 1750. This is the legendary galleon. Nearly all of the livestock on Assateague was drowned in 1749 in a horrific hurricane. This has been thoroughly documented in The Hidden Galleon which gives a complete history of La Galga AND the horses as well. Horses have been documented as being on other Spanish ships making the return trip to Spain, just as La Galga.

    • Jody said

      Yes, I had heard the legend! Although I do like your explanation much better, the National Park Service has a much less romantic account. According to their page on Assateague’s Wild Horses, “Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast. While this dramatic tale of struggle and survival is popular, there are no records yet that confirm it. The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.”
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for giving us something to think about! I appreciate your insights and I’ll be looking for your book! ~Jody
      P.S. Please consider writing a guest post for us!

  3. Treasure hunter…

    […]The Wild Horses of Assateague Island, Maryland « Beach Treasures and Treasure Beaches[…]…

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