The Wild Horses Of Assateague Island

Douglas Pilarski

The Sky Was A Pure Blue That Punched You In The Eye

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Wild horses 1Public Domain Photo provided by National Park Service ( NPS)
Everyone piles in the car, and we are headed to North Carolina. It was always a family trip. Someone was always headed south for some R&R. I made the trip once or twice.
It wasn't too far from Pittsburgh. Road trips introduced me to Virginia's Skyline Drive, the scenic mountain route through the mountains. Nags Head for surf fishing and a trip to Kitty Hawk. I had to think long and hard about the Wright Brothers while experiencing sand dunes for the first time in my life. I can certify it is sans dunes in western Pennsylvania. Did the brothers really fly a plane here? Wow! I recall a visit to the Smithsonian, which reinforced the kitty hawk experience. If you don't know, the Wright brother's flying machine has from the ceiling at the Smithsonian.
Driving up and down the OUt banks was memorable. I don't know how many fish we caught, though. You don't always need to hook something to have fun fishing in my book.
I remember my trip to Assateague as being there early in the morning. The colors were vivid. The sand was a smooth, tawny carpet. The sky was a pure blue that punched you in the eye. The blue of the ocean and crashing waves were remarkable. The three colors blended and made for a surreal view. Then I saw them. Wild horses paused in the tall waving sawgrass. It was not natural to me. The colors, the horses, the sunshine, the breeze. It was a solid first impression. I remember it to this day.

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Wild horses 2Public Domain Photo provided by National Park Service ( NPS)

According to the national park service, Assateague Island is a 37-mile (60 km) long barrier island facing the Atlantic Ocean and spans two states. The northern two-thirds of the island falls into Maryland. Maryland calls the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park home.

Assateague Island is the largest natural barrier island ecosystem in the Middle Atlantic states region that remains predominantly unaffected by human development.

According to the National Park Service system, Assateague Island National Seashore is a unit of the NPS system of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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Wild horses 3Photo via Pinterest

There are large populations of birds inhabiting the island. Keep your eye peeled for the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and American Oystercatcher. Three hundred twenty species are known to come and go during some portion of the year. Among the 320 species, gulls, terns, raptors, waterbirds, and waterfowl are present. Assateague is home to the piping plover, a threatened species that nests on the island.

Same Horse, Different names.

Feral horses roam the island. The horses are called by different names. In Maryland, the horse is known as the Assateague horse. The same horse is known as the Chincoteague Pony in Virginia.

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Wild horses 4Public Domain Photo provided by National Park Service ( NPS)

What's the difference between a horse and a pony?

The height of the animal is the determining factor. If the animal is under 14.2 hands (58 inches), it is considered a pony. Most of the animals on the island are under the 14.2 hand mark, so let's call them ponies. The ponies' relatively small size is due to the environment they thrive in instead of genetics. According to the National Park Service, there is disagreement about whether they are horses or ponies.

The horses had domesticated ancestors, according to experts. A fence between Maryland and Virginia separates the horses.

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Wild horses 5Public Domain Photo provided by National Park Service ( NPS)

The horses survived a Spanish Galleon wreck along the coast, according to the legend. The herdsmen brought the horses ashore.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service speculates that the horse may have been led there in the 17th century by property owners on the mainland. Hiding the horses on the barrier islands helped them avoid fencing and taxes.

As the island population grew, the herds were culled, and some horses were placed under human ownership. It is also noted by the USFWS that these horses adapt quickly to domestication. Either way, a trip to the national park will provide you with stunning scenery. Assateague is a popular tourist attraction, and the beautiful horses for the perfect subject for photographers.

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Wild horses 6Public Domain Photo provided by National Park Service ( NPS)

The National Park Service owns the Maryland horses. NPS tracks the population and has ones so for generations. In Virginia, the Chinnccoteach Volunteer Fire Department calls the horses their own.

Once a year, usually July. The VFD springs into action. The Saltwater Cowboys, as they are known, round up the herd during the Penning Day carnival time and auction off foals to keep the population levels at the required levels.

Next time you are near North Carolina, Virginia, or Maryland and are close to the shore, visit. Horses roaming the beach is a sight you won’t soon forget.

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Douglas Pilarski is an award-winning writer & journalist based on the west coast. He writes about luxury goods, exotic cars, horology, tech, food, lifestyle, and workplace issues!

Beaverton, OR
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