Friday, October 22, 2010

All the King's Horses

We decided to head home via the Del-MAR-VA peninsula and stopped for a couple of nights near Ocean City, MD and Assateague Island. This is the home of the famous Assateague/Chincoteague horses/ponies. The island is shared by Maryland and Virginia – most of it is a National Seashore, and there are also state parks on the island.

We’ve heard in the past about the island and the horses, but didn’t know the island was open to the public. There are two herds of wild horses on the island. The southern herd, which hangs around Chincoteague, VA is the one that gets all of the publicity because each year the horses are made to swim from the island to the mainland where the foals are sold. The northern herd, in Maryland, is maintained as a herd of wild horses – they aren’t fed or cared for by humans, other than occasional emergency vet care – and other than a birth control program. The idea is to maintain the size of the herd, so young mares are allowed to have one foal and then they’re given birth control. Not the pill, but a dart of hormones that supposedly permits all natural behavior but no pregnancy.

The horses, or evidence of horses, can be found throughout the island. Human visitors aren’t allowed to feed or touch theDSC_0056 horses, and are subject to fines for violations, and the horses seem to do very well, some living to a fairly old age, for a horse.

We saw several horses from the truck, but weren’t in a position to get a good photo. This shot was the best I could do, so the image below was lifted from the National Seashore’s web site.

Horses on beach

There are several legends about the origin of these horses, the most widely repeated is the one that says they swam ashore from wrecked Spanish sailing ships 300 years ago. The more likely origin is that the ancestors of these horses were brought to the island a couple of hundred years ago by their owners who were trying to avoid livestock taxes by keeping their horses off the mainland.


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