Do you love Assateague Island and the wild horses? Would you like to deepen your connection with the National Seashore? Here are some ways you can help preserve this precious barrier island’s wild landscapes and all who visit its seas, sands, forests, marshes and shores. Explore the many ways you can get involved by sharing your gifts and talents in support of Assateague Island National Seashore, one of our nation’s last natural barrier islands. Your donations can fuel food storage solutions, or you can volunteer your time or lend your expertise to a program that matters to you.
A Fed Horse is a Dead Horse
Assateague Island Alliance, the official partners of Assateague National Seashore Federal Park, began their fundraising campaign, “A Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” in the fall of 2017 to help raise awareness of how visitors can keep wild horses safe with safe practices. Over the years, Assateague’s wild horses have learned to associate humans with food and have figured out how and where to get their reward. The horses in the campgrounds and on the beaches are very accustomed to Assateague’s many visitors. Please keep in mind, this does not mean they are tame; they are just unafraid of park visitors. Many have become attracted to human food as a result of intentional feeding and careless or improper food storage. Feeding or approaching the horses causes dangerous behavior changes and is harmful to their health….and possibly yours. Assateague’s wild horses are special because they are wild.
To maintain their unique wildness and natural behaviors we need your help. Park visitors are encouraged to use the food storage picnic tables that have recently been placed throughout the National Park. The 222 tables have signs providing tips and techniques for protecting your food at all times while visiting Assateague. The sign is in English and Spanish. The tables are heavy duty and built using materials that will withstand Assateague’s harsh environment. Galvanized frames, treated lumber, composite doors, rustproof latches along with accessibility and safety features were all carefully considered. A wheelchair may comfortably sit at the extended end of each table and it’s also an ideal location for individuals with longer legs. The large storage compartment may be accessed from each end of the table through non-locking doors. The latches that were chosen to keep doors shut do not inadvertently lock a child or pet inside the compartment and don’t have a handle that the wild horses can “leverage.” The food storage compartment will hold standard-sized coolers and hard-sided containers. Consistently storing food away from the horses will help effect a positive behavior change, so both wild horses and humans may graze naturally.
The “Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” project was made possible in part by a matching $50,000 grant from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority. AIA’s multiphase effort has included the distribution of thousands of cooler straps to Assateague’s visitors to protect food in coolers and storage containers. In 2020, as part of this campaign, we launched "KEEP IT ZIPPED" and are placing Rack Cards throughout the local area (e.g., stores, hotels, motels) urging people to take their food in "horse tight" containers, particularly when they are visiting the beach.
The National Park Service and Assateague Island Alliance urges all visitors to take an active role in protecting the wild horses. Proper food storage protects you and the horses. Please remember, “A Fed Horse is a Dead Horse” and help us protect our wild horses!
While you may think you are giving the wild horses a treat with apples and carrots, in reality, this is not part of their diet and can lead to a very painful death.
During the winter, the park staff and volunteers find people leaving apples and carrots for the horses, because they "think they are hungry." Unfortunately, these apples and carrots can quickly kill a wild horse from colic. Why, you ask? People feed domestic horses these foods all of the time. A wild horse has a steady diet of native grasses. The bacteria formed in their stomach has a consistent pH. When a carrot, apple or sugar cube is introduced into their diet, the sugars in their intestines quickly turn to sugar-alcohol and wreaks havoc in their system and can cause colic with the intestine potentially rupturing and spilling poison into vital organs. (This is just an example of one thing that can happen. A wild horse can also founder.) www.quora.com
Feeding a horse also teaches the horse bad behaviors, looking toward humans for food, which leads to them hanging out and raiding campsites and "hanging in traffic" (again, leading to possible death). Sadly, Assateague Island National Seashore has had wild horses die for the very reasons listed, eating food other than salt marsh grass and being in the road.
A reminder that feeding a horse and/or approaching to within 40 feet of the wild animal is against the law and you can be fined. Even if you are "familiar" with horses and have them on a farm, it doesn't mean that you are allowed to approach them. Help us keep them wild, will you? Please!!! If you see something, say something. 410.461.1441
Wildlife Viewing and Safety Tips
Click here for wildlife viewing and safety tips from the National Park Service.
Help Us Keep 'em Wild
Whether you are visiting the island for a short or long visit, we ask for your help in keeping our horses wild. We encourage you to view the video below about the horses and why we ask you to keep your distance.
Maintain a distance of 40 feet or more.
If a horse approaches you, back away. The park does not advocate your taking initiative in trying to move the horses. Trying to get them away from your campsite should be left to the rangers and other park staff who have specialized training in wild horse management practices. (If you respond, "I have horses and know what to do" that does NOT mean that you have permission to interact with them in any way.) Remember, it's a park law to keep your distance.
Drive slowly and safely. Remain alert. Horses and deer often run into the road, particularly if spooked. Let's have a year with no animals being hit by a vehicle. Enjoy the park and PLEASE help us keep the horses wild.
Protecting Pregnant Mares and their foals
Everyone loves a baby and it is human instinct to "ooh and aww" over them. That being said, we'd like to share some thoughts with you about how we can help protect our wild pregnant horses and new foals.
1. Every time there is an interaction between a human and wild animal it contributes to the habituation of the animal. The result is they become comfortable with traffic; they may look to humans for snacks and, at times, may approach individuals (be sure to back away if this happens). Often this familiarity can lead to death of the horse and possible personal human injury.
2. After a mare has carried a foal for the full gestation period (11.5 months), the mare should be allowed as much privacy to give birth and adjust to her newborn. The excitement that is produced around the birth of a new WILD foal on the island, often creating a frenzy of people seeking out the mother and foal to get the "ultimate" photo, is causing undue stress on the fragile new family. You can help prevent this by social distancing.
3. Practices with domestic horses encourage the mare and foal to rest as long as possible after a birth. It's important to give them an opportunity to bond undisturbed. We hope that our horse advocates can help us maintain the wildness of the population, allowing the mare and foal to bond, undisturbed.
WHAT YOU CAN DO.
1. If you are aware of a horse giving birth, please be discreet and do NOT post to social media immediately. While we are aware you may want to "get the scoop," help us give the mare and foal time to adjust to each other and the newness of the situation.
2. If you do see the foal, respect the new situation and modify your viewing distance - more than 40 feet, if possible. Selfies are definitely NOT a part of this process. Use your telephone lens, if you MUST have a photo.
3. As always, don't feed, pet, or attempt to ride the horses. If they approach you, back away or get in your vehicle. Remember, they can't read yet and don't know about the distancing approach.
If you see someone practicing unethical wildlife viewing behavior, take a video and contact the ranger station. Don't get in an altercation. Call 410.461.1441.