Assateague Steps Up Wild Horse Educational Efforts

An increase in biting incidents at the Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland has inspired a stricter policy toward visitors wishing to see the national park's famous wild horses.

Visitors ignoring the dangers of dealing with any wild animal have caused a recurring problem in the past several years, according to Allison Turner, a biological technician at Assateague.

"As long as there have been people visiting this island and horses on this island, people want to pet the horses, get close to them, feed them," said Turner, referencing her 21 years of experience with the park. Turner said just because the horses are not afraid of people does not mean they are tame.

"They are wild and they will bite you," she said.

There have been many incidents over the years of horses biting, kicking, or knocking down visitors or even tearing into campers' tents; the horses can be very aggressive, particularly in their search for food, said Turner.

 Injury goes both ways, however. One horse is killed by a car every year on average, according to a brochure distributed by the park. Human interaction with the wild horses negatively affects their behavior by teaching them to associate cars and people with food rather than something to be respected, warned Turner.

Assateague is continuing to work to protect its horses and its visitors. New measures include a recommended safe viewing distance of a "bus length" away from the horses, a brochure detailing proper safety guidelines and better distribution of safety information in partnership with nearby Assateague State Park in Maryland.

The most important safety measure is nothing new, however. "A big part is education," said Turner. "[It is important] to try to explain to people why they can't do this, or what types of behavior leads to just a lot of problems that they probably on the surface wouldn't think of."

This is where the Pony Patrol comes into play. Initially the idea of a park visitor, Pony Patrol volunteers have been riding bicycles around the island and educating guests about the importance of the wild horses since 1991.

Both the Pony Patrol and the brochures are intended to teach visitors that wild horses can be dangerous and deserve respect.

About the Author

Courtney LeMay, Editorial Intern

Courtney LeMay was editorial intern for The Horse for the summer of 2010. She attends Asbury Univeristy, planning to graduate in 2013 with a double major in Journalism and Media Communications. She is currently the senior staff features writer for her school paper, the Asbury Collegian, as well as a member of the swim team.

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