Assateague Strives to Keep Wild Horses, Wild

As published on

While the BLM Kills and Maims Horses in the West, Assateague Horses Flourish in the East

“This story sharply contrasts the death, blood and destruction that is currently being rained down upon our wild horses and burros in the western United States.  Monday the renegade Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began a 6 state, 4 month long assault upon federally protected wild equine with the hopes of destroying the freedom and families of 3,500 wild horses and burros.  Meanwhile, quietly munching grass and enjoying the clicking shutters of tourist’s cameras are the wild ponies of Assateague. 

What’s the difference? Easy, no slipshod, special interest manipulation by the federal cattle grazing agency known as the BLM, i.e. Blatant Liars and Manipulators.  The Assateague horses and the Corolla herd are clear cut examples of non-invasive, on the range management that works for not only the horses but for the communities around them who bask in the dollars that tourist spend to see these wonderful creatures.  Lesson learned?  I think so; the only problem is that the BLM Wild Horse Harvesting Machine has it’s pedal to the metal and can’t hear common sense and good science over the roar of it’s screaming special interest engine and the cries of terror from the equines that it devours.  The time to pull the plug on the BLM wrecking ball is long overdue.” ~ R.T.


Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation photographing the Wild Horses of Assateague ~ photo by R.T. Fitch

When a domestic horse gets a case of colic or comes up lame, the vet is called.

So what steps are taken when one of the wild horses on Assateague Island National Seashore suffers a malady?

None. The park lets nature take its course.

Although it’s easy to compare the famous horses of Assateague to the equines at home on farms throughout Delmarva, staff members at the national park stress that there is one key difference: The animals on the barrier island are wild.

“The horses are wild,” said Jack Kumer, wildlife specialist at the park. “We treat them as wildlife. They’ve been living on their own here for 350 years. They can do well on their own.”

That, he says, is why park officials very rarely call a veterinarian to treat the animals.

The only time a vet is called to Assateague is when one of the wild horses is obviously suffering, Kumer said. A few years ago, a vet was called to euthanize an old mare who had stopped eating and could no longer stand. Prior to that, the last time a vet was in the park on business was when a horse had been struck by a car and had been cut by the vehicle’s mirror.

The cut, Kumer said, was not severe but, because it was it was the height of summer and so many park visitors were concerned about the horse, a veterinarian was called.

“It was a wound that was going to heal,” Kumer said. “It was not so much for the horse but for the people watching. We don’t want people to think the horses are suffering.”

The vast majority of the time, however, the horses are left to themselves, Kumer said. From a distance, park staff members watch the horses deal with injuries and ills on their own.

“They are wild horses,” Kumer said. “We don’t provide water, food or vet care.”

The only attention the horses, or at least the mares, receive is the administration of birth control. Kumer said that even with their lack of veterinary care, the animals had been so healthy that in the 1980s the park had to begin using birth control to keep the herd’s numbers from getting too high— the barrier island ecosystem can handle just a limited number of horses.

Since 1994, mares at the park have been under a regular birth control regimen, limiting the number of foals born each year to a handful. This year, there were three, one of which died shortly after being born.

Even so, the park’s wild horse population is up to 113.

Rachelle Daigneault, chief of interpretation and education at the park, says the herd is thriving.

“They’ve really made the most of the island,” she said.
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17 comments on “Assateague Strives to Keep Wild Horses, Wild

  1. Stellar Post RT !!!!! The Corolla Horses are a perfect example of how the Mustangs and the People and the Community live together in Harmony !!!!! Each Complimenting each other !!! I have stayed there many times although it has been awhile ,, the people there truly respect their Mustangs and they do guard them with peace and love ….They regard them as a lovely gift as it should be !!!!! They try not to intrude on them, and if you do, the people take it personally………The Corolla Mustangs for a while was my only example , I thought that in the West it must be the same !!!!! But then I found out NOT???????? The Mustangs of the West , when I first saw them I thought WOW look at these WOW how healthy and beautiful and untouched the West must really cherish them??? NOT!! I was devastated at this???? I thought these people have no Idea what beauty they possess!!!! How awesome if only they would realize what they have here ????? I Love them and respect them all but those Nevada Mustangs were a sight beyond the imagination, they are a little different then the Corollas, I dont like to compare but WOW those Nevada Mustangs took my breathe away with there Beauty !!!!! Thousands of reason for this State to rejoice !!!!! I thought wow these people cannot see the Forest for the Trees!!!!! The lack of unappreciative of them was Unbelievable !!!! COME ON NEVADA GET A CLUE !!!!! What you view as a burden is your most Wonderful ASSET !!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Do you know our N.C. rep is trying to get Ken Salazar to manage the wild horses here? He is the head of the dept. of the interior which controls the BLM, U.S.Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forestry and 10 more U.S. agencies including all Native American agencies. I am not impressed with what he has done so far and fear for our horses here. His family are cattlemen, read up on him.


  2. I agree, Arlene – something very wrong with the whole BLM roundup situation in the west. The fact that its allowed to go on to this extent is unbelievable.
    The people near Assateague Island have certainly become comfortable with these horses and there apparently is no friction there or in NOrth Carolina with the Corollas.
    Just goes to show that it is possible to have the enjoyment of these animals & care about them and let them live their lives out with dignity.
    First you have to get rid of the greedy so &sos that cant see anything but money & power.
    Have seen comments on here about Romney possibly having a different view about the horses. But listened to the debate & one of the things he said was there should be more drilling AND bringing in the pipe line from Canada. Those two things do not bode well for the horses. Just more breaking up the HMAs.
    Sure do wish I could come up with a positive solution – or that someone could.


  3. Corolla’s herd needs to have legislation in the Senate passed this term to protect it from USFWS’s attempts to prevent the herd from using acreage in the Wildlife Refuge as grazing land. The service has tried to use the feral, invasive argument, but really, outside the West, people here don’t have much patience for what is considered on its face as an invalid argument if for no other reason than the horses have thrived here. Corolla has a much bigger challenge keeping the horses separated from visitors who want to feed them, pet them, etc.

    Shackleford Island is the site where Princeton and Duke University have a research center to study not only the wild horses, but also the changes in the ecology due to the wild horses’ interaction with the ecology of the island. It is very interesting that the island is gradually being reforested. Since the wild horses are the only graing animals on this island, you can eliminate many other factors influencing the changes in the flora. This evidence alone should provide some support to the possibility of returning wild horses to areas on the range to assist in healing the land and helping to reforest land that has been damaged by over grazing.

    First, I sincerely hope that if and when we get a new administration that the Department of Interior will not be headed by anyone who has ever lived on a ranch anywhere, but someone with a degree or training in law and environmental science, ecology, or engineering who is dedicated to finding the balance that will allow us to tap some of the resources available on public lands needed for energy production, allow some grazing, recreational use, protected areas for our wild horses and burros (I think it would be wise to invest private foundation dollars and university research dollars to study horses and burros in the wild and to develop eco-tourism centers in some of these areas managed as if they were part of the National Parks System.

    What each of the East Coast herds have is a supporting community close by who care deeply about the horses, and consider the horses presence essential to both their economy and to their local identity. It is unthinkable to them that the horses be removed. To the extent that such places could be developed in areas in the West, there should be some legitimate scientific interest in studing a species that has evolved as their environment has evolved for over 55 millions years. I know not everyone believes in Darwinism, but if there were ever a species that serves as a signature species for Darwinism it is the horse.

    It is clear that horses in the wild adapt to a diet of very low nutrient forage and even drink salty water to some extent. In North Carolina, we have large amounts of land for farming where cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and other animals thrive because the forage is far more nutrient rich. This is what seems so upside down about Western grazing.

    Planting trees is a more certain hedge against global warming than cap and trade. We may need to examine our entire concept of big agriculture and instead go with smaller farms buffered by forests as America once was before the government controlled almost half the land mass in the Western States.


  4. The University of Georgia has an extension service stationed on Tybee, Island, just outside of Savannah. One of the course offerings of this extension service is Beach Ecology. Every year I was involved with a STEM program, we loaded up the buses with our 100 students for three days of extensive, class-room, and hands-on study of beach ecology. The students has to use the skills they had learned all year measuring slope on the beach and the sand dunes, then comparing their findings to the same spot that were taken the year before, so they could appreciate the ever changing nature of the islands shores according to the tides, tropical storms, and other factors. We used seining nets to catch bait fish and whatever else, hiked through a special section of the marsh to experience sinking in the black mud and viewing the snails that move up and down the marsh grass with the tides, and observe up close the special job that the marsh performs as it acts as a filter between land and sea. We studied different forms of aquatic life in the classroom, and then headed out to different sites where we could observe them. Nothing like finding a baby Hammerhead swimming under the dock to make you stay on your guard in the water.

    Anyway, I have written all this just to say that there are a myriad of ways that the creation of a partnership between the public (advocates), universities, and the private (hospitality industry) could create places where people could come to learn about wild horses and burros as well as their habitat and the interaction-interdependency between the two. A business model like the Marriott Co. that has a wide variety of price points in its organization from the Ritz Calton to the Marriot Courtyard might be a resource that even if it were not interested in getting involved in such a project itself, might be willing to act as an advisor. We want to establish places where wild horse families are principle and can be protected and enjoyed for years to come. We also need to get a better handle understanding of what mechanisms in horse genetics trigger the adaptations this species continues to make in order to survive the constant change in its environment. This may be one of, if not the most, successful species in the history of the earth…and our own survival as a species might benefit from understanding what it is in them that allows them to survive. An Equine Specialist from NC State told my NCDOA horse class that research now indicates that the heaviness of a foals coat is determined by whether it is cold and rainy the day before it is born or mild and not rainy. That’s pretty extraordinary.


  5. I think a interesting observation about this story is that the horses, living in their natural environment, are thriving without any veterinary care. The best defense against illness is a strong immune system which is developed by living according to their true nature: with near constant movement, grazing, and social interaction which promotes physical and psychological health. When I was a novice horse owner, I had the vet out for every little thing but soon came to realize as I learned more about a horse’s true nature and needs that it is the way we keep them that causes so many problems: confinement, shoes, and isolation from other horses. Most of the time I questioned the vet’s advice that went against what a horse truly needed. Now my horses live together in pasture (with a shelter) 24/7, are barefoot, unvaccinated, graze as much as possible and are fed grass hays which they eat from ground level. They are very healthy, happy horses, who, (knock on wood) do not suffer injuries causing lameness. I very rarely need a vet these days, the last time was when one of my horses got bit by a rattlesnake on the nose and the swelling posed a danger to his breathing. I am glad to hear that advocating for a more natural lifestyle for horses is becoming more mainstream (i.e. Joe Camp), but so much more needs to be done.


  6. Hopefully, the people in N.Carolina will watch what’s happening in the west & keep Fish & Wildlife
    from becoming the Eastern BLM! Letting these horses live as they should in nature without all this aggressive “management” works so well.
    How sad that more people in Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming & other states that are fortunate enough to have wild horses dont stand up & speak out for them.


  7. Here is a link to info on the Sable Island (Canada) horses. About 300 of them live there–no human interference. The Sable Island Horses. (And the Amazing photography of Roberto Dutesco) BLM told us the truth–they are in the land management business–they really don’t care about the horses. We must remember that—at all times—no matter what they say— I’m glad that some herds receive good management. What is wrong with BLM??


    • Unfortunately, you’re right, the BLM really don’t care about our wild horses, thus the continuing of roundups. However; their job description is management of the public land, along with its wild horses, not eliminating them. Certainly with proper management, such as the use of PZP our horses could survive on their own, as they do in Corolla and other areas. Nature should be left alone whenever possible, if we are to achieve a proper balance between man and beast. If not, I believe, it will come back to haunt us.


  8. The Chincoteague “ponies” owned by the Chincoteague Firemen and rounded up yearly also have to deal with the USFWS. The firemen have to pay a fee to let the ponies run on the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge under USFWS control. Over the years the ponies have been fenced out of areas on the Refuge that they have been traditionally allowed to range. Only a small group remains on the south end where they are seen by the public with the majority of the herd now on the north end in an ever smaller area. Interesting though that there are some NPS Maryland horses have migrated around the fence that separates the Maryland NPS and are now a part of the Virginia herd. One stallion, Spirit of Assateague was a Maryland horse that swam around the fence that juts out into the water, was returned by the firemen to the NPS–the 3rd time was a charm and he now resides on the Virginia side with a small group of mares! These ponies on both sides of the fence are much loved by the public!


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