We love being by the water and we love the National Park System so on our sightseeing journey to Florida in fall of 2011 we decided to combine both and stay at Assateaque Island National Seashore. In particular we both wanted to see the so-called "wild horses" that roamed there.
Many of us first learned about the Assateague horses from Marguerite Henry's famous book Misty of Chincoteague. The story takes place during a traditional Chincoteague festival called "Pony Penning.'' On the last Wednesday of July, the Virginia herd of horses is rounded up and swum from Assateague Island to nearby Chincoteage Island.
The Assateague National Seashore is a narrow band of land, barrier islands, surrounded by saltwater. It is a very tough environment to survive year round. These "wild" horses are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. But these horses are tough...they live through scorching heat, abundant mosquitoes, stormy weather and a very poor quality of food on this barrier island.
We wondered how these horses got here? Well local folklore states that the horses were survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast. While this is a popular tale of struggle and survival, there are no records yet that confirm it. Most experts feel that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock....in other words "they wanted to avoid paying taxes to the government"...imagine that!
The horses didn't disappoint us... they were around often and could be seen somewhere just about anytime. You did not have to go searching for them. I was reading outside one day and one of the horses just came up along side of the RV and stood in the shade. I guess he wanted to cool off!
Visitors are advised not to feed or pet the horses. But every year horses are killed by cars as they beg for food and every year visitors are kicked, bitten and knocked down as they get too close to the wild horses. It must be remembered that you cannot treat a wild horse like a tame animal as that takes away the wildness that makes them special.
There are few places in the United States where you can view wild horses. Don't hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity to view these horses in a natural habitat as they provide enjoyment to nature enthusiasts, photographers, and people who just love horses!