New Assateague Island Rules Will Protect Ponies, Humans

New Assateague Island Rules Will Protect Ponies, Humans

New regulations require visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore to keep their distance and stash their food from the island's wild ponies, who have become deft at breaking into visitors' food supplies.

Photo: Courtesy National Park Services

Visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore (AINS) must keep their distance and stash their food from the wild ponies that reside there under new rules intended to keep both the animals and humans safe.

The AINS is home to feral ponies believed to be descended from domestic horses brought to barrier islands in the late 17th century by mainland owners eager to skirt fencing laws and livestock taxes. Currently, the ponies residing on Assateague are split into two main herds: one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of the island, and are separated by a fence at the state line. The National Park Service manages the Maryland herd.

The animals have become popular attractions for visitors to the AINS. Highly habituated to humans, the ponies have become deft at breaking into visitors' food supplies and can become aggressive with humans they perceive as threatening their territories, said AINS spokesman Carl Zimmerman.

Under one new regulation intended to prevent unsafe human-horse interactions, visitors may not willfully be within 10 feet of a wild horse, Zimmerman said. The new rule also expands the existing ban on touching or feeding the horses by prohibiting any human actions intended to attract horses, such as offering food.

The second new regulation requires that park visitors avoid leaving food in tents and on picnic tables where ponies might access them easily. The regulation is intended to prevent ponies from consuming food items that, if consumed in significant quantities, could be harmful to them. Under the rule visitors and campers must store food and food-related refuse in hard-sided, lockable containers such as a car trunk or a cooler with a secure latch.

"That means something other than the normal cooler latch," Zimmerman said. "Some of the horses have figured out how to open those (conventional latches) pretty easily."

Zimmerman said the new regulations are part of AINS administrators' ongoing efforts to ensure visitors enjoy the wild ponies safely.

"Trying to reduce problems between people and horses is nothing new," Zimmerman said. "All our efforts are concentrated on education."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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